Saturday, 8 February 2014

The British alstromeria question

Is a flower always more beautiful and worth a premium price just because it is a British flower? Now that British Flowers are happily right out there, we do need to get this thinking right if the new small scale British flower industry is to progress and prosper.

It's a bit like organics (which I also completely believe in but one does have to also think about it)  - is an organic carrot necessarily much better than another carrot because it's an organic carrot? Well no, not necessarily, the organic one may not be local, may have been hanging around for an age, will definitely be a premium price and so on.  The same goes for flowers, it is obviously better to have flowers that are not flown in from thousands of miles away, definitely better to have flowers that have not caused ill health to pickers or the environment, absolutely stupid to buy exotics from abroad when there are equally beautiful flowers grown right here. BUT just because something is local does not necessarily mean it is automatically more beautiful than something that is not and automatically worth a premium price.

There's a bit of an alstromeria argument to be had here. There are brilliant, and I mean brilliant, English alstromeria growers who produce the best quality best coloured best forms of alstromeria. They largely sell them wholesale, and do not charge a huge amount of money for them. In fact I don't know how they charge so little and produce such amazing flowers. I used to grow a few colours in my previous gardens and it is true that they grow easily if they like where you put them but mine were never the long stemmed beauties that professional growers produce, and after a few years of growing them I realised I hardly ever used them as I had such a choice and for some reason alstros were rarely it. So perhaps this is (as so often) more about my tastes as a gardener and flower lover rather than totally about the flowers themselves.

The best English alstromerias also get sold to discerning supermarkets who still do not charge a huge amount for them. And they last and last. They are thoroughly good value appealing cut flowers.

In the winter months in particular alstros are also often a mainstay of  the new wave of small scale flower providers' British bouquets. Which is absolutely fine, they are good flowers, and fantastically available all year round as an alternative to imports, and so much better to receive a bouquet of British grown flowers at any time of year - but a bouquet full of alstros should not be charged out at premium price just because it is a British bouquet should it?

We all need to get this sort of thing right. Value is as important as quality.


  1. Hi, I think you may have been inspired to write about alstromeria by the piece on Common Farm Flowers in the Telegraph today? I agree, they shouldn't be charged out at a premium. They are, however, lovely. And the colours and quality of the flowers I've been getting from my Cornish wholesaler since the beginning of November bear no resemblance to the grizzly garage forecourt stems one finds in dirty-water-splashed buckets up and down the country. A few alstros as filler in a bouquet of British tulips, anemones, narcissi, catkins, pussy willow and unfurling euphorbia at this time of year makes a bouquet as lovely as any you can buy anywhere - at least I think so. Good luck with your flower school at Mapperton - what a lovely place to be able to teach! best wishes, Georgie Newbery

  2. Good of you to get in touch Georgie, and your business looks a winner, well done. I so admire all those fantastic professional growers who can produce such fantastic blooms en masse and I agree, they are beautiful, but I have realised over the past decade that I am a dyed in the wool passionate gardener and just love using material from my gardens above anything else, even though the choice is often rather eccentric! I am hugely enjoying working in less than the three acres of intensely cultivated field plus other areas that I built up in my previous gardens, and really for me it is all about the garden - though when I look at photos from there of the huge areas where I could gather armfuls without moving more than a few yards I do have mixed feelings! But having done that once, (and sometimes I don't know how I got to grow so much) it's a treat to have the opportunity to do it all a bit differently having built up a good idea of what works for me over a decade of selling home grown flowers. My problem is where to stop as I love the excuse to grow more species and varieties that I haven't tried but I am trying to rein myself in a bit.

    It's fantastic how the British Flowers momentum has grown since I began, and you do a grand job for the whole movement and long may it prosper. I love the way that everyone does it differently too, there is room for so much diversity as we have so much choice in what we can grow in this country. But I do also think that there are some questions that we all need to be constantly asking so that quality and value can be right up there, and sadly it's not always the case - I know that's the same in any industry and of course there is always room for all sorts of approaches and there are lots of people who are doing the most wonderful job, but sometimes I guess we should all stop and check ourselves, me no less than anyone else.
    Yes, thanks, the British Flower School should be interesting, we are naturally only using British Flowers and there will be various different tutors as well as the courses I will teach, and I am thrilled that some courses are sold out already even though we are not going yet. Though starting a new enterprise is not without qualms. But for now I am concentrating on trying to counteract the damage the weather has lately left in my own gardens - beds under water, greenhouse glass smashed, hoops and plastic tangled messes far away from their homes.... and no chance to get on the new beds. But time is a great garden healer, I hope.

  3. I know what you mean about the amount one grows - we're still at the 'Growing the collection' stage - I will admit I'm more of a florist than a garden maker and people are sometimes surprised when they visit us to find that instead of gorgeous mixed herbaceous borders we really just have endless stripes of raised beds from which I cut RUTHLESSLY all the time, so the shrubs are misshapen and there are hopefully (thanks to lots of orders) not too many flowers outside because they're all being cut to post out as bouquets. We grow about 250+ different varieties of material for cutting through the year - we started mostly as an annuals garden, but our shrub and greenery collections are catching up now as we supply our customers all year round (with help from our Cornish colleagues through the winter months). Good luck with the storm damage - was it bad last night? I must put a girl who's started growing roses commercially just near Bridport in touch with you - you may like to supplement your stock with hers when you're busy with weddings in the summer. Her business is called Rosa Cheney - have you come across her yet? Lovely lady and stunning garden. Good luck with the storm damage and the water and and and... here standing water between the beds but fortunately beds raised and digging a foot + down yesterday to plant roses amazingly we didn't hit the water table. I think the water's just sitting on the surface because our clay is so thick. Ay me! Onwards and upwards!

    1. It's good that we're all different isn't it, room for all sorts! I originally started my business purely because I wanted to grow more plants and needed to think of a justification for my addiction. The addiction has not been cured but I have realised I don't need to grow bulk of everything just because you can cut it. But I wouldn't like to count up how many varieties I have grown and used for cutting, it would be more than any sane business could ever need. It is crazy when it gets to the stage that there are always huge swathes of different things flowering and you just don't have time to pick them all.
      I agree, a well organised cutting garden ideally should really look pretty flower free in parts as everything should be picked and sent out before it reaches full flower. But I'm sure yours still does look lovely. Somehow the need for efficient cropping doesn't ultimately work for the gardener side of me which is why I'm concentrating this time round on building a beautiful varied garden in the 2 acres round the house from which we cut, rather than a cutting garden per se.(although it has been impossible to resist the lure of the bare field where I have installed further cutting beds but I'm trying hard not to cultivate too much of it as my secret vice!)
      I had heard someone started growing roses last year at Litton Cheney - I haven't met her but the landscaper who built her garden/rose beds for her. Roses seem to do very well down here.
      You're lucky - when we put gates in last winter we found not just standing but running water only 15 inches below the surface... at least it's not saline which it is in parts only a mile further over! But I like a challenge..... (and at least I'm not in the Levels).
      The sun shines, I must get back out to some clearing...