Photographs: Charles Francis
June 2013: “It’s like being a kid in a sweetie shop,” says Becca Stuart. Becca and her friend Maz Parish are growers of gorgeous organic seasonal flowers for weddings, and they agree that their favourite part of the job is taking a stroll through their wildflower garden to select the very best blooms for the perfect bridal bouquet.
It is only 12 months since the Garden Gate Flower Company took root on farmland at Fowey. Becca, a curtain and blind designer, and Maz, who had recently completed a PhD in geography, met at their children’s school, and discovered that they shared a passion for flowers and a desire for a new challenge. “We wanted to grow flowers which would look more natural than the traditional florist fare,” says Maz. “And we liked the idea of growing things for big events like weddings rather than having a shop.”
Becca’s mother, Penny, offered them a paddock at her organic farm and became a partner in the business. “From a small handful of seeds we started growing — and amazingly, flowers grew,” recalls Becca. Rudbeckias, anenomes, poppies and phlox blossomed in the paddock, and honeysuckle and wild roses flourished among the hawthorn and crab apple in the hedgerows which provide essential shelter for the farm’s exposed sea-facing site.
Maz and Becca were delighted to discover the high level of demand for their home-grown blooms. “More and more brides want organic flowers, and they love to come somewhere where they can see them growing,” says Becca. “They want to know they haven’t been shipped from somewhere in Africa where there is a water shortage.
“When a bride comes here for a consultation, she sits down in our kitchen with a cup of tea and a slice of home-made cake, and we discuss what flowers will be in season at the time of the wedding. If people tell us long enough in advance we can bespoke plant for them. But our best brides give us a colour palate and say: ‘I want you to pick the flowers’, which enables Maz and me to choose what’s looking best at the time.”
Becca and Maz can also cater for corporate events and funerals, but weddings are the core of their business. Over the course of their first growing year, they have learned which species will thrive in the soil at the farm — stony, but well-drained — and when each is likely to be at its best. They were able to offer September brides a glorious array of both summer and autumn flowers.
The garden was still looking beautiful in November — but then came the long, cold winter. “It was a bit disturbing in March when nothing was growing except the weeds,” says Maz. “But plants will grow in their own time. Yarrow has self-seeded everywhere, and camomile and poppies have done well. Even the sunflowers stood up to the wind. “
Becca adds: “Having a polytunnel is a big advantage, as it means we can sow trays of seeds to try and get ahead of the game. Next year, we’d like to pack the polytunnel with tulips, as they’re so popular. We go for the more unusual varieties: you can buy tulips everywhere for £1 a bunch, and we can’t compete with that.”
This spring, they direct sowed nigella, larkspur, cornflower in the paddock, and made use of Penny’s sheltered farmhouse garden to grow peonies, roses and asters. In this year’s bouquets, they also plan to use bluebells and ferns from the woods at the farm, sprigs of oak and elm, and scented herbs like hyssop, fennel and dill. “We even use the odd weed,” says Becca. “We’ve realised it’s true that weeds are only flowers growing in the wrong place.”
More of a problem than weeds are four-legged pests. The sweet peas in the polytunnel have to be protected to prevent them being munched by mice, and in the fields, rabbit fencing is essential: “We have bunnies galore,” sighs Becca. But the farm is also a haven for more welcome wildlife, including a barn owl, who regularly visits the paddock.
To celebrate the Garden Gate Flower Company’s first year in business. Becca and Maz are holding an open day on July 14, when visitors will be able to buy plants and flowers. The event, in aid of the Hereditary Breast Cancer Helpline, will also feature a pop-up vintage tearoom, and stalls for local companies, including Lancaster & Cornish, an organic fabric company. “We’re hoping to grow flowers for their dyes,” says Becca.
“It’s good to get together with other new businesses and share ideas. There’s a great organic revolution happening, and it’s something we want to be part of. For us, growing organically is about supporting wildlife and protecting Cornwall’s heritage.”