plant nurseriesLilies of the Incas, Peruvian Lilies, or alstroemerias are beloved by florists due to their longevity as a cut flower.
‘”The perfect flower”’ is how our team describe them’ says Ben Cross, the fourth generation of his family to grow alstroemerias in a wholesale nursery near Chichester, West Sussex. His parents also work in the nursery.
Ben studied marine science and oceanography before returning to tend more than thirty different varieties of altstroemerias under three acres of glass all year round. Thirty years ago there were lots of similar nurseries growing cut flowers all over England but the trend for importing cut flowers grown in Kenya, Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil has sadly led to their demise. Ben’s nursery tours and talks are popular with flower clubs and horticultural societies who flock to see one of the few surviving old style horticultural establishments. ‘I feel very passionate about keeping the nursery going. It is a lifestyle like farming, not a job’ says Ben with heartfelt passion.
Imported flowers may be dirt cheap but as Ben opines they have all been treated with chemicals to keep them green whilst they make a huge carbon foot print journey in refrigerated containers to British supermarkets and florists. ‘The history behind them is seedy and brutal – for example the diverting of water away from African villages to flower farms. Cut flowers should be imbued with romance, freshness and beauty’.
Not the shrivelled papery looking alstroemerais that are the norm. Ben is highly critical of the foreign growers who pick the flowers prematurely. ‘It’s just like picking a banana too early. They see a nice bullet shaped single bud. I wait until three buds have been formed, that way the flowers will last much longer’. In fact ‘pick’ is incorrect – Ben and his team pull the stems by hand from the rhizome which in turn activates more growth.
Crosslands offers a thrilling range of different coloured alstroemerias all year round – ‘everything except black and blue’: pink, lilac, lemon, cerise, orange, bi-colours, and reds with endearing names like Etna, Orange Queen and Tenerife. ‘Each variety is very very different. The flowers look fragile but if the stems are cut a couple of centrimetres every day and given fresh water the blooms should last for at least ten days. Indeed as I write the flowers Ben gave me ten days ago are still looking fabulous. The minimum order is 10 bunches for £30 (including £5.00 p&p). It takes a mere twenty four hours from ordering to arriving on your doormat. What’s not to like?
Currently white blooms are all the rage, probably due to the fact that alstroemerias are so tough, making them ideal for weddings as the arrangements can be done a few days in advance.
The plants have a life of between ten and fifteen years and are grown through a supporting grid system. Some grow as tall as 7ft. Ben is always experimenting with trial beds of four or five varieties. ‘When alstroemerias were first grown in England in the 50s and 60s everyone thought they were an exotic plant from Peru. Nursery men overwatered them and closed all their greenhouse vents.’ This resulted in devastation as fungal infections broke out. In fact alstroemerias thrive in Mediterranean breezy warm conditions. Crossland’s is heated by a biomass boiler. ‘We burn a ton of pellets a day in the winter’.
It is a delight to spend time with a true nurseryman like Ben. Not only does one learn a vast amount but his enthusiasm is contagious. I came away determined to make asltroemerias fashionable. As he says they make a very good pot plant blooming as early as March if it is warm right through until the autumn. Just as dahlias used to be dismissed, altroemerias are rarely seen in ‘smart’ herbaceous borders, the exception being in Northern Ireland where I recently saw two excellent examples of how stunning they can be in a garden.
That wonderful nursery Woottens of Wenhaston, Suffolk stocks three or four varieties.
Go on, liven up your house and your garden with this much underrated plant. You won’t regret it.
Ben Cross: 07712332241.
Crossland’s Nursery office number: 01243 552247.