Is Free ever a good price for your flowers?


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It's a word that's used a lot. Gifts that are given away as marketing promotions.

But do they work?

Over the last 7 years I've given away a lot of flowers. Some have gone to promote #britishflowers as a brand, some have been leftovers that I've given to customers as extras, some have been for local charities or groups. They've meant my flowers have been in front of a lot more people than they would have been.

But have they got me more business?
Well what I've found is that if you know exactly how much value's worth of flowers you are giving away, and if the recipient knows how much value's worth they are receiving, then a "freebie" really works. But if they are just "free flowers" then a) no-one knows where they are coming from, and b) if they wanted more, would that be a good sample of what they would get?

Think about it, have you ever been walking through a train station, or a shopping centre, and been given a free sample to eat? Remember what it was?

The chances are, you've no idea what it was, and even if you liked it, and didn't throw away the wrapper, you couldn't find that size sample in a supermarket.

Here’s a flowery example.

For the last 4 years, i’ve provided table flowers for my local “Horsley in Bloom” event. 10 tables of mini posies. It’s an evening in July that celebrates the winners of this local competition, all obviously keen gardeners. It takes part in my village hall which is about 200 metres away from my front door. I was congratulating one of the winners a couple of weeks after the event, and they admitted they didn’t realise the flowers were mine…..

However for exactly the same amount of flowers, For my local school fete, I offered a Silent Auction prize of 3 Subscription buckets of flowers to be delivered in July, August and September. The Value was £90, and the school got a bid of more than half that to put to their funds. The “winner” knew that they’d paid less than full value, they loved the flowers, and realised I had provided flowers and pruned shrubs in their garden for the previous house occupants. They are now on my customer list, waiting for this year’s flowers to start and have told me they are looking forward to a “significant” Birthday as an excuse to get the subscription again.

So before you give away "Free" flowers this year, make sure you know their value, and so does the receipient.

Rose pruning for plenty of beautiful cut flowers

By Paula Baxter Mill Pond Flower Farm

Last Month I gave a short talk on Rose Growing for Cut Flowers at the Flowers from the Farm conference in Lincoln. There were lots of questions at the time, and since, about pruning roses so I thought I’d give a bit more detail here. 

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I grow roses for wedding and event florists, supplying them from May to October. I have around 90 rose bushes, mostly grown under cover, and cut around 80 to 150 stems most weeks throughout the season. 

Why prune roses bushes?

Cutting roses in bloom is a form of pruning, it stimulates the growth of new stems, leaves and flowers and in a mild climate, with good light levels, there’s no reason why rose bushes would stop producing flowers throughout the year. In the UK however, we have distinct seasons that affect the vigour of rose growth and cause a slow down when temperatures and light levels reduce in the autumn. Roses can (and do) bloom in the depths of winter if they have the right conditions but will be struggling to produce good quality flowers in any quantity. It’s better for the health of the plant to rest through the winter rather than producing weak growth that is more likely to be vulnerable to pests and diseases. 

The main reasons given by gardeners for pruning roses are to get rid of diseased stems and produce a shapely, attractive bush. As a flower grower, the main reasons for pruning are to get rid of diseased growth and stimulate the production of lots of flowering stems for cutting. The hormone responsible for new growth in roses is sent to the newly cut stem and stimulates the production of shoots. The method is similar, but the timing and process may be different. 

When to prune

The timing of pruning can vary, depending on when you need the flowers. I prune all of our indoor roses in autumn, right at the beginning of November. I stop selling flowers at the end of October and once I’ve caught breath, rose pruning is one of the first jobs to be done. The bushes are usually in still in bloom but have slowed right down. Pruning them in autumn gives me the chance to check them over, weed properly and mulch them with well-rotted horse manure or seaweed. The leaves will usually naturally drop as it gets cold, but if they don’t, I’ll tidy off what is left and clear them off the soil. 

Our outdoor roses are pruned between Christmas and the end of January. They are always dormant by that time. 

How to prune

The method is the same for indoor and outdoor roses.

You need a sharp pair of secateurs. Sharpen them especially for this job. Don’t forget that you are deliberately damaging your plants and want them to recover quickly with little adverse effect. Clean cuts heal well and don’t harbour disease.

  1. Remove any dead or diseased wood completely

  2. Take a stem

  3. Locate a node/leaf joint 6-8 inches from where the stem joins the main plant. Cut using a sloping cut (although apparently there’s no evidence to say this makes a difference). 

  4. Cut back all stems to a framework that sits about 18 inches above the soil level. As the plant ages, the main framework will become much more woody so it may be taller once pruned. 

  5. Remove and destroy all plant material, including dead leaves. 

  6. Apply a deep mulch

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The plants will start to sprout fairly soon after pruning. My roses that were pruned in November now have lovely pink shoots appearing. 

A last piece of advice – don’t worry about pruning, it’s not going to kill your lovely rose bushes, they’re tough plants and will grow back strongly if they’re well fed, giving you lots of gorgeous blooms in the summer and autumn.

When you're propagating for profit, OK, just isn't good enough

Propagating new plants.

It’s the bit of flower farming that everyone loves, that everyone anticipates at this time of year, and can’t wait to get round to.

Healthy Sweet pea seedlings

Healthy Sweet pea seedlings

But the difference now to before I was flower farming, is that I need these seeds to grow. I need those cuttings to take, I need that divided perennial to produce flowers this year. Ok, isn’t ok…. They all need to be good or excellent.

Dividing a sedum, but not too small as I want flowers this year.

Dividing a sedum, but not too small as I want flowers this year.

  • When you’re growing for profit, getting it wrong means

  • Less plants / higher attrition

  • Spaces in your beds that weeds can grow in

  • Low efficiency

  • Flowers that don’t meet the grade

  • and potentially - Unhappy customers.

Underwatered Daucus, those top 3 plants just won’t make it!

Underwatered Daucus, those top 3 plants just won’t make it!

You need to be able to root out any plants that aren’t doing well, and throw them away….. They won’t do you any favours.

Gasp…Horror. throw a plant away. If that’s what you’re thinking now, then dismiss that gardener thinking. You want the best quality plants, so Ok just isn’t good enough.

This week’s online workshop is about propagating and growing to make you profitable, so if you want some more hints and tips to ensure all your propagation hits the mark, registration is open here

Subscription flowers - Does your business offer them?

When I first started my flower business in 2013, my original business plan had me selling the majority of my flowers as subscriptions to local people.

I’d been researching on the internet, and had found American flower farmers in particular had CSA (Community supported agriculture) models which had customers buying Shares in advance to get flowers delivered to them over a set period of weeks. The idea being that they shared the bounty, but also some of the risks of the flower growing. The idea of a regular amount of money and knowing how much I need to grow in advance appealed.

After asking around my customer base, none of them seemed to like that idea, so I modified it to a home grown subscription service, with me creating a large vase of flowers each month, (and a wreath in December) which I delivered, and recycled the vases each month. I called it my Year of Flowers.

An April Year of flowers bouquet (2nd April 2015)

An April Year of flowers bouquet (2nd April 2015)

The first year, I had 2 customers, the 2nd year 3, but that seemed to be the maximum, the year after it went down to 2 again. At £360 a subscription, that still wasn’t to be sneezed at, but with little interest I moved on to selling in different ways, and didn’t really promote it much.

But at the same time in my area Freddies Flowers was invading. Freddies Flowers is a “homegrown” flower delivery company. Supported by big business, and with huge investment, but aiming to appeal to an audience that would like to buy from a smaller business, and fronted by “Freddy”. They promote flowers that are “Fresh from the grower so they last ages” (Which my customers took to mean from local British farms). Their clever marketing strategy had young gentlemen Actors door knocking in my area to promote their weekly delivery service. I knew this as I was told by a customer “I told them we had a lovely local grower and didn’t need them!” In space of 2 months I was told about them 4 times by customers telling me how wonderful it was that there was a flower delivery service of local flowers, and they were so easy to buy from, and they had wonderful flower arranging instructions, so it was simple to arrange the flowers to their “recipe”.

At the time they were charging £20 for a box of about 10-15 stems of flowers, that could be put together in a vase to form a simple arrangement. I even had a customer of mine gush on Facebook about how wonderful it was to have all British Flowers, - when actually they weren’t - I was incensed (mostly because I hadn’t got in with better marketing myself) and wrote this,

Beginning of April Flower arrangers bucket, one of the first I sent out.

Beginning of April Flower arrangers bucket, one of the first I sent out.

What they had found, and tapped into, that I hadn’t, was that my local customers wanted to buy for themselves, not just as presents. That the price of the “Year of Flowers” was too large in one go for all but those really having a special treat, and that a weekly or monthly price seemed more bearable to them. They also liked arranging the flowers, although most of them had no idea how to do that, so the weekly FF videos were perfect for them.

So I created “Flower club” to let my customers have a go at arranging flowers in a “no rules” “non judgemental” group, and I made a 6 week flower arrangers subscription bucket, which at £150 was almost the same price as the £20 per week. That year my subscriptions doubled to 6!

I then had a friend tell me that she would love to buy her friend a 3 bucket subscription, but she’d like one a month - could I do that? So last year I introduced a 3 bucket subscription, a 6 bucket subscription, and a subscription for my Friday flowers (£10 seasonal bunch or £15 market bouquet). All delivered on my way home to those locally.

They were exactly the same varieties of flowers I’d been selling before, but without me having to do the work of putting them into a bouquet, or wrapping them. While my bouquet sales went up by just 7% last year, the Subscription flowers went up by 656% (Yes I did double check that figure!)

I’d obviously found the right subscription offers for my customers at the right price points.

High summer subscription bucket. A mix of shapes and types of flowers but to a colour theme

High summer subscription bucket. A mix of shapes and types of flowers but to a colour theme

Not only did these customers spend an average of £40 more in a transaction than those buying a bouquet. But, they were also to be found regularly in my lists of workshop, flower club, and bouquet sales customers. Meaning that subscription customers were particularly loyal.

So how is that altering my planning for the coming season? Well obviously i’d love a 656% increase again this year…

But i’m going to concentrate on making sure that those locally know that I offer Fresh, locally grown flowers, that I can deliver to their door for them to make into arrangements themselves, and that they have a farmer/florist who runs a flower club that they can come along to to learn how to arrange the flowers.

Will this information help you find the right price point for you to offer subscriptions to those locally to you?

Should I be planting out in January?

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been planting out lots of plugs onto the field. It’s something i’ve been asked about, - “Why are you planting now?” but the reason is, - The plants are ready, the ground is ready, and isn’t frozen, and as a flower farmer, you need to do everything you can now, because you’ll always be busier tomorrow!

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Larkspur is one of those crops. The Annual delphinium is a little bit hit and miss for me. My soil means it doesn’t get huge, but it’s worth me growing a row of it for late June/ early July flowering.

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A lot of people direct sow these seeds, and it certainly self seeds itself well on my field BUT It’s a slug magnet, so if it self seeds itself it will be eaten over winter before it gets to flowering size.

It’s most vulnerable period is just after germination, so if you learn to spot Larkspur seedlings, you can whip them out, - pot them up, and use them as spares.

just germinated seedlings that have been whipped out of the field to be cosseted in a greenhouse for a while.

just germinated seedlings that have been whipped out of the field to be cosseted in a greenhouse for a while.

When sowing from seed, I have better success with Autumn sowing, and I tend to sow Larkspur slightly later than the rest of my seedlings in Autumn. This needs quite a strong nerve as Larkspur takes about 3 weeks to germinate, so it means i’m normally pricking out in November when other things have been planted out, or are already filling their modules. I then leave it in the greenhouse until early spring, when their roots have filled their module trays and are ready to be planted out. Because I know i’ll lose some even by doing it that way, I plant these slightly closer together than I would normally.

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Our December and January have been mild, so the root balls on these modules were perfect for planting out earlier in the week. (and it’s the root-balls that really matter, not how much top growth there is)

a perfect root system, and a module that isn’t too dry or too wet, and comes out of the tray easily to plant

a perfect root system, and a module that isn’t too dry or too wet, and comes out of the tray easily to plant

So should you be planting out at the moment?

Well the answer will depend on

1) Is your ground ready to plant and not frozen or waterlogged?

2) Have you beds that are prepared and ready to receive plants?

3) Have you got autumn sown hardy annuals or perennials that are ready to be planted. If they are rooted through their module/ seed trays, and 1) and 2) are yes, then they are better off in the ground than in the greenhouse.

Continual personal development (CPD)

In some lines of business CPD is a requirement of continued employment. Topping up your knowledge, going on courses, conferences and training days is expected and factored in.

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When you work for yourself, you actually need even more continual personal development than if you are employed, because you do all the different parts of the business.

The Work, The Customer service, The Marketing, The Billing, The Communication AND, you’re in charge of keeping yourself inspired at the cutting edge of fashion and knowledge.

So, when you’re manically busy setting up and running your own business how do you manage to do that?

Talk to people - even a cup of coffee with local business owners may help

Networking - in person and online - formally or informally

Go to workshops -

Get trainers to come to you

Do online coures.

This year i’ve already booked myself of a “Day out” at Green and Gorgeous, to be inspired by Rachel and Ashley. I’ve joined a local networking group, which has already introduced me to a venue, some workshop partners ,and lots of potential customers.

I’ve booked Georgia from the Sussex flower school to come and do a training day with my staff, and I’m updating my marketing skills with an online course. Plus i’ll be in the audience at the Flowers from the Farm conference in February.

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Would my business continue to grow without me doing these training courses?

Personally I think the question for me, is would I want to continue in business if there was no growth personally for me.

How are you investing in your personal development this year?

What to grow?

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It’s the time of year when seed and bulb catalogues are dropping through our postboxes. This photo of catalogues taken just before Christmas is now out of date as the new ones stack up. But as flower farmers and florists how should we be choosing what we grow?

Is what we like a good enough reason?

It’s probably a good place to start, but if we don’t take into account

  • our customers

  • our soil and situation

  • and how profitable we can be growing each item

then we’re not flower farmers, we’re just gardeners.