Beata Andrews of Botanika: Perch Hill and beyond

Beata Andrews, former head gardener for Sarah Raven at Perch Hill now runs Botanika, her own, unique floristry business where she uses flowers from her allotment and garden to make her arrangements more than a little bit special…

What’s behind the boom in British cut flowers?
Everyone thinks it’s a nice lifestyle to be growing things though some people, until they try, don’t realise what hard work it is! I think it’s mostly people who choose it as a change of career, or in order to have a more rural life and be a bit more connected with nature. Plus, People are more into buying local, sustainable produce. A lot of the brides who find me are those kinds of people — so I don’t have to spend a lot of time convincing them that that it’s a good idea, or explaining that the flowers don’t cost less, simply because they are local and seasonal. If you make your message clear on your website, hopefully you bring the right customers in… And a decent gallery page works well too. That was my plan… The people who find me tend to want flowers that are grown locally. I’m not organic, but I don’t use sprays. I also try and compost everything as you get a lot of compostables with floristry. I try and use very few imported flowers. People who come to me are on the same sort of wave length, which makes life easier.

What was the idea behind Botanika?
I wanted to grow as much as possible myself. I have a very small growing area at the moment but I try and grow little interesting bits and pieces which I would love to have in a bouquet; things that I might not find are grown by other growers — and certainly not at the wholesalers. I try and focus on the little special flowers or the interesting colour palettes. But I’d love to have more roses, the types that I want to use, so when I get round to it and have a piece of land, I’d like rows of roses and foliages. So I suppose my message is: ‘local, seasonal, with a meadowy, country feel, without being twee ‘country fair’ of sort flowers. Or, ‘classy, country, informal’. So many people are doing that kind of style now… but your own style still shines through. You can’t help it. In a class, you can all be asked to create the same arrangement and they all end up looking different. By growing my own, I am able to control what I am getting, which I can’t do if I am buying from other people.

Your three top tips for people wanting to grow their own flowers?
If you’re growing cut flowers for yourself, choose a flower that you have some connection with and really love as there is no point growing something just because someone else says you need to grow it. If you’re growing for other people, check that there is demand and do your market research. What’s trendy, what colours are popular? Also research where you are going to be growing — all the market research will mean nothing if you are growing the wrong stuff on the wrong soil. It’s not going to be very successful. At the moment I am growing in my small garden and greenhouse and half an allotment. It’s a work in progress. I have raised beds and a mix of veg and flowers.

What have you found the greatest challenge?
Pricing up the flowers that you are putting together as in some ways its an unknown quantity. You can’t work it out as stem count, as you might in a florists’ shop. I tend to work on the overall size of a bouquet — small, medium or large — and the numbers of flowers I tend to use in each. It’s hard to be a business person as well as a grower and a creative person! I know which one I’d rather do. I’m not a natural business person, which doesn’t always help when you should be promoting yourself. That is challenging. A lot of creative people don’t seem to be good business people! I have learnt everything on the job. Over the years you work out a fair price, and one that you are happy with, and won’t work for less than that. Then, when you get more confident and more experienced, you can put your prices up, within reason. Until you put yourself out there you don’t know how it’s going to pan out.

Best bit of the job?
I love a picking day! My favourite is when you have grown a lot of things, then going and harvesting what you have been working on for months before, and having a whole lot of flowers in buckets, ready to be arranged. It’s like being a kid in a sweet shop. At that point you wish you had more time to enjoy it and take photos and play with them. But usually you’re quite busy and just have to get on with it. I love the peacefulness of when you go out and gather.

Flowers to try in 2017?
Acidanthera, like a gladioli, and also called ‘Callianthus’ which are really low maintenance and have arching, pale flowers. It’s not hardy, so you plant it every year, but it’s so easy to grow. And they’re not expensive. I plant them between rows of flowers, then in the autumn, they have a beautiful long flower you can use in big arrangements.

Botanika is a small independent floral design studio based in Sussex. We love creating displays that reflect the seasons, using natural elements, interesting textures and pleasing colour combinations
botanikafloral.co.uk

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