In the pink after mum and daughter follow their dreams
By Stuart Laundy - Senior Reporter
A DALE flower grower has become part of a UK-wide network dedicated to promoting British blooms.
Heidi Varley established Pink’s Flower Farm, at Cotherstone, with the help of her mother, Pat Oddy, less than a year ago.
They, and growers like them, aim to stem the huge numbers of flowers which are imported to the UK.
Ms Varley points out that about 90 per cent of flowers on sale in UK florists, supermarkets and wholesalers have been imported – not just from Europe but as far afield as South America and Africa.
She says home grown flower farms, such as hers, come into their own because they can supply blooms which do not survive a long journey due to their delicate nature.
As part of a network of British growers called Flowers from the Farm, she aims to fight the corner of native blooms.
“We are able to supply flowers that are scented as we don’t need to spray them with chemicals prior to transportation,” she says.
“We are able to grow and supply flowers that haven’t travelled round the world with a large carbon footprint. We are able to grow and supply flowers as flowers used to be – true to their season.”
When she was younger, Ms Varley harboured ambitions of attending agricultural college and becoming a farmer.
However, things turned out differently and she pursued a career in telecommunications and then publishing.
However, she always had plants growing wherever she was staying – whether living in London or Newcastle.
Her mum, meanwhile, had dreamed of studying horticulture but ended up as a hairdresser.
After being made redundant and spending a short time considering what to do next, Ms Varley decided to take the plunge and follow her dream, enrolling along with her mum on an RHS horticulture course at East Durham College.
Then last October she set to work transforming a plot of land in Cotherstone, digging beds and planting seeds for this year.
“When I was 40, I decided I wanted to do something I was really passionate about rather than something that was just a job if that was possible – and that’s how it has worked out,” said Ms Varley, who was brought up in Gainford.
She named the business after her four-year-old ginger Hungarian vizsla Pink.
With no water supply, she has set up a solar-powered irrigation system using rain water. There are now 120 different shrubs and 24 beds of perennials and annuals and currently there are the likes of nigella, scabius, larkspur, dahlias and sweet peas adding a splash of colour to the farm.
“Our aim is to supply people in the local area with really special flowers and interesting foliage that hasn’t taken a long journey to arrive at its destination and isn’t covered in chemicals,” says Ms Varley.
“We grow the majority of our flowers – which have been selected for their scent, pretty colour and attractive shapes – from bulb or seed.
“We will be establishing some beds of perennials and roses too in addition to growing annuals.”
She says establishing the business had been a real team effort involving her partner Sean, family and friends.
“I can honestly say it is the hardest thing I have ever done and the thing I am most proud of, when I look at what we have all achieved in less than a year.
“It has not been easy and I can’t tell you how many hours of hard graft have been invested – it’s not for the faint hearted.”
She adds: “I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has been involved with the business and getting it off the ground.”
Highlights of her first year included an invitation to decorate a vintage Land Rover for Barnard Castle’s 1940s weekend. This in turn led to her contacting Fiona Pickles, one of the UK’s leading floral designers, for a few tips.
As a result, Ms Varley was invited to assist Ms Pickles on a photo shoot at Lartington Hall, and the partnership continues.
“Since meeting Fiona, I have been invited to work for her at a number of other events, one of which was for the RHS Chatsworth flower show,” says Ms Varley.
“She is a real inspiration and I have learnt a lot on how to create foam-free large-scale floral installations. I feel privileged to have her support and encouragement for our business.”
Word of mouth and social media have helped alert potential customers and Pink’s Flower Farm sells to florists and direct to customers. Blooms for sale are delivered fresh every Friday to Piercebridge Organic Farm shop and Eggleston Hall Gardens, while bunches and buckets of flowers and foliage are sold direct to customers.
“There is a demand for local flowers from customers who are conscious of the provenance of flowers and the buckets are of interest to anyone wanting to create their own floral decorations for church weddings, parties and events.”
Visiting the farm is strictly by appointment and more information can be found on the website www.pinksflowerfarm.co.uk.