I wrote this article 2 years ago, so while the growers and florists I spoke to at the time are all still operating, some of their business activities may have changed since. Saying that, the general themes are still the same.
As a Sydney-based florist, I am so lucky. My favourite time of the week is the early market starts, where I hop in the car at 4.30am and head out to Sydney Flower Market. Here, we are so spoilt for choice, with so many amazing local growers converging into one big shed, to sell their beautiful blooms.
While many flowers at the markets are imported from overseas, my hands down favourites are the ones that are locally, and naturally, grown in and around Sydney. And with so many different micro-climates around us, from the cold blue mountains, to the warmer central coast, and areas in between, we are spoilt for choice!
An exciting change is emerging
I've always thought this local supply and easy access gave Sydney florists like me an advantage over our regional friends, who more often than not rely on flower deliveries freighted to their shops from markets in the major cities. But it looks like things are changing! This is so exciting, because these florists are starting to have a more local supply of flowers, which are fresher, more cost effective, and better for the environment!
I'm just so happy about this, because it means that our country counterparts will have the same range of flowers and foliages available to them, and their customers will benefit from this as well.
In the last few years, as the demand and appreciation for beautiful local flowers has grown, I have gleefully noticed more and more commercial flower growers popping up in NSW's regional areas. Setting up a commercial flower-growing business is no small feat, with a large investment of time and money required, so it is so interesting to see that many have chosen to do this as they see the possible returns.
This has SOOO many benefits, mainly for the regional florists located near to them, who now have fresher, seasonal, and in my mind more beautiful and interesting flowers, now at their fingertips!
Narrabri is one town that is locally "blooming"
Konnie Wilson, from "Blooms on Maitland" in Narrabri currently has to source her flowers from Newcastle and Toowoomba. While she’d love to be able to go to the markets herself, talk to growers, and see the flowers before she buys them, the 8- or 10-hour round trip just isn't possible on a regular basis.
But recently, Konnie has been directly sourcing peonies from a flower farm in Guyra during their flowering season. And excitingly, two Narrabri locals will also be starting to sell Konnie locally grown flowers from their farms, including Tilla Winston Smith, who is growing a beautiful range of cottage style flowers, including zinnias, poppies tulips and ranunculus.
Konnie's beautiful Guyra peonies @bloomsonmaitland
Tilla has been trialling growing flowers for 5 years, and during this time has worked out what works well in Narrabri's climate, which experiences a very hot summer. She is now producing amazing quality flowers with great longevity, and nice long stems, during the spring and summer months. "Flowers like poppies, ranunculus, and daffodils do really well in spring, and then as it gets hotter zinnias, dahlias, cosmos, strawflowers, sea holly, yarrow and echinacea do well in the heat."
Some of Tillas vibrant blooms @tillawinston
Tilla is really excited to have recently started to sell her flowers wholesale to Konnie. While she did previously sell them direct to the public, she realised that there wasn't enough time in the day to be trialling and growing flowers, which is her passion, as well as arranging and selling them. So this situation looks like a win-win for everyone, including the Narrabri locals, who are now able to buy these fresh, beautiful, locally grown flowers and foliages from Konnie's shop in Narrabri's main street.
Some stunning blossom of Tilla's that Konnie has been selling in her shop over the last week. @bloomsonmaitland
Another Narrabri local, Annabelle Guest, has recently started to grow a range of native flowers and foliages.
Annabelle chose to start growing natives after being inspired by the beautiful native blooms flowering in the nearby Pilliga Forest. With the attraction of creating a new business that will keep Annabelle busy, and outside, the go-getter has sourced and planted 36 different lines in what she has described as a "large trial". Annabelle hopes to soon be able to supply local florists including Konnie, sell at local markets, and, with good access to transport, even wholesale to Sydney once her plants have really taken off, and production is increased.
Some of the natives Annabelle sold at Narrabri's local markets for Mother's Day this year. @annabelle.guest1234
Annabelle is growing amazing and in-demand species like this macrocarpa @annabelle.guest1234
Country florists re-educating consumers
Libby Reimers from Botanica Flora in Orange says people assume flowers in regional towns should be cheaper than in Sydney, but the additional cost of freight from Sydney markets adds a huge amount to the price. Libby also says that due to the challenge posed by the distances from central markets, the flowers that people in regional areas are used to buying from their local florists are actually often imported flowers.
To cope with the distances they need to travel, these flowers are chemically engineered so that they can literally last for weeks out of water. So while they do last a long time, due to their breeding they have no natural character, let alone scent.
Libby tries as much as possible to buy flowers from local growers around Orange, but the challenge that she is facing is to educate her customers about the many benefits of these locally grown flowers, as opposed to the imported variety. While they may not always last as long as the imported flowers, they look and smell so much more beautiful! And not only that, they are so much better for the environment.
Beautiful locally grown roses sold by Libby for Mother's Day @botanicaflora
The positives of locally grown flowers
Another relatively new regional grower, Anna, from Brighton Farm in Mudgee, is also finding this a challenge with the local florists in Mudgee.
With Mudgee being a popular wedding and event destination, Anna saw an opportunity in local flower production, so with a reliable water source, appropriate space, and a keen interest in gardening, Anna started growing flowers at a large scale a couple of years ago. An important element in the decision to do this was the knowledge of the environmental impact that importing flowers was having on the world.
Anna grows similar cottage style flowers to Tilla - as well as gorgeous dahlias and roses. She has also planted beautiful perennials and shrubs, that take longer to establish, but within 5 to 10 years, they will provide a backbone to summer annuals.
Some of Anna's daffodils popping up through the frost. @brighton.farm
Anna initially approached local florists in Mudgee to sell her flowers, and while the event florists have been making good use of her product during wedding season, commercial florists have been more reluctant to sell her product, perhaps, she thinks, because they are concerned they are not what their customers are used to.
So Anna started selling her flowers herself at the local markets during flowering season, and is in fact finding a huge demand for these. Feedback from her customers has been so positive, and they can’t believe how different (in a good way!) the flowers are to other flowers they have bought from local florists or the supermarket. Positively, Anna has had interest from some florists in Dubbo who are keen to buy her product this spring/summer.
Anna at the local Mudgee markets @brighton.farm
The future is looking beautiful
I can't help but see so many positives in this story - mainly for the environment, but also for the benefits these locally grown flowers will give to customers. I may be biased, but a beautiful bunch of poppies is honestly one of the prettiest things I've ever seen, and the scent of a few stems of jonquils WINS over a bunch of imported roses any day.
I guess it's up to these regional florists, with the help of growers, to teach the consumer about these benefits, and what is really beautiful. And with the passion I see in these women I have spoken to, it is happening now. Bring it on!
Tilla's poppies @tillawinston