Flower power business is booming

A LIFELONG love of gardening and a market opportunity have combined to create a unique niche business for one northern Tasmanian couple. Business is blooming for flower growers Anne Green and Thomas Gunn who specialise in producing chemical-free flowers for the local market. The couple established their Green Flower Farm business on the banks of the East Tamar River at Hillwood.

Mrs Green had a long career as an English teacher before turning to flower growing. Her parents, who were both keen gardeners, instilled in her a love of growing things. “I love gardens and I’ve always loved gardens and when I’ve travelled, I’ve always dragged husband around to look at gardens. Luckily, he doesn’t mind them either, so it has always been there,” she said.

A conversation with Mr Gunn’s daughter, who is a florist in Hobart, helped them identify a clear gap in the market when it comes to the availability of chemical-free flowers grown in the North. Mrs Green said the amount of packaging used for flowers was also raised as a sustainability issue. After purchasing a neighbouring block, the couple started establishing their flower growing beds. The farm was once part of the Miller family’s orchard.

However, the flower-growing area was largely untouched pasture, so it had plenty of topsoil and was ideal for flower production. Mrs Green said they were now using organic inputs including compost to help boost the soil fertility and improve its structure. While they are not organically certified, Mrs Green said they stick to organic growing principles. Despite the recent record wet conditions, Mrs Green said the site’s natural slope meant it had drained reasonably well. The production area has been fenced to exclude browsing animals. After starting out with fast-growing flower varieties to get production underway, the couple are now establishing a broader range of flowering shrubs, woody plants and foliage producers.

“Having a father who was a keen veggie gardener we grew up eating seasonally and I think that’s something we’ve lost as a society,” Mrs Green said. “I think it’s a really sad thing and it also applies to flowers. I think there’s a lot of things we’ve lost with flowers and one is the seasonality and that’s something we’re working towards.”

The couple sell their flowers at the weekly Launceston Harvest Market. Being field grown, Mrs Green said their flowers were picked in season which makes having a large number of varieties essential. “There’s a whole range of responses that we get, but it is about trying to explain to people that as a seasonal producer it varies even week to week,” she said. The wide variety included in their range means people sometimes see heritage style flowers they may have fond memories of.

“There’s a lot of nostalgia, because people had grannies that grew seasonally, they say things like ‘Granny’s Bonnets, I haven’t seen them for year’ or ‘Sweet Peas, I haven’t seen them for years either’ because you can’t buy them commercially,” she said. Being able to maintain a consistent supply of flowers has been one of the couple’s more significant challenges.

“That’s very much been part of our learning process, last year, this year and probably next year, because your brain has to change form just being a gardener,” Mrs Green said.

“Obviously as a gardener you just enjoy what you’ve got in and if you don’t have flowers for two weeks it’s no big deal, where here you have that constant supply and we still haven’t quite nailed it yet.”

The couple are also experimenting with raised bed production to help improve drainage and improve weed control. Last year the couple sold flowers weekly at the market from September through to mid-May.

Mrs Green said the ethos of the Harvest Market was very much focused on seasonal supply which was a good fit for their business.

While she does not have one favourite variety of flower, Mrs Green has a soft spot for roses, Dutch irises and dahlias. After planting 300 dahlia tubers the first year, this year they have planted 1500 tubers and in the future plan to sell tubers as well. Down the track the couple also plan to open an onsite cool room, production area and farmgate shop to allow people to visit the farm. “I think there’s a lot of attraction from people to come to a place like this so that is part of our plan longer term,” she said.

Environmental sustainability and being chemical free is at the core of their whole business model and something Mrs Green said gives them a point of difference when talking to customers. Mrs Green said many people were unaware about the chemicals and pesticides many imported flowers are treated with.

“This is where the flower industry is really interesting because if you think about food, you have to label what is in the food and where it comes from,” she said. “With flowers you don’t have to label them at all so what they’ve been sprayed with you don’t have to say and you don’t even have to say where they come from.”

As well as selling at the farmers’ market the couple also sell flowers to two florists and hope to increase that side of the business as supply increases.