How did the two of you meet?
We met at university. We were friends for a long time before fate propelled us to start a business together. Five years ago we were both feeling disillusioned with our careers as creative producers. After years of staring at budgets and screens we wanted to live more sustainably and feel more in touch with the natural world. Over breakfast one day Marianne described an amazing site round the corner from her house. Eight months later (after many visits, lots of research and a generous helping of serendipity) we secured a plot of outdoor space and a glasshouse to give flower farming a shot.
Could you tell us a bit about your micro flower farm?
It’s a tiny urban farm sandwiched between Wood Green and Tottenham where we grow in step with the seasons and with an organic approach. That means we don’t use any chemicals or pesticides. We have an unheated 40m glasshouse and about 1/3 of an acre of outside growing space. Sustainable growing and floristry practices are at the heart of everything we do so we don’t use floral foam and on the rare occasion that we need to source extra stems, they are always from growers who share our environmental ethos.
What do you grow?
We grow what we love! A variety of flowers and foliage that we’ve started from seed, cutting, bulb or tuber.
What’s your day-to-day like?
Varied. We’re involved in every aspect of the business from growing to floristry, installs, marketing, accounts or teaching workshops. Sometimes we’re shovelling manure and other days we get to flower up the most beautiful venues in and around London.
What are your favourite flower varieties?
It changes as the season evolves. We get pretty obsessed with tulips as spring arrives but as the year goes on different varieties come into bloom and we’re reminded of how much we love geums, or umbellifers. That’s the joy of truly seasonal flowers, everything has its moment, so we appreciate the roses enormously from June – September and then look forward to working with them again for the rest of the year when they’re no longer in season.
Why is better to grow flowers than buy them?
For the joy it brings. We still do multiple happy dances throughout the season as seeds germinate. You’d think we’d be used to it but we’re always grateful when we see those first green shoots appear. We like treating ourselves as much as the next person but it’s cheaper to sow a few seeds than to buy flowers. A seed packet only costs a few pounds, better still the flowers in your window box or flower bed provide the seeds for the next season willingly and with abundance so five years in we don’t actually buy that many seeds anymore. Most importantly growing flowers engages us with nature and makes us better custodians of the planet because we see how small actions can have a huge effect on biodiversity and soil health. When we first started growing at Wolves Lane the soil was compacted and nutrient deficient, five years on we’ve added tonnes of organic matter and followed the no-dig method, so our soil is full of worms and teeming with life!
What has been your most memorable project as florists?
Marianne entered us into the British Flowers Week competition at the Garden Museum in 2018 on the spur of the moment when she was on maternity leave. We called up an old work friend of Camila’s who builds sets. He helped us create a wild overgrown installation that celebrated that moment in time from bolted parsnip flowers to all the froth and colour that we enjoy so much in June, all among a carpet of wild flowers. Participating and winning that competition allowed us to get to know some other brilliant seasonal growers and florists, the Garden Museum and its supporters.
How can you achieve the most with a small space?
If you have a small amount of outdoor space, minimise the amount of time you have to spend gardening and maximise your flowery impact by growing hassle-free perennials like repeat-flowering roses, nepeta and japanese anemones. Pollinators will love the nepeta and you can keep cutting the roses until October.
Which flowers do especially well in London gardens?
London is particularly mild so unless you have a north-facing garden that becomes waterlogged in the winter, dahlias will love growing in any sunny London patio or garden. They’re versatile because they’ll do just as well in pots as they will in the ground if they’re watered enough. And for those who only have a window box there are quite a few dwarf varieties. People are usually a bit funny about dahlias because they’re tender so a lot of gardeners have to lift their dahlias in the winter to stop them from dying or rotting. Not in London! We keep our dahlias in the ground for 3 years and only lift them at the end of the 3rd season or else they become too leafy and stop producing enough flowers.
Which bulbs would you recommend buying now and planting this autumn for the spring?
It’s not too late to order narcissi and tulips, which we plant in October and November respectively. Set yourself a reminder to order your dahlia tubers in January. Nobody is thinking about summer colour during the dreariest month of the year, but that’s when dahlia tubers go on sale. The most beautiful varieties sell out pretty quickly, so we have been known to place our tuber order on the 1st January. We pot our tubers up on the 1st March and keep them under glass (a conservatory or cold frame will do) and get them in the ground by the end of May when the fear of frost has passed.
Is it possible to get scented flowers in autumn and winter? If so, which are they?
A lot of the half hardy varieties that we sow in March and April and that flower well into the autumn are heavily scented: cinnamon basil and tagetes ‘Konstance’ (right) are two of our favourites. Paperwhite bulbs can be potted up and grown indoors. With a bit of forcing (storing them in the dark for a period) they’ll flower inside during the colder months and will fill your house with fragrance. The smell has a bit of a marmite effect – it’s heady and powerful – but we love it.
What made you decide to write a book and what top tips might people find inside?
We were overwhelmed with calls and emails during lockdown. People wanted to visit our flower farm, volunteer with us, and buy our flowers. It felt as though gardens, nature and flowers were getting people through this incredibly difficult period and that’s what spurred us on to write a book about growing and enjoying seasonal flowers aimed at the novice gardener.
How to Grow the Flowers is full of step by step guides to help the newbie gardener grow throughout the season whatever the size of their plot. It’s packed with information on how to care for the soil (unsexy but absolutely paramount if you want healthy plants!) how to sow seeds, take cuttings, pot on, plant out; when to cut your flowers and what to do with your bounty. Aloha Bonser-Shaw, our photographer visited us for an entire season at Wolves Lane. She deftly captured all the magic, the weeds and the showstoppers that we’re lucky enough to work with every day. The book is a real feast for the eyes but is full of useful tips and inspiration for people to start growing flowers successfully.