It’s no secret that the cut flower industry isn’t too kind on the environment. From Holland to Italy, to Israel to Kenya, flowers are grown and imported all over the world, just like a lot of our food.
When we moved our family from London to Cornwall in May 2020, the additional space and the mild climate meant we were presented with the opportunity to start growing our own flowers, so we could also offer our customers a selection of seasonal, homegrown flowers, as well as replacing imported flowers with our own as much as possible, therefore reducing our reliance on imported flowers. We now have several polytunnels, many kilometers of outdoors beds and a budding flower farm of our own.
In only three years since we started our growing operation we’ve been able to offer 100% Cornish-grown bouquets for some periods of the year. As we expand this operation we’ll be able to offer this for more and more of our growing season. In order for us to offer our bouquets and employment all-year round we import flowers from places where they grow plentifully through winter in heated glasshouses or warmer climates. We do this to supplement our bouquets when we don’t have the availability of homegrown flowers or to supplement them to create the standard and size of bouquet our customers expect.
At Petalon, our focus is to provide our customers with unusual and interesting flowers in an affordable and considered way.
We currently have 85 acres on our farm and are developing a unique approach to farming flowers on a larger scale that is kind to the planet. Half of this land we leave to the local wildlife. On the other half we grow flowers using no-dig practices that mean the soil is never tilled and that we add an enormous amount of organic matter to the soil – our aim is always to improve the biodiversity of the soil, never to destroy it. Diversity is king when it comes to healthy plants: diversity of nutrients, diversity of plantlife, diversity of fungi and bacteria, diversity of wildlife. By using no-dig methods not only do we preserve the vital organic matter that provides nutrients to plants and structure to soil, but we also store greenhouse gases which would otherwise be released by the tilling common in conventional farming.
We have taken on land previously used for industrial agriculture. Following years of heavy duty farming, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, the life (microbiome) of this soil was sparse and sterile and not a good starting ground for growing healthy flowers. We’ve seeded it with blends of crops that fix nutrients, bind soil and encourage the establishment of organic matter. We then let these seeds grow and allow our mixed herd to do their thing – grazing on the weeds and fertilising it with their poop. Only when the land has had time to recover and its microbiome has improved do we use it for growing. Regenerative farming is a long game, but an important one. We do not use pesticides or artificial fertilisers under any circumstances and instead treat any pests we do find with organic nematodes.
We keep a mixed herd (or ‘flerd’ as we call it) of animals on our farm who function as walking lawnmowers and fertilisers. They are pasture-fed all year round. Many of these animals were saved from an undesirable fate and given the chance to live out a natural-length life in love and security. In return they kindly eat the weeds we don’t want and fertilise the land for us.
Skye and Jura are sisters and are our Highland Cows. They were headed to the market at only 8 weeks old so we took the opportunity to give them a home here, initially in James and Florence’s garden to make sure they grew up super tame. These gentle giants are now a key part of our mixed flerd, grazing things the others won’t and using their heavy hooves to trample fresh soil.
Tulip, Daisy and the rest of the Gotland Sheep were surplus to requirements on their farm after no longer being able to raise ewes. Normally this would mean they were “moved on” but they’ve got a lot of life left in them so now they live with us. They’ve got a real taste for weeds and brambles!
Our Valais Blacknose sheep are from a farm in North Devon. These lads are as friendly as labradors and love a cuddle. Like the Gotlands they are mountain sheep so a Cornish winter is like a summer holiday by their standards!
Our Kunekune pigs – Brian, Brick and Veronica – are the darlings of the farm. They are friendly and gentle and they provide a key service in turning over ground to make it available for wind-blown seed. This hugely increases the biodiversity in our wilder fields by allowing new plants to colonise it.
You can follow our journey and read lots more about our flowers, land and animals on our blog.