I've just had the most amazing couple of days traveling to Northern Ireland.
I was there as a guest of DARDNI who support Cut Flower and Foliage Growers in Northern Ireland with free courses, information and a full time advisor. (first hit of Jealousy bug, advice, help and support from a government organisation!)
(View out over the Mourne Mountains from Moorfield Flower farm)
After a very early start on Tuesday morning, my taxi, flight, pickup from the airport at Belfast City, and the IT all worked perfectly, and by 9.15am, i was ready to teach the "Business of selling Flowers" to 15 Northern Irish Flower growers at the beautiful campus of Greenmount College in Antrim in Northern Ireland.
There was a wide range of participants: from those just thinking of starting up, to several commercial growers supplying supermarkets. The morning was spent on Business terminology, (thank you Mark for the Turnover is Vanity, Profit is Sanity phrase, i'll use that from now on) Markets for selling and what attributes you needed for each.
We talked about knowing your strong points, and what your weak points are (so that you can give customers realistic expectations) and we looked at Costs, Expenses and the P word - PROFIT.
After a lunch in the college canteen I got a wonderful walk in round the college walled gardens, while the growers held their NIFFA meeting (that's the NI equivalent of Flowers from the Farm) I'm afraid the weather wasn't conducive to taking photos, but I was amazed at how much was still flowering in the sheltered gardens, - Penstomens, Roses, Hydrangeas, Hesperanthera, plus amazing seed heads and Rose hips. (the picture is of Rosa Virginiana at Kilcoan Gardens)
Our Afternoon session was mostly about Low Cost, No Cost Marketing methods. Ways to make sure that all your target audience have heard of you not 1 but 8-15 times, which is what is thought to be the point at which people are mostly likely to think about buying from you.
We finished off the afternoon session with some information about keeping customers and getting them to spend more, before they got a chance to start their 2016 plans taking into account what they'd learnt.
Wednesday was a day of inspiration for me. As I was taken to 2 growers with very different flower farms.
1st was Lesley from Moorfield Flowers We were welcomed with fantastic farmhouse hospitality, and bacon butties. The Photo at the top of this post is the amazing view out of Lesley's back door. She grows Flowers for Florists, the Farm Gate, and then there is a whole field of paeonies that go off to superior supermarkets. We talked shrubs, paeonies, polytunnels (Jealousy bug again, there are 2 massive polytunnels at Moorfield Flowers, which still have lots of colour in them!) and selling to florists, and we had to be reminded to stop talking so that we could move on to our next grower.
We then had a wonderful drive up through the countryside of Northern Ireland to the top tip, just across the water from Scotland. Kilcoan Gardens is near Larne, and being coastal is windswept, but mild. There are rarely frosts. We were again met with fantastic hospitality - Coffee and Lemon drizzle cake this time.
It's ironic of course that Flower farmers only get to see other flower farms out of season. However having looked at Cherry's website photos i could imagine the borders of the garden in full bloom, and the Polytunnel was already bursting with potential of new plants for next season.
We talked Shelter belts, Foliage, herbs, the difficulties of making the garden look good while being practical for cutting and edibles for decoration.
I've decided i have to go back to take one of Cherry's workshops next year, and her barn unlike mine has natural light, and a view! (Jealousy bug again!)
At both growers we discussed the importance of knowing your varieties. They don't all work for cut flowers. We all have the perennial problem of not enough hours in the day or people to help, but although the soil and conditions were different in Northern Ireland, all the other issues are very similar.
I left with a plastic bag full of mint root cuttings, - they were my first job this morning, and are now potted up in the greenhouse.
Thank you to Mark for organising the whole trip, being my driver and tour guide, and being so supportive of all the NI growers. Thanks to Lesley and Cherry for the tours, i really appreciated your time and insight, and to all the other growers who took part in the workshop, i hope that your 2016 crops are healthy and successful, and you find buyers for everything so your reward is high for all your hard work.
My next English "Business of selling Flowers workshop" is taking place in Surrey on the 18th January more details here