Small Business Saturday Blog

Stunning scented flowers from a stunning location

Wednesday, June 17 at 09:05
Inspiration | Small Business

We are very privileged to live and work on the beautiful Isles of Scilly, a group of islands 26 miles off the south west tip of Cornwall.  This small group of islands has long been famed for growing scented narcissi – multi headed small daffodil type flowers that have a beautiful perfume.  Over 150 years the flower farmers of the Isles of Scilly have earned a reputation for growing the best scented narcissi. Flower farming has flourished on Scilly due to the islands mild climate – frosts are virtually unheard of even in the harshest winters.  Scented narcissi grow outdoors and flower from October through to Easter.Years ago Scilly’s farmers benefited hugely from the railway which took their flowers direct from the ferry in Penzance to Covent Garden in London.  However in the 1980’s when flowers started to be air freighted from around the globe, competition increased and flower growers on Scilly found it hard to compete.My parents-in-law, Andrew and Hilary, were determined to keep our small farm on St Martin’s going. They looked for a scented summer flower and chose traditional English scented pinks.  By a process of trial and error they made a success of the new crop and this extra income helped keep the farm afloat. Then one day some holidaymakers passed our farm and asked Andrew if he thought the scented pinks could be posted as a gift for their friends at home.  This spark of an idea was grabbed by my in-laws and from very humble beginnings, literally on the kitchen table, and nearly 25 years later Churchtown Farm sends 90,000 gift boxes of postal flowers a year and the farm is a thriving business, helping to keep the island tradition of flower farming alive.My parents-in-law have now handed over the day to day running of Churchtown Farm to my husband, Ben, and myself, Zoe and we live on the farm with our two children Rosie and Piran.  St Martin’s is a very special place, we are surrounded by the most beautiful scenery and a close community of about 130 people. Being so remote obviously does bring with it some unique challenges when it comes to running a business!There are 18 of us picking and packing the flowers and when you only have a population of 130, 25 of whom are still at school, you have to cast your net a little further afield.  We have a talented team from all over the world who have come to experience island life and live at the farm.  Some come for just six months, others fall in love with Scilly and make St Martin’s their home.Obviously the weather influences life in a big way. All our gift boxes of flowers go by boat to the larger island of St Mary’s from where they are then flown to the mainland.  If the weather is stormy or the fog comes in it can disrupt logistics.  We spend quite a lot of time watching various weather websites and making plans to minimise any disruption.We also have to be very organised - not something that comes naturally to me! We plan months in advance to make sure we have all the things we need.  If we run out of boxes we can’t just call our supplier and ask them to send a lorry, it all has to be carefully planned, booked on to the freight boats and collected by tractor from the quay at our end.The upturn in internet shopping has made a huge difference to our businesses and this year the islands got super fast broadband which is already changing the way we work. So if you are ever on Scilly pop in and see how a remote traditional flower farm is able to thrive thanks to very modern technology.
By Zoe Julian, Scilly Flowers

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