TALKING FLOWERS ... with flower farmer & florist Sarah Wilson of Compton Garden Flowers
ECT: Are you more farmer than florist, or more florist than farmer?
SW: Well, in normal year I spend about 60% of my time growing and 40% designing but I am most definitely both and I love the combination of the two roles.
Sarah Taylor, photo by @robhelliwellphotography
ECT: Tell us about the flower farm
SW: We, that’s my husband Bob and I, farm about 60 beds. Everything is grown as nature intended, without any harsh chemicals, and our range is quintessentially cottage garden. It’s a broad selection rather than a deep one because we like to mix established things that lend themselves to cutting like cosmos, phlox and cornflowers, with very productive flowers such as dahlias and more unusual blooms. Last year we grew about 300 varieties.
ECT: 300! That must take some planning…
SW: Yes, it does! Imagine an enormous spread sheet. First we have all the colours and shapes. I veer towards wedding colours but I like to have some brights too, and I plant a variety of shapes - pointy, round, thin, full etc for fillers and focal points. Then you have to think about the season. Broadly speaking, we have flowers from April through to October, so we overlay the colour and shape list with another list containing the spring/early summer and late summer/autumn varieties. And finally, we have a list of the flowers that we try to keep going throughout the season – things like ammi, calendula, cornflowers and nigella. For these flowers we have multiple successional sowings per season.
Images of Compton Garden Flowers, photo by @Faye Taylor Photography
ECT: Did you train in horticulture before you launched the business?
SW: No, I don’t have any formal horticultural training but my mother and aunt were great flowers growers so I grew up knowing what to do then, as an adult, I always grew flowers for cutting. When we decided to launch the business, I did a four week ‘Career Change’ course at the Tallulah Rose Flower School and joined the British grower’s association Flowers from the Farm. I also bought a copy of ‘The Flower Farmer’s Yearbook’ and followed it like a bible.
ECT: What tip would you pass on to someone who wanted to start a flower farm?
SW: Start gradually - don’t buy a two-acre field and plough the whole lot up straight away. We started in 2016 and have increased the size of the field a little bit each year. We’re now at just over an acre and that feels about right.
ECT: And what about the floristry side of the business?
SW: We design flowers for weddings, parties, product launches, funerals and special events and we also supply buckets of flowers for people who want to do their own. The curated buckets really took off last year when the pandemic put a stop to all the events and I absolutely loved it! I hadn’t realised how much scope for creativity there is in putting together a bucket of flowers.
Top: Flower bouquet on table. Above: Table flowers ,both by Compton Garden Flowers, photos by @ Lush_imaging
ECT: You run floristry workshops as well?
SW: Yes, I absolutely love teaching. We do some workshops here at the farm and I also have an association with a local farm shop. I do lots of themed workshops there – Easter, British Flowers Week, Christmas wreaths etc. Lots of my workshop customers come back again and again and some have even started their own cutting gardens. That’s really exciting. Growing your own flowers is such a joy.
We also asked Sarah to pick her flower of 2021 and she chose… the dahlia. Find out why – and pick up some growing tips too - in this short film