Glorious PYO English Flowers in the heart of Kent.
‘Pick your own flowers’ is a beguiling idea. High up on the greensand ridge above the Kentish Weald near Maidstone, Kent, ‘Blooming Green (www.bloominggreen.co.uk)’ is England’s only ‘PYO’ cut flower business. Not surprisingly it is extraordinarily popular. The day I visited there were several extremely happy looking mothers with smiling children going home clutching splendid bunches of brightly hued autumn flowers. Where else can you wander through an acre of flowers, picking whatever takes your fancy to your heart’s content? It is all very relaxed and informal which adds to the charm.
From July to mid October every Friday from 12-5pm you can turn up without booking and fill a container with flowers foliage for a mere £10 . Each container is capable of holding enough flowers for approximately 10 small table arrangements or 2 hand-tied bouquets or 1 large pedestal arrangement. Check the website for dates in 2014.
Ten years ago Jen Stuart-Smith and her cousin, Bek Bibby, both daughters of Kent farmers realised that the cut flower industry was ‘horrible and due for a change’ says Jen. ‘I have been flower arranging since the age of 12 when my father bet me £5 that I wouldn’t win a flower arranging competition at the local garden show. I won best in show and the £5’ says Jen. It was prescient of them to recognise an increasing awareness that commercial flowers needn’t mean garishly hued blooms flown in from Kenya sold in petrol stations or supermarkets or even in florists. ‘We wanted to make people think where their flowers come from’.
As anyone who follows horticultural twitter knows there is a burgeoning trend for producing English grown flowers with a natural look, particularly it seems in the West Country. Perhaps Jen’s double life as a journalist, she works part time as sub-editor on The Times accounts for her trend spotting antennae.
‘Blooming Green’ is located on what was the first ever commercial Bramley orchard in their family fruit farm. ‘The fruit trees had come to the end of their natural productive life’ says Jen who proudly can claim 5 generations of farming stock in her genes. The orchard was grubbed up the soil was ploughed, enriched , and raised beds were installed. The beds were planted with a mixture of shrubs for foliage, annuals and perennials. ‘With hindsight we would have planted our shrubs five years earlier. As they are such slow growers’ admits Jen. ‘We are continually experimenting and have planted more than 500 rose plants this year which will be brilliant for hips’. Over time the pair have skilled in knowing which are good ‘cut and come again flowers’ such as zinnias, cosmos, agastache and dahlias.
Ingeniously Blooming Green’s website has a flower calendar setting out which flowers and foliage should be looking good each month. This brilliant idea is to facilitate ordering online. If you want a large quantity of flowers for a wedding or a party an online ordering service is available.
A full wedding flower service providing everything from the bouquet, buttonholes, table decorations to flowers for the church is also on offer as well as the eminently sensible option ‘Budget wedding flowers’.
‘We can keep our prices down when you order online. If you are on a really tight budget or feeling creative bring your friends and family to help you PYO wedding flowers. The extraordinarily seductive images of wedding flowers on the website would make anyone want to get married.
At first Jen and Bek sold their flowers at local farmers markets but their big break came when they were approached to take part in the TV programme ‘My Dream Farm’ presented by Monty Don. The trailer for the programme stated ‘City girl Jen (‘nothing could be further from the truth’ says Jen with a wry smile) and her country cousin, Bek, have started a flower farm in Kent. But Monty wonders if the cousins are treating their farm as more as a hobby than a business’. They were nearly thrown off the series as ‘I had broken my leg and Bek was heavily pregnant’ says Jen. Following the screening their website crashed having received more than 280,000 hits. Hobby, Blooming Green certainly is not. It is a very professional imaginative enterprise which is going from strength to strength. Jen and Bek have come up with a winning idea. Go and see it for yourselves.
Blooming Green, Loddington Farm, Linton, Nr, Maidstone, Kent ME17 4AG.