Earlier this morning, as the sun rose through the mists over Blackmarsh Farm, I was standing chest deep in a field of exquisite colour, picking armfuls of dahlias, pinching myself yet again at what an extraordinary year 2017 has been for the Stickland family!
Last Autumn, our three allotments had been ablaze with colour from a few dozen dahlias. Our friends and family were loving their gorgeous blooms and it was a great joy to share them. An idea was germinating, that of a small cut flower farm, supplying the very best seasonal, fresh and vibrant cut flowers to the local community. To create a garden where you could wander through rows of ravishing colour, choosing your favourite flowers fresh from the field, seeing them actually growing and having them made into bouquets or posies full of freshness and life, within minutes of cutting. The complete antithesis of supermarket flowers and their rigid uniformity, disappointing vase life, unsustainable air miles and dubious provenance.
We’ve all seen and enjoyed the renaissance of excellent local food and drink, perhaps it was time for local flowers to join this burgeoning movement? We’d been watching the rise of small flower farms in both the UK and the US with growing interest. Instagram was full of examples of small growers providing top quality blooms to delighted customers and florists alike, delighted to see how they were able to provide something a world away from the commoditised flowers on our high streets.
My wife, Helen, is a bookseller working at Winstone’s in Sherborne and I’m an author and illustrator of children’s picture and pop up books, travelling all over the UK and abroad teaching creativity to children in colourful pop up workshops. Helen is also a talented musician and songwriter with the band Design and it was at one of her gigs in Eype Church last summer that things really took off!
Our 8 yr old daughter Tabitha is a brilliant young gardener and she and I created a special installation of 70 single stem dahlias to complement the magical musical event. I put just one photo on Instagram and the phone started to ring. Florists asking if we had any spare blooms, friends asking if we could decorate their parties… We were being stopped in the street as we delivered our flowers to the bookshop, where can we buy these?
It was difficult to ignore this interest, so we started to plan. We’d need an acre or two, close to Sherborne, a sheltered site with fantastic soil, easy access, good parking and an entrepreneurial partner who would understand our exciting idea. Within days we found all of these!
Our friends, Peter and Amanda Hunt, who run not only a thriving dairy farm but also the very wonderful Toy Barn from Blackmarsh Farm just outside Sherborne right on the A30, immediately appreciated our idea of a flower farm serving the local community, as a unique destination, seeing it as a fitting compliment to their existing business. Pete and I went to dig a hole in the field he had in mind… deep, rich, stone-free soil, unploughed in decades and home to generations of the family’s dairy herd. We were over the moon, the perfect site and perfect partners!
So Black Shed Flowers was born. As 2017 started the planning began in earnest. Seed and dahlia catalogues were scoured, endless lists drawn up, fellow flower farmers consulted, layouts and drawings appeared. My studio was turned into a propagation room, thousands of seedlings were grown. Hundreds of dahlia tubers arrived and on May 1st we stood in awe and some trepidation in the middle of our suddenly vast plot! The hard work was about to begin.
We always had a vision of our flower farm as a unique and beautiful destination where you could bring your Mum for a special birthday treat, a place for children’s flower parties, somewhere to sit quietly amongst thousands of exquisite flowers, ready to choose something really extraordinary for that special occasion. With the huge support of Pete and Amanda, Helen, Tabitha and I, now joined by our amazing Workaway volunteer, Alice, have done it! We’ve been overwhelmed and delighted by the interest and support of the local community. It’s been an incredibly busy summer and we are still surrounded by thousands of flowers. ©Paul Stickland 2017 This post first appeared in the Sherborne Times, October 2017.