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Link to original content: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/how-to-grow/florists-flower-farmers-have-adapted-lockdown/
How florists and flower farmers have adapted to lockdown | The Telegraph

How florists and flower farmers have adapted to lockdown

When the British flower business wilted, florists and farmers did not give up.

Larry Walshe flowers
Glamorous scenes like this design by Larry Walshe for Dolce & Gabbana have dried up during lockdown Credit: Sarah Haywood

Anyone who works with flowers is used to emotions; a laugh, a smile or a tear is never very far away. Thanks to the lockdown, ­however, life has been even more of an ­emotional rollercoaster that usual. While some florists, wholesalers and growers are discovering new lands of opportunity, others are on a nail-biting journey through the yawning chasm created by the total loss of the weddings and events market.

“If you’d told me as I flew to LA in February that the world as I knew it would not exist by the time I got home, I wouldn’t have believed you – but that’s what happened,” says florist Simon Lycett, who counts royalty and celebrities among his clients. He has had to furlough his staff and is keeping business going by doing bouquets, InstaTV and virtual appearances from his tiny back garden in south London.

Mothering Sunday is traditionally the opener to the events and party season but this year, the flower-coolers were switched off, shops and stalls closed and the flower industry went dark. “The lockdown came at the end of what had been a big, very emotional week for all of us,” recalls Nikki Meader, retail director of the British Florist Association and owner of West Malling Flowers in Kent. “Borders had been closed on the Continent and the Dutch market had collapsed. We still had flowers but no way of selling them. It was terrible.”

The Government’s furlough scheme has been a lifesaver for many, and large wholesale growers such as Sue Lamb of Lamb’s Flowers were eventually able to restart delivering British cut flowers to the likes of Waitrose and Morrisons, but New Covent Garden Market remains closed to the public for the first time in centuries.

“Order flowers if you can and buy locally” is its message. As I have discovered, speaking with some small-volume growers and single-trader florists this week, that is what has been happening. Here are some of their stories...

 

Larry Walshe

Celebrity florist Larry Walshe threw himself into future planning from the comfort of his garden Credit: Larry Walshe

After moments of denial – “if I don’t pick up the phone, will it all just go away?” – celebrity florist Larry Walshe threw himself into future planning.

“Never give an active mind time to think. I put all my admin in order, dipped my toe into the waters of retirement – definitely not ready for that! – and planned social media campaigns up to Christmas. Then I started thinking about new business and I’m about to launch an online flower delivery service called Bloom; people will be able to choose what size, type and colour flowers they want and they’ll receive them within 24 hours.

“It’ll be as near to going into your local florist as possible and, of course, beautiful yet simple.”

020 8540 5305, larrywalshe.com; bybloom.co.uk

Rachel Siegfried – Green & Gorgeous

By pivoting from a field-to-doorstep business, Rachel Siegfried has avoided some of the worst ravages of lockdown Credit: Eva Nemeth

Having a seasonal business is scary at the best of times as Oxfordshire-based wedding-flower grower Rachel Siegfried will tell you. “You work all winter for that precious period between March and October when you make all your income for the entire year.

“The moment lockdown began, I started my ‘Field to Doorstep’ delivery service; flowers don’t wait and mine were spring bulbs, the most expensive part of our annual investment. The response was amazing; regular customers wanted to make sure we stayed in business and florists have been ordering buckets of local, seasonal blooms.

“Demand is very high but the weather can change any time and take out a load of my flowers, which means I’ll struggle to fill orders the following week. I’ve been in horticulture for 25 years and doing this for 12 so it’s armed for me times like these.”

07977 445041, greenandgorgeous
flowers.co.uk

Linda Clarke was unable to rely on passing trade to save her business so she got creative Credit: Linda Clarke

Located 400 yards down a country lane just outside Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, passing trade was unlikely to save the thousands of narcissi and tulips grown by weddings and workshop flower grower Linda Clarke.

“My first thought was ‘We’re all doomed!’ but then I put some flowers outside the gate and within an hour, they’d all gone. I posted a notice on the village Facebook page offering to do a different delivery route each week and the requests for funeral and sympathy flowers started to come in, many from overseas, people who’d lost loved ones here in the local area.

“Thanks to social media, I’ve discovered the joy of entertaining others with my flowers and the level of work is crazy but wonderful. My daughter helps me with the deliveries – ‘Sanitise, deliver, sanitise,’ she chants – and it’s so lovely, seeing the joy on people’s faces as they receive the flowers.

“Follow-up business is coming through too, so we can plant more for next season and I’m also offering monthly flower subscriptions; interestingly, more men are signing up for these and giving them as gifts.”

 

07794 207168, thespotteddogflowerco.co.uk

Neil Birks – NB Flowers 
and NB Roses

After a bruising first few weeks, the easing of lockdown has given Neil Birks a new burst of energy Credit: Neil Birks

The early days were quite shocking, recalls New Covent Garden Market luxury florist Neil Birks. “All our business is in hospitality and within days, our events were cancelled or postponed and our hotel and private members’ club clients closed. All I could do was head home to north Essex and keep the weeds down in the field.

“I grow thousands of scented roses for my florist business and to sell to my wholesaler, Zest Flowers. I’d been planning to start selling some of them to local florists this year and I’m hoping that will still happen but I’m also going to give some of them to NHS staff as thank yous.

“The initial easing of the lockdown has been a game-changer. It’s time to shake off the holiday feeling, set up new routines of working with social distancing and plan for new sources of work.

“Of course, the virus may change everything again but for now, July is crucial and I’m full of ideas and vigour, although I hope we learn from our lockdown experiences and that a less ostentatious way of living comes out of this.’

020 3202 0005, nbflowers.co.uk, nbroses.co.uk

Caroline Beck – Verde Flowers

‘I told myself “it’s a field, you can walk away”, but you can’t: it’s a huge investment’ Credit: Rebecca Fraser

Florist-farmer Caroline Beck had 2,500 tulips about to bloom in her Victorian walled garden near Durham and a list of weddings and pick-your-own bouquet bookings all the way through to October, all now cancelled or in limbo.

“I cried for a week and told myself, ‘It’s a field, you can walk away’, but you can’t; it’s a huge investment, emotionally and financially. I thought about composting everything and planting vegetables but then I emailed everyone I could think of locally and asked if they’d be interested in buying my flowers.

“Within a week I had 50 new clients and a delivery route that I do once a week. The orders keep coming in and it’s been humbling to see how much people have wanted to support their local florists and taken pleasure from simple, seasonal British-grown flowers.

“Thanks to them I’ve been able to commit to buying stock to plant for next year and I’m hopeful the interest will remain once the lockdown is lifted.”

carolinebeck.org; @verdeflowerco

Jennifer Stuart-Smith – Blooming Green

Jennifer Stuart hopes lockdown might cause some buyers to question the supply chain and use more local growers Credit: Blooming Green

At the no-dig farm that Jennifer Stuart-Smith runs with her cousin Rebekah Bibby it was all hands to the pump to move into online selling.

“We closed the farm and reworked our website so we could take online orders. We had to furlough our team of five but two florist friends were living with us at the start of the lockdown so they’ve been helping us voluntarily and we’re focusing on the acre we normally use for pick-your-own visits and not planting as many flowers.

“We’re bumping along, taking it one step at a time. The growth in the number of florists getting in touch with British flower farmers is encouraging and if this experience makes more people question the fragility of their supply chain and think about having a reliable, quality one closer to home, then perhaps this time will have been worth it.”

01622 298676, bloominggreenflowers.co.uk

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