Words Amicia de Moubray Photographs Sue Oriel and Stephanie Bates
There is a quiet revolution afoot in the world of cut flowers. All over the country, purveyors of British grown flowers are rapidly increasing. There is still a long way to go – only 10 per cent of cut flowers are grown on this sceptred isle – but localism is very much a buzz word in this fledgling industry.
Country Lane Flowers was set up by Sue Oriel and her neighbour Stephanie Bates a couple of years ago, to grow flowers in both their gardens in Sheldwich. Some of you readers will doubtless have seen, and probably bought, a bunch or two of their beguiling bouquets plucked fresh from the soil from their roadside stall.
The idea of Country Lane Flowers arose whilst they were on a dog walk. Both had had very different previous careers, Stephanie was a corporate lawyer and Sue was a television executive, and they were looking for new challenges.
‘I wanted to do something outside and with my hands,’ says Stephanie. ‘I love propagating and experimenting with trialling new flowers,’ says Sue, describing herself as a ‘seed packet tart’. To bring a professional edge to the business, they both enrolled on an event floristry course at Hadlow College.
The pandemic gave them breathing space to consolidate their aims – extending the beds under cultivation, erecting a polytunnel and building a workshop. Anne Wilson and Harriet Whatley both help with the cultivation on a part time basis.
Country Lane Flowers’ loose informal bucolic look is right on trend. They even use foraged foliage in some arrangements. ‘We are very careful about what we forage,’ says Sue. No wonder their floristry skills are proving to be in hot demand for weddings. At a planning meeting at the beginning of the year, they reckoned on doing flowers for one or two weddings. At the last count, 11 weddings are booked as well as table arrangements for lunches and dinners – they are responsible for the weekly flower arrangements at Reads restaurant. Country Lane Flowers offers a subscription service for either a hand-tied bouquet or a container of cut flowers at £30 for delivery (a minimum of four deliveries).
Given the vagaries of the English climate, they are keen to emphasis it is impossible to guarantee any bridezilla with certainty a specific flower. As all gardeners will know, each year is different – one year tulips are early but the next year they can be late to flower.
Wandering around both their growing beds last week, there was plenty to delight – from vividly coloured tulips to rich ranuculus in stained glass hues, to cornflowers, to ridiculously long-stemmed sweet peas. There are four categories of cut flower: spring bulbs (plus a few that flower in late summer), annuals, perennials and biennials.
Interestingly, they are also keen to promote the merits of dried flowers. If you need persuading that dried flowers can ever be made to look chic, just take a peek at their Instagram, and marvel at the fabulous bunches and stylish wreaths of dried flowers. As part of their sustainable ‘no waste’ philosophy, all are grown and dried by them out of the sun. They create the wreaths on their own twisted willow bases, attaching the flowers with fine copper wire.
Country Lane Flowers is participating in Flower Farmers Big Weekend 5-7 August. Flower farms across the country are inviting the public to join them on their plots and find out more about flower farming first hand. The event is organised by Flowers From the Farm.