On Sunday mornings, Alice Mitchell can be found in the aptly named Garden Room, at the back of the Grey Lynn Farmers Market.
The Garden Room is a relatively new space for the market, how is that working for you?
I love it. The regulars know that is where George’s Garden has moved to. They queue patiently for their vegetables and then come to see me for flowers. I enjoy the busker playing on the deck next to us while children play on the playground.
You grow all your own flowers
Yes - I have a plot on my parents’ farm inland from Warkworth. I’m so lucky to live in town, in Arch Hill, and commute north to tend my plants. It means that when customers want mid-week orders I can take flowers to them on my way home.
Have you got a horticulture background?
Not really, but farming is definitely in the blood! I grew up on a farm but I studied Photography at University and have no formal horticulture training. I actually got the idea for the farm from Mum, I had been working part time for a florist in Ponsonby after moving back home from several years overseas and was learning how florists sourced flowers, and that's when Mum suggested that I grow my own!
Wow - That was a big leap!
Yes - it has been a big learning curve. I have been delighted with the support that I have received from local flower growers and I belong to a collective of small-scale flower growers. And of course, there is a lot of information online.
How did you go about transforming a paddock into a flower farm?
Wind and weeds were my biggest concerns. I started with a controlled burn to eliminate weeds and return carbon to the soil. The perimeter of the plot is protected by a windbreak, and we made steel hoops to support netting for the flower beds. My partner, Adam, sourced the steel piping for me, then Dad and I spent a day bending it with a borrowed machine.
You made them - that sounds very handy
I like building stuff myself. We also made the planting tunnels. I’m always looking at ways to re-use resources already on the farm.
How long have you been farming flowers?
Three years. I have got into a nice rhythm but I’m always experimenting with new ways of doing things. I use a mixture of different farming philosophies, adapting and combining them to suit my way of working and our land.
How does the collective work?
There are seven of us. We work together to sell a consistent and complimentary range to florists so that we don’t need to go through the auction system. It is an incredibly supportive group - we share ideas and encouragement.
Valentine’s Day is coming up. Have you got plans for that?
Valentine’s Day and Mothers’ Day are the two biggest days on the floral calendar. We flower growers struggle to grow enough for the huge demand, which is why the prices always spike then. On those days, it would be easy for me to sell my whole farm load three times over but I really want to make sure that market customers get some of my flowers. So I will be taking pre-orders and making up special bouquets for Valentine’s Day.
Last year was an unusual one. How did you cope?
It was hard like it was for everyone, but we are just grateful to be living somewhere safe. Adam and I met in England so we miss our family and friends and we know that it will be a long time before we see them in person.
Do you manage to get away from the farm?
We love the outdoors. In summer we like to go camping. We also have a runabout that we take fishing, or just exploring the Hauraki Gulf with friends.
As published in Ponsonby News : February 2021