It’s all very well growing several thousand gorgeous cut flowers but how were we going to sell them?
We’d done our research, we knew there was a rising tide of interest in fresh British grown blooms, the papers were full of articles, the NFU had got behind the movement and top florists, such as Simon Lycett, Jonathan Mosely and Shane Connolly had been spreading the word. Covent Garden was taking note and groups such as Flowers From The Farm were doing an amazing job putting British growers in the limelight.
Our aim was to create a ‘destination’, to see the flowers growing in the field, to choose, or pick your own, a family day out and a unique floral experience. We knew that sharing our site with Peter and Amanda Hunt’s wonderful Toy Barn, with it’s classy toy shop and garden full of adventure toys would make a great experience for our customers.
A simple fun and quirky cafe in our own Black Shed style would be a vital part of the mix. Think corrugated iron and timber, patinated and worn versus shiny galvanised tin. A great cup of coffee or yummy ice cream whilst your loved ones pick a beautiful bouquet, zoom around on a go kart, or bounce on a trampoline. We just needed to get the word out…
Facebook and Instagram would play a great part in this. I’ve always loved taking photos so the flowers themselves would be our ambassadors. I use Instagram as a visual diary, to record the story of our flower farming journey, follow us and you’ll be able to see the full story! We created a Facebook page and started posting photos of our flowers and first forays into floristry. Our friends would learn of our fledgling business and hopefully word of mouth would kick in.
Then Peter had a great idea. Anyone who knows Peter, knows that he is full of energy and enthusiasm, with no shortage of interesting ideas. He’d offered us the whole five acre field but we wanted to start small and grow as we needed to. So we fenced off just one acre to get going, leaving four acres, ploughed and ready for something… “Let’s plant a Maize Maze! It’ll drive traffic through the flower farm and make a great day out for all the family.” Brilliant. Except we’d have to be open for customers by first week of the summer holiday…
This was a tough call, it was May and we were staring at a bare ploughed field. We had to lay out and prepare the beds and sow hundreds of square metres of grass paths to be ready for the first visitors in July. Using every daylight hour we got the grass sown, then planted our first beds in June. We don’t dig, we plant our seedlings and tubers then mulch heavily with garden waste compost. The fantastic stone-free soil made for easy preparation and wonderful growth, so by the start of the school holidays, we were ready for action.
Pete’s Maize Maze was a great idea and the car park was starting to fill. The need to get the cafe up and running became pressing. We have the use of one of the corrugated iron grain silos in the farmyard, so out came the angle grinder to cut a doorway, I made a couple of doors, opened an account at Hunts, put the kettle on and we were off.
We’ve been busy ever since, the car park was full of customers as word got out that you could have a whole day of fun at the Toy Barn and Black Shed Flowers. Every grandparent for miles around came, had a cup of coffee and chose a bunch of flowers whilst their little darlings wore themselves out on the swings and slides, or were lost for hours of fun in the Maze. Visitors were posting photos of their flowers and the gardens on Facebook and Instagram which was incredibly helpful.
The maize maze is now gone for this year and being enjoyed by Pete’s cows but it really helped get the word out there. We’ve had hundreds of customers who love our simple idea, we’re supplying wonderful wedding florists, colourful DIY weddings and our Pick Your Own Sundays have proved a great success. It’s been a steep learning curve and incredibly hard work but enormous fun and very rewarding. What are we doing now? Apart from digesting all that we’ve learned, there’s the massive task of digging up all those dahlia tubers, preparing another 500 square metres of beds, ordering and planting bulbs, seeds, perennials and shrubs, planning flower-filled events, workshops and summer parties... Enjoying it? We're loving it!
©Paul Stickland 2017 This post first appeared in The Sherborne Times, November 2017.