Victoria Uff is deep into her first year of growing seasonal, British flowers – cut from the family’s Suffolk meadow. Ahead of the Open Day, this Sunday, she writes of how the family took refuge in the beautiful meadow last year and the idea stemmed from there
I suspect it always feels hard to sum up one life in a few words, and after the events of this last 18 months, which have brought such extremity to us all, it is perhaps even harder. Having said this, I think that ‘full’ possibly best describes the pattern of my days and years, and it is something I am grateful for.
2020 started well for us, with our first major family holiday abroad; my husband and I and our three children, then aged 11, eight and four.
We left still expecting that the year ahead would bring the usual joys and challenges, alongside a few new ones (the youngest beginning school, the eldest moving to secondary school, and increased opportunity for me to work).
Within two weeks of returning, the UK went into lockdown. The following months saw the absolute loss of all my work (freelancing within community music) and then, most devastatingly, the sudden death of my wonderful mother-in-law Margaret.
Amidst all this horror, our family took refuge in visiting and camping at our beautiful meadow, which occupies a three-acre plot in the village my husband grew up in.
It was here that the seed of an idea grew – to create something in the place that had so much history for us as a family, and where my father-in-law had grown vegetables and collected water as a young boy in foster care.
By September, with all children back to – and starting – new schools, I broke earth on what would become the original, 9x12m flower patch.
After a long Autumn and Winter of mostly turf lifting, bulb planting, seed sowing and lots of digging in the rain, on April 11 I announced my intention to begin selling the beautiful flowers that were finally emerging from the cold ground, and The Meadow Patch was born.
Four months on and I have grown, nurtured and cut well upwards of a thousand stems of flowers ranging from the first, soft and flouncing narcissi, through wax-petalled tulips, bee-beloved cornflowers, romantically scented sweet peas and softly swaying spires of Larkspur.
Now we are moving to greet the bold and blazing stars of late summer – dahlias, cosmos and sunflowers – and I am already sowing seeds which will bloom next year: the biennials such as foxgloves, who take the longest time to come to flower, but who reward us with such beauty to bridge Spring and Summer.
Alongside growing, I have had to teach myself floristry from scratch, as well as seek and try out the many different revenue streams in which I might sell my flowers.
I have brought my blooms to a monthly market, sold wholesale to florists, created arrangements for a local venue, designed bespoke bouquets and delivered them in both celebration and sympathy. This week will see us open our gates for our very first Pick Your Own (places for which are already sold out) and Open Day, as part of a nationwide weekend of events taking place by members of the wonderful organisation, Flowers from the Farm.
We cannot wait to welcome people to our meadow, show them how our flower patch has already grown within its first year and tell them all about our plans, for the future.
Full details are available on my Instagram and Facebook pages, but I will just say that we are extremely happy to be joined on the day by two other local business, Bee Kind Plants and Hall Lane Flowers.
The final milestone of my growing year will come towards the end of the season, with my first involvement in the weddings of two beautiful couples.
I cannot think of a better way to conclude my first year in this new venture, before heading into winter months spent planning and learning ready for the year ahead.
So far, this year has been a rollercoaster like no other, and I cannot think of the last time I learnt such a volume of new information at such an intense rate.
Whilst I have been growing and gardening since I was at university, growing cut flowers to sell is entirely different to the landscaping and maintenance I had prior experience of.
Ensuring a smooth succession of blooms to take you throughout the entire growing season (April to October for most British growers), is a skill which takes years and years to master, and even then is entirely at the mercy of the weather.
This year being a case in point – a desperately long, cold Spring and the subsequent extremes of heat, drought and rain (which have us so acutely aware of the realities of climate change) have created some of the most difficult growing conditions that many flower farmers have seen in years.
It is with this in mind that we are determined to grow in a way which works most kindly with our land, feeding the soil and the huge, interconnected and diverse range of animals, insects and life forms that live both on and in it.
We are also learning more and more about the hugely destructive and harmful practices that dog the cut flower industry.
Did you realise for instance, that industrially-grown and imported flowers have the highest carbon footprint of anything purchased within a British supermarket?
We have been increasingly aware of the need to grow our fruit and veg seasonally and organically for some time now, and yet we have never given a thought to those Valentine’s Day roses – grown in sterile conditions, sprayed with fungicides which are harmful to the workers who grow them, dipped in chemicals to preserve them before being flown hundreds of miles to sit on shelves and eventually end up on your kitchen table.
The British flower market is steadily growing, and the small act of one consumer making the switch to buy locally, consciously grown flowers, is just as powerful as a signature on a petition or a protest outside Parliament.
Looking towards next year, we have big plans. Expanding our growing area and the addition of a polytunnel will allow us to grow on a much larger scale than we have this year, therefore enabling us to supply a greater number of blooms to the increasing market for British grown flowers.
Not only this, but in time we have hopes to add a separate element to our business – one which will involve us sharing both our space and knowledge with a new generation of young people for whom employment can be an often insurmountable challenge, but many of whom benefit enormously from the sort of hands on, methodical work which forms the backbone of so much in horticulture (not to mention the proven therapeutic benefits which come from nurturing and working with the land.)
Though this is a long-term aim, we are already taking tentative steps towards making it a reality, and we are passionate about using our resources to improve the lives of others who are a part of our community. At the start of this year, I had no idea which direction growing flowers would take me, but with the inspiration I take from my children, and the support of family and friends, I am so very excited for what the future holds. For that I am enormously grateful – long may life be full.
The Meadow Patch Open Day takes place this Sunday, August 15, as part of the Flower Farmer’s Big Weekend. The Pick Your Own slots have sold out, but people are welcome to walk round the meadow and the flower patch. Visit @themeadowpatch) on Instagram and Facebook