It was British Flowers Week recently… a time to celebrate all things ‘grown not flown’ and support our local growers and florists. We’re so flipping lucky to have some truly special ones in Somerset, flying the flag for British blooms.
I’d fallen in love with these beauties on Instagram…
…so there was only one place I was heading, to find out what it takes to grow and create this kind of beauty! The clue’s in the blog title, so no prizes for guessing the one place was Manor Farm Cottage Flowers – a smallholding and flower farm with a bohemian feel, right in the heart of the Somerset countryside, close to Wells.
When I got there, the first thing I noticed about Lara (grower and founder) was that she has a very big smile and an even bigger passion for growing all kinds of beautiful seasonal flowers. As we sat in the sunshine with her two dogs, Frodo and Jet, she let me in on the secret of how she got the bug for growing all kinds of awesome on her two-and-a-half-acre plot!
“We moved from London 10 years ago and I’d always loved flowers. Our previous garden was a postage stamp really, but I filled it to the brim with plants of every kind! My Grandad also used to grow roses in his ground floor flat and when I was little, we’d count the buds together. I still count the buds on my roses to this day and I just wish he could see what I grow here. I hope he’d be proud”.
One thing we know for sure is that Lara’s grandad would be incredibly proud of her. She's an awesome lady (we chatted and laughed like we'd known each other for years) and she grows everything from the heart, including these beautiful roses that have the most amazing scent…
… and she’s been on quite a journey to do it!
“It was a real adventure when we bought the place”, Lara told me with a grin. “ It was exciting, great fun and at first, I spent a lot of time laughing at my own stupidity! I’d make mistakes, but that’s how you learn”.
Well amen to that… and learning is what Lara is all about, as whilst working in special needs teaching (alongside doing an arts and garden design course at college), she became fascinated by the connection between horticulture and mental wellbeing. Working at East Court residential home just outside Wells, Lara experienced first-hand the impact that growing and gardening had on the residents there. She helped them grow flowers or veg in their own designated plots and as she told me:
“We had a real laugh in the garden. It had such a positive impact on people’s lives there and the more we grew, the more curious I became about the bigger picture of British flower growing in the UK too. In 2012, I remember going to Bath & West and seeing Common Farm Flowers. They’re really well known now, but then they had a little stall and I went on one of their first ever courses! That made me want to discover even more.”
For Lara, there were lots of experiences like this - places and people who inspired her to take the plunge and set up as a flower grower herself:
“You know some places just touch you? The Walled Garden in Mells is one of those places for me. I fell in love with the idea of flowers, coffee and cake and I was very inspired by the owner. After going on one of her courses, I knew it was something I had to do myself.”
And grow Lara has! (Actually, that sounds like something Yoda might write! I bet he loves a beautiful bunch of blooms on the quiet :)).
Anyway, the three different plots at Manor Farm Cottage are now choc-full of sustainably grown Somerset flowers that encourage wildlife and biodiversity, and as Lara put it:
“I just love growing stuff – it’s like an addiction of the very best kind and producing stems of great quality is a brilliant feeling.”
As I found out on my visit, it’s all go in the growers’ garden… whatever the time of year! Lara’s worked really hard to get the soil structure and quality to be the best it can possibly be and she’s always busy either sowing, growing or prepping the growing areas - harvesting blooms from March/April until October, to primarily supply local Somerset florists.
The plots have a lovely relaxed feel to them, but as I learned from Lara it's pretty hectic removing the remains of one patch of blooms, preparing it for the next, sewing, caring for the flowers and then doing it all over again, several times a growing season! Makes me shattered just thinking about it... and don’t think you’re getting Christmas off either! :) That’s when there’s wreaths to be made.
Lara uses gorgeous willow from the garden and runs wreath making workshops in December, as well as a host of other ones throughout the year. Whether you fancy creating a flower crown, discovering a little bit more about picking and arranging fresh blooms from the plot, or even trying your hand at creating displays and bouquets for your own wedding, there’s always something cool going on.
I had a little try at picking and arranging some beautiful blooms with Lara and I absolutely loved it! There’s definitely something very calming and peaceful about selecting your flowers, sitting outside with the birdsong in the background... and seeing what happens when you pop them in your jam jar :)
The idea of creating your own wedding flowers is awesome too and Lara’s dream is to host intimate, festival-style weddings in the gardens one day.
With everything that’s happening at Manor Farm Cottage, Lara sometimes calls in the cavalry – well, some volunteers with an interest in horticulture that come to stay onsite and help out with watering, digging and planting, as well as sharing their own creative talents! This first started when Lara fell down the stairs and busted her knee (“That might have had something to do with Gin”, she laughed whilst telling me the story), and although flower growing can sometimes be a bit solitary, Lara’s approach, and connecting with other local growers, makes sure there’s always a community spirit. She also has a little help from her pigs, who clear some of the land at the end of the season - when the time is right!
One of the other things I found out on my visit to the farm, is that flower growing can be a pretty risky business sometimes! OK... so it’s probably not one you’d have in your ‘Top 10 Most Risky Jobs’ list, but if you think about it, with the weather in the UK as temperamental as it often is, all you need are a few hot days (as we had when I visited Lara), your flowers open right up and that impacts whether you can sell them or use them in the way you intended.
As Lara told me:
“Growing things teaches you so much about how little control you have over anything,”
and so it seems to me that you definitely need to be adaptable and willing to roll with it!
Beauty, creativity, risk, hard work, joy and fulfilment… there’s tons to get excited about at Manor Farm Cottage Flowers. It was a real privilege to visit, but out of all of it, the thing I love the most is Lara’s own tiny stall outside the farm and the personal touch that brings.
There’s often seasonal blooms in it, so you can buy a bunch of gorgeousness on your way home - and that’s exactly what one local school bus driver used to do when the stall was full of sunflowers one year. He’d pull over, stop the bus and ask all the kids on board which bunch he should buy for his wife. Heart officially melted! :)
And that’s really what flowers do isn’t it? They touch your heart, brighten up your day and as American Botanist Luther Burbank put it,
“Flowers always make people better, happier… they are the sunshine food & medicine for the soul”.
All I can say is Lara’s got a whole lot of creative soul and spirit… two and a half flowery acres full... and if her story has inspired you, her advice for any budding growers (no pun intended) is to "start small”.
“There’s great joy in picking flowers for your own mantlepiece and even with one raised bed, it’s amazing how much you can grow”.
Well, we’re inspired, so we're off to plant a little something! How about you? ;)
If you fancy visiting Manor Farm Cottage Flowers, Lara holds open days so follow her on Instagram and Facebook and you’ll be the first to know when the next dates are. As well as her occasional stall outside Manor Farm Cottage, Lara also has a fantastic pop-up shop at The Good Earth Natural Food Store in Wells. The times it's popping up will be posted on social media too and there's a few in July, so don't miss those!