If you follow me in Instagram (link here is you don’t), then you’ll know that I became the proud accidental owner of an allotment in 2021 – so I was even more excited to work at an organic flower farm for the day.
I always make notes because of the memory difficulties that come with having a weird migraine condition. The first thing I wrote is: ‘Be yourself, don’t worry about what others are doing. Plants don’t look at what other plants are doing. Runner beans don’t feel sad because they don’t run’. Alex must have said something that reminded me of the Dr Seuss quote that fish would think they were stupid if they thought about how bad they are at climbing trees.
I honestly could write about five blogs about my day with Alex, I learnt SO much. I still can’t believe that she’s self taught, and has never studied horticulture. Apparently she just read a lot of books, and learnt on the go – which gives me great hope, as that’s what I’m doing at my allotment. I had an asparagus pop up on my plot, which I was next level excited about but I genuinely had to YouTube ‘what to do with asparagus’. We all have to start somewhere.
To give you some idea, until a few weeks before job #42 I had never done any form of gardening in my life. It definitely made me appreciate why organic products are more expensive – whether its flowers or food. There were lots of things trying to eat the plants – from bugs that you could barely see, to rabbits and even chickens. Not being able to use pesticides definitely makes things harder.
It requires growers to be more creative. At my allotment they get foxes from a sanctuary, which help to keep rabbit populations down. Sometimes Alex has to use certain bugs, that eat other bugs. There’s also companion and sacrificial planting, which I’d never heard of. Sacrificial planting is growing something that you hope will be more tasty to pests, than the thing you actually want to grow. Companion planting is mint for example, which put off certain pests as they don’t like the smell. Last year Alex lost 300 gladioli to a tiny bug that burrows into the plant before its even flowered.
Because plants take a while to grow, Alex is always working at least a season ahead – so even though I visited in July, she was already harvesting things to use for Christmas wreaths! Winter is a tricky time of year for growing, so Alex drys lots of flowers, or foliage in preparation throughout the year. Apparently her spare room is full! I’d never really thought about drying flowers, but Alex gave me some to take home & dry. It’s really easy, and they can last for years if looked after properly. Make sure you use fresh flowers, which I wasn’t expecting – I’d always assumed it was old flowers.
Nature is also very unpredictable, which is what makes it beautiful – but also what makes it very difficult as part of your business. Because Alex never knows when something will be ready to use, she has to make sure she always chooses every plant in a colour pallet that will work together. There were some rogue yellow ones that had snuck in somehow, that she wasn’t very happy about.
She also faces a lot of dilemmas. We spent a while deadheading the rose bushes. She was unsure whether to keep them as every inch of space is potential income. Apparently the weather often makes the roses unusable. There had been a lot of rain a few days before, which had broken a lot of the roses. I also learnt that if a rose has 5 leaves then it’s a good one, but seven it will be bad.
It was 32 degrees the day I visited, with no shade at all! It was tough, but the day just flew by. Have you ever met a stranger, but it feels like you’ve known each other for ages? We started the day cutting back the sweet pea jungle, then we deadheaded the roses. We cleared the shelving units and tidied. There was some looking around for sneaky rabbits, hoping to stop by for lunch! We planted some new plants and put fertiliser on others to give them a boost.
I work at a florist, which is a job that I actually got a result of this challenge – which is pretty cool! It was so interesting to see how different it is being an organic florist / farmer. We throw quite a lot away at work, if something snaps or isn’t usable that is accounted for in the prices that are charged. Something that I loved is that because Alex has to work with the seasons, she has to make money from every last bit that she can. Instead of throwing things away, she’ll find another creative way to use something. I think because she’s never officially trained in floristry, she looks at the whole thing differently. She’s very playful with what she does, and the passion shines brightly in every aspect.
I love that she has a whole caravan full of pots that she reuses, plants go to be composted – I can’t actually think of anything that didn’t have another use somehow. I kept thinking all day, that it’s a job I’d love to do – but it’s an incredible amount of work, and the plants don’t stop growing because you want a break. It’s like having hundreds of tiny children to look after, all wanting different things at different times. Alex said sometimes it can get really overwhelming, because there’s so many things need doing and she only has one pair of hands. Her work schedule and pace is set by nature, but I love that they work in harmony together and not against each other.
I would definitely love to go back if Alex will have me! I can’t believe how close I am to reaching the half way point of my challenge. If you’d like to find out more about Alex’s business click here.
If you’d like to learn about living more sustainably, or to follow my allotment journey you can find me on Instagram here