We all love a bunch of flowers. There’s nothing better to give or receive for any occasion, or to buy for ourselves – just because it’s the weekend.
But would we buy them so readily if we knew what horrors lay behind their growth?
Many cut flowers are grown overseas – almost 90%. This is mainly due to economics. Countries such as Kenya, Columbia and Ecuador have higher light levels than the UK and more natural heat, and so can grow a huge range of flowers over a longer period.
Also in these poorer countries labour is cheap, and health and safety is not so highly regarded. Most bunches of flowers bought in the UK have traveled hundreds if not thousands of miles before they reach the florist and have been treated to chemical concoctions of fertilizers, insecticides and fungicides. Many workers are subjected to this cocktail on a daily basis. Rarely are they offered protection and the basic safety standards that would apply here.
Some supermarkets are starting to cotton on to supplying British-grown seasonal flowers but this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Hope is on the horizon. In Britain today there is a backlash of independent and organic flower growers offering a more sustainable choice to the customer with their ethical blooms.
When I first met Jan Waters from JW Blooms she told me that she would hate to get into a bath romantically strewn with rose petals for fear of all the chemicals from the roses that she would be swimming in!
JW Blooms was set up by Jan in 2008. Jan had previously worked for the BBC subtitling programmes for deaf people. She had been in the industry for 20 years and was beginning to find it quite soulless and more automated. When she was offered redundancy she grabbed the opportunity to pursue something she loved and leave the desk job behind.
Jan had gardened since her 20s and like many of us, she was hooked. But she had never really considered gardening as a career until one day she was riding home on her bike with her panniers rammed full of flowers from the allotment. Everyone smiled or commented as she cycled by and it crossed he mind that she should sell her flowers. After reading an article about a Scottish flower grower it all suddenly seemed possible, especially in the warmer south west climate. Jan took small steps to start with and sold flowers at farmers markets at the weekend whilst still in full time employment. This gave her the chance to see how difficult it was to make money from flower selling on that scale. However, undeterred she attended a floristry course and by 2009 had arranged flowers for her first wedding.
Having read about the carbon footprint of flowers, Jan grew passionate about providing a home-grown service without wrecking the environment, and growing organically produced ethical blooms.
Today she provides floral arrangements and bouquets, or provides flowers for DIY brides, for up to 50 weddings per year and still finds time to run floristry workshops. Jan is a perfectionist and natural hard grafter. Up until recently she has managed to juggle the whole business herself just getting in help in the busy times. All times are busy times now and she has enlisted the help of fellow gardener Amanda.
I met Jan through her Instagram account (@jw_blooms) and was keen to visit the flower farm’s ethical blooms at an open day. At the end of a season Jan opened up the field and you could fill a bucket with the flowers that were left. I was like a kid in a sweet shop!
Since 2015 Jan has opened the flower farm to the public on Sundays. She offers tea, coffee and cake and the chance to buy beautiful bouquets and sit with a view of the flower farm and chat to other flower lovers.
The atmosphere is so relaxed and friendly. Jan used to call this her social life! It was her chance to chat with friends and strangers on a Sunday after a busy weekend of weddings. If you have ever seen the film ‘Chocolat’ you’ll know what I mean when I say that Jan does with flowers what Juliet Binoche did with chocolate. She has not only built a successful business, but also a community. Every time I have been for a coffee on a Sunday, I have met some lovely likeminded people enjoying the view, the smells, the flowers and the company. It really is a delightful visit. Luckily for us, Jan sees this as a direction she would like her business to take and she is looking into the idea of opening the flower farm and café daily. Terrifically hard work for her, but what a treat for us.
Jan reopens on Sundays from Easter Sunday and throughout the growing season. The café is open fronted so that you are undercover but in the field so bring a jumper!
Definitely worth a trip Hillcommon, in-between Taunton and Milverton.
For more information see her website www.jwblooms.co.uk
About the Author: Claire Reid is head gardener at the world-class Hestercombe Gardens, as well as a gardening writer, consultant and founder of Grow For Syria, helping to raise money and awareness for refugees through horticultural projects. Follow her on Instagram @growforsyria.