Now, more than ever, customers are turning away from products that have been sourced and shipped from the other side of the world, and choosing instead to invest in good quality local produce that has the home-grown touch. This is creating opportunities for home-based entrepreneurs with a green thumb and a patch of garden going spare.
Keen gardener and former international banker Steve Page, based in Eltham, south-east London, started his business, Care Grow, seven years ago, having developed a knack for growing top-quality chilli peppers.
He says: “I was growing them to the extent that I didn’t know what to do with all the fruit, so I started making chutneys and sauces, initially giving them away to friends. In 2007, I had an opportunity to get out of international banking business, and that was when I turned my hobby into how I earn a living.”
His garden is approximately 50sq ft, so not huge, but he uses all the available space for growing his chillies, as well as herbs, fruit and vegetables that he also uses in his business.
He sells his produce, a range of homemade preserves, chilli sauces, relishes, jams, jellies and marmalades at farmers’ markets and other local events, and has also secured listings with four retail outlets, with more listings in the pipeline.
Care Grow does take up a lot of his time. He cooks most days, but during the growing season he has to divide his time between the kitchen and making sure everything is ticking over in the garden.
He adds: “One thing that has stood me in good stead was my decision to take a training course for my City & Guilds in Gardening certificate, which I did at evening classes before I really started to develop the business. I often go foraging for wild fruits, and that does require a little bit of knowledge to ensure that you don’t pick the wrong things.”
A buoyant UK wedding industry, where couples are constantly looking for extra special touches for their special day has paved the way for home-based flower growers, who are finding outlets for their floral offerings at local floristry businesses, event planners and venues.
Fiona Pickles has been running her specialist wedding floristry business, Firenza Floral Design, based in Halifax, West Yorkshire, for nine years.
When she came up with the idea of using cuttings from a rosemary plant in her garden for buttonholes, which her clients loved, she knew she had hit on something special, and began growing more plants.
She says: “We specialise in scented flowers and herbs for our weddings and we are extremely busy all year round. Although we would never be able to grow all our own flowers, we do grow substantial quantities of rosemary, lavender, oregano, mint, lemon balm, bay, thyme and catmint. I also grow some flowers including scabious, honeysuckle, clematis, sweet peas.”
There is a flourishing community of British flower growers doing the same thing. Flowers from the Farm is a network of growers across the country who regularly gather and offer advice to each other. As well as meeting in person they also connect on Twitter, using the hashtag #britishflowers, between 8pm and 9pm every Monday, to share tips and advice.
The Great British Florist, founded by Heather Gorringe, sources and sells 100% British flowers. She grows her own flowers and foliage at her home in Herefordshire, where she has an old walled garden and a two-acre field.
She says: “Many new businesses are starting up at the moment by growing garden flowers and foliage on a smaller scale, which it is possible to do, especially as you can supplement the flowers by foraging in your local area for example, by making friends with other flower gardeners.”
In deciding which flowers to grow, she chooses the ones she likes and that can be grown practically, and will be in flower at the right time of year for certain events.
“We have had several gluts; we once grew lots and lots of dahlias, which were beautiful but there were too many. Roses are always popular of course but not as easy to grow as some other flowers, and we love to grow annuals as they are easy and reward you with a great show,” she says.
The seasonal nature of a home-grown flower business has its advantages and disadvantages. If customers want roses in February, home growers will be unable to supply them, however, by having a variety of flowers available that are not grown on a commercial scale, they can offer an alternative, and also use seed heads and foliage to create a beautiful and unusual look.
“Wastage can be a problem, and of course the peaks in trade, typically Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day, can be a challenge to manage,” adds Gorringe.
Anyone thinking of starting their own home-grown flower or garden produce business should be prepared for the fact that it is very time-consuming. Fiona Pickles says: “That was one of the problems we found last year when we started to try to grow flowers in our raised cutting beds, when all the work needs doing in the garden, the wedding season takes off so we had to drop everything to work on our weddings.
“A knowledge of growing and seasonality is definitely an advantage, but there is so much support around I would urge anyone to give it a go, especially if they happen to be local to us here in West Yorkshire.”
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