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Updates about the Horticulture Wales project, along with industry news and opinion.

Flower Grower Study Tours And Networking Event – Review

04 November 2014

Last month, we arranged a packed day for Welsh flower growers that gave them the opportunity to visit two hugely successful businesses, followed by an afternoon of networking, discussion, and debate. Here’s a brief round-up of the event…

Group on Flower grower study tour (499px * 291px)Study Tours

PlantWild

Our day began at PlantWild, a wild flower specialist based in Hennor near Leominster, Herefordshire. We were shown round by Keith Arrowsmith and Suzanne Noble, who set up the business five years ago and now grow wild flowers for gardens, meadows, woodlands, wetlands and ponds, as well as UK native trees and shrubs.

We found out how Keith and Suzanne harvest seed direct from meadows with the permission of the landowners – 1kg of seed is enough to plant 250 m2 of meadow. PlantWild sells a variety of local seed mixes, including a Welsh upland mix, mainly by mail order. Our group also discovered how the business grows orchids from seeds – orchids are difficult to germinate without the presence of symbiotic fungi. Suzanne explained how she germinates the seeds in a sterile environment, carefully nurturing them, before they are moved into increasingly bigger sterile containers until they are strong enough to grow.

A couple of examples of orchid propagation...

Orchid Prop 1 (500px * 666px)Orchid Prop 2 (500px * 666px)

Growers on flower study tour (500px * 666px)

Wye Lavender

After an hour or so’s drive, we arrived on the outskirts of Rhayader for our second study tour of the day at the home of Wye Lavender.

Zoe Griffiths was kind enough to show us around her lavender farm, which is set 1,000 foot above sea level and was established in summer 2009 with the rooting of more than 1,000 plants, followed by a further 2,600 plugs during the subsequent spring. Zoe explained how the plants take around five years to reach full maturity, while three to four bunches of 200 stems per bunch can be harvested from each plant.

Initially focusing on the hardy lavender varieties Grosso, Royal Purple, Imperial Gem, and Maillette, this year has also seen the business trial a pink and white plant.

Zoe explained the diversity of her market – while bunches of fresh lavender are obviously popular for creating wedding displays and flower arrangements, the dried plants open up a whole host of other opportunities. Dried lavender is sold as a culinary herb and potpourri, while it is used as an ingredient to make biscuits and beauty products such as soaps, hand-cream, and lip balm. Our group found out that some lavender is even sold to factories as it is a natural pest repellent! Selling direct through an online shop has proved a winner for the business, with Zoe revealing that orders have been received from as far afield as Greece and Hong Kong.

Wye Lavender (500px * 539px)Lavender bunch (500px * 666px)

Networking Event

After a busy morning’s fact-finding and roaming round two very different, but none-the-less extremely interesting horticulture businesses, the vast majority of growers in attendance decamped to the nearby Brynafon Hotel for a tasty lunch followed by an afternoon of debate and discussion.

Our first guest speaker was Sian Davies from Rhayader florist Cwtta Inspirations. A flower arranger for more than three decades and in business for around 20 years, Sian showed off her skills by bringing along with her two stunning pedestal arrangements – one made with ‘flown in’ flowers from her usual supplier in the Netherlands, the other with flowers provided by Welsh growers Linda Screen, of The Woodland Farm in Pembrokeshire, and Stephen and Rhiannon Smith of Plas Flowers in Carmarthen.

Sian talked to the group about the opportunities to provide Welsh flowers for events such as weddings and funerals – she revealed she probably caters for 40 of the former a year, with as many as two a week for the latter. Sian emphasised that flowers for such occasions need to be in perfect condition and completely fresh. Wedding flowers, in particular, are price sensitive, and while in an ideal world she would prefer to use home-grown flowers where possible, availability, quality, and price were her chief criteria. Sian suggested that the flower growers in attendance should actually take the initiative and make initial contact with florists and flower arrangers in their area, rather than vice versa.

Following Sian was a brief talk from Gerry Wilkinson, the owner of the Brynafon Hotel, who outlined the establishment’s passion for local produce. In terms of food, the hotel tries to source locally wherever possible, and it regularly rustles up special tasting menus packed with Welsh speciality dishes. However, for flowers, Gerry conceded that sourcing locally had proved more of a problem. He revealed that no local flower growers had ever contacted the hotel, although he suggested that there could be a market for supplying fresh flowers for table displays in the restaurant on a weekly basis. 

Next up was Jo Ordonez from Earthbound Organics in Dolau, Powys, an online business selling organic skincare products such as soaps, creams, body oils, and toners. Jo revealed how many of her products are made using natural ingredients sourced from the Welsh countryside, including plantain, ivy, comfrey and hypericum, plus herbs bought in from organic growers.

The following speaker was Catherine Clark from Llangybi, Monmouthshire, who spoke about her Honey Bee Beautiful range of natural soaps and beauty products made from beeswax and honey. Catherine started keeping bees around five years ago, and after experimenting with making lip balms for herself, she undertook a course where she learned how to make a diverse range of natural skincare products.

Mix of products Wye Lavender Honey Bee Beautiful (500px * 666px)Wye Lavender products (500px * 375px)

Tony Little from Organic Centre Wales was on hand to talk about organic certification for flower growers. Tony revealed that the organic cut flower sector was currently small (but growing) – there are approximately 70 organic growers with flowers on their license as one of their crops. He also speculated that the market for organic edible flowers may be set for growth due to their increasing popularity amongst caterers and the hospitality sector. Tony then moved on to discuss the importance of auditing, and how while the organic status of produce can be verified due to the  certification process, other factors that are often used as USPs and marketing tools – such as ‘locally grown’ – are far more debateable and open to interpretation.

The afternoon’s final speaker was Lynne Breeze from the Floral Art Shop in Llanidloes. Lynne spoke about the positive relationship that florists and local growers can strike up, suggesting to the growers in attendance that they get in touch with as many potential buyers in their area as possible. She advised growers to put together a year-long schedule of what they plan to grow, keeping in mind key dates such as Mother’s Day and Easter. Lynne also feels passionately that locally-grown flowers should remain unique and not try to emulate the types imported from abroad. She recommended that growers set prices to reflect their local area, while she also urged them not to be afraid of selling second-grade flowers, revealing that many florists would be able to get something from them, as opposed to simply disposing of them.

Group on Flower grower study tour (499px * 291px)

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