Mill Pond Flower Farm

Beautiful flowers grown in the Scottish Borders

Blog

view:  full / summary

A Different View

Posted on 11 April, 2018 at 15:55 Comments comments (0)

Photo credit: Jo Tennant Photography

A few months ago I was asked whether I'd be happy for Jo Tennant, a photographer, to visit the flower farm. She was taking a series of pictures in the build up to a wedding in the summer and wanted to look at behind the scenes, at what goes into preparing for the wedding. She's also working with Rachel Scott of Hedgerow, fabulous florist an micro flower grower who will be arranging the wedding flowers.

We had a few false starts and re-scheduling - snow, storm, gales, ice, plus Jo had to go off and photograph Nicola Sturgeon. Spring hadn't yet arrived and wellies were definitely needed, but we had a lovely day pottering about, chatting, dodging the worst of the weather and just doing what I usually do. We have another couple of days booked in to document the progress of the flowers as the months go by. 

A couple of days ago Jo sent a link to her blog, a copy of some of the photos and I finally found time to have a browse. And it's amazing.

The past few months have been hard work. Cold, challenging, frustrating. It's been head down and just keep on going, with so few days to appreciate where we are and what we do. Seeing the flower farm through the eyes of someone else, who can create such beautiful images from our everyday is an absolute joy. Pop over and have a look at what she found here, it's made me look at everything with fresh eyes. Genius!

Why Funeral Flowers?

Posted on 6 March, 2018 at 14:10 Comments comments (0)

We've been planning to offer a range of Funeral Flowers at Mill Pond Flower Farm since we first started growing flowers and we're now ready to roll. I thought I'd explain why it's so important to us, and how this makes our funeral flowers different.

Most people have to deal with death rarely, and generally they don't have a plan to go from. In a state of shock and grief, they naturally follow what they've seen before and don't have the time or emotional energy to challenge or research the options. When my Dad died and we were planning his funeral my Mam assumed that the flowers would be large foam letters and the only choice was what they should say. It was what she'd seen at other funerals and the first thing that came to mind, despite loving flowers and her garden and my Dad being a keen vegetable grower. As a flower grower of a few years at that point, I have to admit to being a bit startled. Obviously, I created the coffin flowers using flowers I'd grown, everyone loved them, and I know my Dad would have wholeheartedly approved.

In a previous career, I was a nurse for fifteen years, caring for hundreds of dying people and their relatives. I understand the process, and also the pressures of bereavement. Funerals should be an opportunity to celebrate and remember the person who has died, and they should be as unique and individual as that person. Flowers are a key part of the ceremony, they can provide a visual focus and express care and love that can be hard to put into words. the last memories of our loved ones are bound up in that day, it's important. That's why we're providing funeral flowers.   


Flowers for Frank -including hops for the home brewer


Is it possible to go big while staying small?

Posted on 22 February, 2018 at 15:50 Comments comments (0)

Discussions about what makes any successful and prosperous industry would usually include the size of companies, number of employees, turnover, plant, buildings, equipment and all of the indicators of big business. There will often be existing companies that are used as comparitors - a certain business is 'successful' and the inference is that others should aim to emulate them. Systems are set up to support that approach, including funding that is only available for 'small' farm businesses if they are over 3 hectares in size and targets that reward expansion, more land, more equipment, higher turnover within individual businesses.

Today a group of flower growers got together to look at how we can grow and develop the cut flower industry in Scotland. The assumption was that a number of our businesses would want to grow and expand, taking on more land, producing more flowers, scaling up and getting bigger. 

We are very keen to expand growing in Scotland, demand for our flowers is strong. Although we don't yet have the infrastructure to make the journey from grower to end user smooth, we are confident in our product and that there is a market for more than we can currently provide. And yet, the scenario being suggested was not one that received a positive reaction. Our approach to growing and business is surprisingly similar but very different from the norm of farming. We grow on relatively small pieces of land, between 0.5 to 4 acres, intensively cultivated, using small machinery only, with high productivity and income per acre. Some flower businesses are farm based, but cultivation methods are far removed from industrial scale farming. It's not that we think that large scale farming is bad but, based onour collective experience, it doesn't suit what we do.

There are currently no large cut flower growers in Scotland, (apart from Grampian Growers who are primarily bulb growers). We have no one leading the way apart from ourselves, so when we spent a few hours with a facilitator looking at what we wanted our industry to look like, we realised we wanted it to be not just bigger, but broader. Lots more growers, producing lots more flowers, across the whole country, rather than a few big companies in specific locations. The increase in flower production that we need should be possible by expanding the numbers of growers rather than focusing on the size of the businesses, by collaborating to create a full and comprehensive product offer to delight and enchant our customers. We have a lot to work out, issues of marketing, sales and distribution but we have support and we've made a good start. The future of Scottish flowers may be small but we're aiming to be big.       

When to Plant Seeds

Posted on 28 December, 2017 at 14:35 Comments comments (0)



OR

How to Ignore all Sensible Advice

In the run up to Christmas, there's always plenty to do, last minute shopping, presents to wrap, Christmas cake to decorate, seeds to sow. Of that little list, guess which one got done? Yes, it's the seed sowing. The Christmas cake is still bare and looks a bit like a very large mushroom, iced on the top half and maripan only from half way down the sides.

Any book, seed packet or expert will tell you to plant flower seeds in the Spring, starting around March, or waiting until the soil is nicely warm. They might also add that some can be attempted in September, but not a single resource will advise planting in late December. So why on earth was I planting cornflowers when I should have been turning icing into snow peaks and creating patterns with silver balls?

While growing flowers for sale for a number of years I've been watching and noting how nature does it. There is an unwritten law in flower farming that states the strongest plants are the ones that are self seeded, the ones that pop up in late spring and do so much better than the ones we carefully plant, cosset and nurture, protecting from winds and hailstones. The 'volunteers' just appear, grow away and flower beautifully. I usually find them in sheltered spots in late march, already with a few months growth behind them and unbothered by the cold and wet of a Scottish winter, so I'm working on imitating nature, to grow the earliest and strongest hardy flowers possible.

A carefully selected clutch of seeds were gathered, sown into seed compost and placed into the heated propogator. The criteria for the choice of seeds is 

  • those that will happily self seed outside - very hardy annuals such as godetia, cornflower, nigella
  • tricky germinators that often take a long time to appear - orlaya, bells of Ireland, larkspur
  • hardy perennials needing a period of cold - astrantia, delphinium, helenium
After 3 days the first ones were through and have been moved into the polytunnel. The key is to make sure they stay cool once germinated so there is no chance for leggy or weak growth. Slowly does it, with plenty of opportunity to develop strong roots and the plants are ready to shoot off at the first sign of Spring. The 2018 season is already under way here at Mill Pond Flower Farm!



To Be or not to Be...on Facebook

Posted on 22 December, 2017 at 0:25 Comments comments (0)


I've been a social media user since 2008, when Facebook came into my life and keeping up with the goings on of my dispersed family and friends a became a possibility. I took up Twitter in 2012 to join in with #britishflowers hour and have 'invested' many hours scrolling through snippets of hilarity, laughing at the wit of strangers. We started this Blog on our website and then moved onto Instagram, the picture-perfect world of beautiful images, carefully curated and tweaked. I tried Blipphoto, Vine and Snapchat but didn't manage to get to grips with the technology, but have appreciated the benefits of Mailchimp, though not its very particular clunkiness.

For the flower farm, Twitter has been fabulous for communicating with other growers, spreading the word about locally grown flowers and 'bumping into lots of different folk. Instagram has been the gateway to our wholesale market and a brilliant way to show the world what fabulous flowers we grow. I've avoided Facebook for business, found it hard to get to grips with and didn't want to take on another ongoing task that I couldn't get enthusiastic about. There's something about it that just didn't appeal. and it hasn't been a major gap, though occasionally I've thought maybe we should do Facebook, but then the thought went away again.

Eventually, a very persuasive #britishflowers hour discussion all about Social Media made me think about it a bit differently. Currently we don't really provide very many flowers for local people. We sell wrapped bunches from the Newsagent in Chirnside and a few bouquets delivered, but the majority of our flowers are taken out of the area for use in weddings. It would be great to develop more of a local market and Facebook is really the best way to do that - most local people know we're here but we aren't making it easy enough for them to get hold of our flowers!

Alongside the social media tootlings, the way the flower farm works has changed. I did set up the social media and the flower farm, but I certainly haven't done all the work alone. As well as Anna coming to cut and grow, Ray has played an increasing role over the past few years as builder (see picture!), mechanic, planner, bookeeper, fixer, bodger, lumberjack...as well as a sideline in paid employment. The social media for Mill Pond Flower Farm has all been written by me, just one view of our world, so now Ray's going to bring his own perspective on flower growing to  our Facebook page. To find out more get over to our page and give us a LIKE, & say hello!  







Pricing Wholesale Flowers

Posted on 22 November, 2017 at 8:55 Comments comments (0)



I’m in the process of reviewing our price list for the new season and grappling with the one of the trickiest tasks of the flower grower – what to charge!

Flower growing is my (more than) full time job. I don’t do it as a hobby, I don’t have another income to support it and need to make enough money from flower sales to live and to make my business properly sustainable. I’m committed to what we do and I’m willing to work hard, but it has to pay a living wage.

The overheads of a flower farm are significant, from the land, seeds and plants, fencing and equipment, to broadband, training, websites and transport. All of this needs to be factored into the price of a single flower or stem of foliage.

Some flowers and foliage are harder work than others, take up space for longer, or are more expensive to start off. This is reflected in the price per stem. Marigold seed is cheap, they grow easily, take little looking after and flower for a long period. Roses are expensive to buy, need specialist expertise, use prime space all year round, take years to become productive and are tricky to cut. Tree foliage takes little looking after, but is hard work to cut and collect and the land is in use all year round. Trees also take years to mature so that time of land in use without any payback also has to be factored in.

What do florists get from Mill Pond Flower Farm?

 Quality flowers –every stem is checked, we don’t sell anything that we aren’t proud of

 Huge variety – a great range of properly seasonal flowers and foliage, many unusual varieties and colours that aren’t commercially available.

 No minimum order - if you want 3 stems of a flower and 37 stems of foliage that’s what you get!

 Bespoke service – We provide tailored advice and guidance on the available flowers, how they can be used, how long they last, how they’ll behave, suggest alternatives and substitutes for familiar blooms. We get to know florists and what they like to use.

 Cut to order – we go out into the field and cut specifically for the order that a florist places with us. Everything is cut to be at its best on the day it’s needed.

 Reliability – we will take an order in advance and do our best to deliver it. If it’s not going to be possible, we’ll let you know well in advance. There will be no nasty surprises.

 Stable Prices – our prices are set at the beginning of the year and don’t vary.

 No hidden costs and no VAT

The alternative to buying locally grown flowers is to use a flower wholesaler, either ordering online or going in person to a flower market.

Understanding the wholesale flower market

When florists buy flowers from a wholesaler the price is set – it’s whatever the wholesaler paid at the auction, plus a percentage of their overheads and profit.

Most wholesalers are large companies and their prices don’t vary depending on location, so the price of a rose will be the same in London as it is in Glasgow.

The price of a single flower can vary dramatically from week to week depending on availability, demand and seasonality. If it’s a popular flower such as a café au lait dahlia at the height of wedding season the price can change by as much as 400% from day to day. Equally, if there’s a glut of cornflowers or sweet peas they’ll be sold off cheaply at a discount.

Imported flowers are priced by the stem but sold in bulk, in wraps of 25, 50 or 100 stems so although the quoted price is per stem, the florist has to be sure of using or selling every stem in the wrap to actually pay that price. Every stem unused or wasted raises the price per stem of the order.

Every wholesale order has VAT added and delivery or the price of collection - mileage plus florist time.


Although the product of wholesalers and local growers is flowers or foliage, it's not really a like for like comparison. I do share information with other similar growers across the UK and take note of feedback on pricing from florists, as well as whether individual items sell well and the strength of demand is for particular varieities. 

We have very good relationships with our wholesale customers and want to provide them with fabulous flowers and a great service, so that they keep on ordering and we can grow more gorgeous flowers. They are also small businesses and need to make a profit. I know that they work long hours, juggle lives and making a living, and also create the most beautiful arrangements with our flowers. They're generous and supportive in their praise and promotion of what we do.

And so, bearing all of that in mind, I’ll be updating our price list over the next few days. As with most elements of running a small business, it’s not a scientific exercise but one of balance -  Does it feel right? Will it be OK? Can I live with it? – wish me luck!


 

SOLD!

Posted on 5 September, 2017 at 0:25 Comments comments (0)

A few months ago, I was ridiculously busy, growing flowers, renovating a house, dyeing and selling ribbon. And while all of those things were great to do,I realised that I couldn't do them all. Thankfully the house renovation is in its final stages so that one could go on the 'never again' list (I may write another blog about that one). However, the rest of life was moving at such a pace that time off wasn't happening, and even after dropping a lot of the inessentials there was too much to fit into one day/week/month/life.

So, something had to change. 

I'm a bit of an accidental businesswoman, but I'm very happy working for myself and get great satisfaction from paying my way from money I've grown or made. In my past working life I've done many things and always ended up managing people, not generally from choice but as part of my job role. From the age of twenty one, I've managed hospital wards, volunteers, nursing homes, organised teams and projects of all descriptions. It could have been quite straightforward to just take on employees and grow the business. But then I would have been a manager again, with other people doing the 'doing' - the bit I Iike best. I already have freelance support from lovely Anna which meant there was double the work done in the time, but although she willingly helped with ribbonmaking her heart is definitiely in flowers, and I also wanted to do the growing most of all.

When I said 'I'm going to sell the ribbonmaking business' the response was always 'How are you going to do that?' Good Question!

I did a bit of online searching on 'How to sell a business' and picked up a few tips but really most of the information was about multi-national conglomorations and although I have sent ribbon to the Netherlands, Denmark and Jersey, I didn't really fit into that bracket. I'd run the ribbonmaking business as part of Mill Pond Flower Farm, always intending to set up a more separate identity but had never found the time.

I asked myself what the business consisted of and came up with a list - equipment, stock, expertise, customers, the Heirloom Silk brand and goodwill/reputation. That's what I would be selling, a three year headstart for a small business. 

It's always hard to put a value on your own worth and say 'Look I did this and it's worth something!' so I hesitated and deliberated. But in a braver moment, I wrote the previous blog and posted onto Instagram asking who might be interested in running their own artisan silk ribbon business. And the response was brilliant, from customers who were so supportive, and from people interested in the business. I was concerned about scams and timewasters and there were none, people can be just marvellous sometimes, so genuine and honest. 

Last Sunday, I handed the business over to Anne and Lydia, who have already set about making it bigger and better, doing the things that needed to happen - giving it a website ( www.heirloomsilkribbons.com ) its own Instagram account and much better photos. It looks fantastic and orders are flooding in.

And I've had time to write a blog about it, dig up some potatoes for tea and ponder about how it was I managed to set up a business and sell it as a going concern. A bit of a suprise, but a real achievment. 




Ribbon business for sale!

Posted on 20 July, 2017 at 15:10 Comments comments (0)

Heirloom Silk: Artisan Ribbonmaking Business for Sale

I have been making and selling natural dyed silk ribbon for the past two and a half years. It began as a request for silk ribbon from a bride and demand has grown steadily from florists and the general public. The business operates from a simple online shop, with a range of ribbon colours and widths available – customers order online and I pack and send the ribbons out by post.

The business has now grown to a size that needs more attention and time than I have available. My main business is growing and selling cut flowers and over the past few years both businesses have grown significantly, to a size that means I can’t do both comfortably. I want to make a really good job of everything I do and so I’ve decided to sell the ribbon business as it is today. I have a solid customer base and I’m keen to pass the business on to someone who will care about providing a good service to them, maintain the quality of natural dyeing and ribbonmaking, and also develop new lines and products. There is huge potential for growth and many ways that the business can be improved and expanded.

I would like to sell the investment that I have made into getting this business set up and viable, its profile and goodwill, plus stock and equipment. I’m aware that much of its value lies in the expertise I’ve developed in natural dyeing, cutting and processing of ribbon and a key part of the sale will include training and support (if required) for the person who wants to take it on and make the most of the opportunities this presents.

If you're interested and would like more information please email me paula@millpondflowerfarm.co.uk

CLOSING DATE 15 August 2017


 


Spring flowers have arrived

Posted on 4 April, 2016 at 15:50 Comments comments (1)

In the past week the Spring flowers have begun to bloom. Bulb planting is my least favourite job so it's just lovely to see them come up and show themselves off so beautifully. There follows a pictorial celebration 

Striped narcissus



Wild Plum Blossom


Jewel and pastel anemones


Muscari with a background of poppy leaves


Yellow Parrot Tulips


Purissima Tulips


Foxtrot Tulips


Double Dazzle Tulips


Cairo Tulips


And finally, I give you Narcissus Ice King

Love a slug

Posted on 18 March, 2016 at 16:15 Comments comments (0)

We have a lot of slugs here at Mill Pond Flower Farm, lift any stone or move a piece of wood and there are slugs. Do a bit of digging and slug eggs will be uncovered, cream coloured and shiny, waiting for the right conditions to start to develop. They're everywhere, in nooks and crannies and sometimes just sat there on the grass.

And yet, we have very little slug damage with hosta leaves pristine, delphiniums shooting forth unbothered. When we have gardening visitors one of the most predictable questions is about slug problems, particularly as we mostly have heavy clay soil. So it's really made me think about slugs and whether they're really as bad as they're made out to be. 

A bit of light research uncovered a whole load of information about slugs. There are 30 different slug varieties in the gardens of the UK but the good news is that only 4 of those varieties are likely to damage garden plants. The bad news is that those 4 varieties are the most prolific! To identify which sort of slugs you have, see the handy identification page  at http://www.slugoff.co.uk/slug-facts/bad-slugs

There are many more fascinating slug facts:

Slug blood is green

In favourable conditions a slug can live for up to 6 years

A slug smells with its body

Slugs routinely lose and regrow their teeth

For those who can't get enough of slug facts go to http://www.slugoff.co.uk/slug-facts/facts

Knowing a bit more about slugs has made me approach them in a different way, I'm more willing to live alongside them and have developed a few strategies to reduce the negative impacts:

  • Leave plenty of rotting vegetation around the place. Although this is the opposite to the generally given advice, many of the slugs will only attack heathy plant material when there is less of their preferred rotten diet available. So I strip the leaves from the lower stems of flowers when cutting them and leave them where they lie. Not that tidy, but it does save work in collecting them together and composting and also gives the slugs a delicious meal.
  • Watch out for any even slight damage to seedlings and young plants. They are thoroughly cleaned before use,  and then I do regular checks of seed trays and remove any slugs immediately. They don't have to be big to decimate a tray of seedlings.
  • Plant out a few test seedlings to check the slug load of the ground. If they're immediatley nibbled a beer trap can often reduce the number of slugs until the plants are big enough to get going. Beer traps do attract slugs who throw themselves in and drown though the resultant brew is pretty disgusting.
  • Do a slug patrol in the early evening. Slugs tend to climb up the plastic of the polytunnel as it cools and can be easily picked off and ,moved away.
  • Maintain a balanced environment. We garden organically, have an extremely large pond with hundreds of frogs and toads, plus birds of many varieties. They MUST eat millions of slugs every year.
I may not actually love slugs but I'm generally happy to co-exist with then. Except the one I stood on with bare feet in the middle of the kitchen floor, that one had to go.


 


Rss_feed