Seeds of change: sustainable flower farms

Bunch of pink and red roses

Jo Stewart

Posted October 15, 2018

From old-world roses to pretty peonies, Victoria’s slow flower movement is blooming.

Many of us are aware of the concept of food miles, but what about flower miles? Imported flowers are usually inexpensive, but they come with other costs including a sizeable carbon footprint. Federal Department of Agriculture figures reveal that more than nine million roses were shipped from Kenya to Australia in February last year.

In response, small flower farms in Victoria are banding together to promote the benefits of buying local, seasonal, bee-friendly flowers.

Husband-and-wife team Ashley Wren and Danielle White run Crofters Fold Estate, an artisanal, bee-friendly, micro flower farm in Pipers Creek, near Kyneton. Their blissful estate is home to Scottish Highland cows, Suffolk sheep, grape vines and rows of roses and peonies.

They were driven by a desire to “sow the seeds of a flower-farming renaissance” and are founding members of Consortium Botanicus, a collective of like-minded flower growers and florists from 16 farms in central Victoria. The group shares knowledge and promotes small-scale flower farming.

“The US and UK are a decade ahead of us in regards to the slow flower concept, so we’re trying to lead that movement from the Macedon Ranges,” Danielle says. “Just like with the slow food movement, we’re getting a message out to people that knowing the provenance of your flowers is important and we’re using the beauty of flowers to start that conversation.”

If you stop and watch Mother Nature, she gets it right most of the time.

Rich volcanic soil, cold winters and dry, warm summers make the Macedon Ranges ideal for growing perennials. Fragrant blooms aren’t just beautiful, they also attract bees that play a fundamental role in keeping the food chain healthy.

Growing what fits with the climate is a key philosophy that underpins Crofters Fold Estate. The farm’s old-world perfumed roses, peonies, and pinot grapes are grown without the use of pesticides, with companion planting and weed chipping (removal by hand) preferred over spraying.

“If you stop and watch Mother Nature, she gets it right most of the time. The lessons are there if you care to watch and see,” Danielle says.

The farm’s small size allows the couple to harvest immediately before sale instead of using energy-sapping cold storage and refrigerated vans. It also means they get to meet the people who buy their flowers. Small-batch sparkling wine is made from hand-harvested pinot noir grapes, too.

“People want to connect to something real that has meaning. We get so much satisfaction out of what we do,” Danielle says.

Mac Barry and Nicky Thomas, who are also members of the consortium, started their flower farm 18 years ago, when Mac began the process of transforming land previously used to graze cattle into Spring Hill Peony Farm.

The couple used sustainable and organic principles from day one and understand the significant difference between a locally grown, bee-friendly bloom and an imported flower.

“The beauty of a freshly grown and picked peony is that it outlasts an imported flower. It hasn’t travelled thousands of kilometres to arrive at its destination,” Mac says. “Most of our flowers are picked by people who take them home that day. The peonies are often given as a gift that comes with a story... it’s the story that matters to our clients.”

You can leave the peony paddock with an armful of fresh flowers.

The farm receives most of its visitors in November when the peonies put on a show. Some drop by the farm gate to buy a bunch, others immerse themselves in the farm experience by picking peonies at a paddock open day. The property’s charming, 1890s-era timber church is hired for weddings and its Wool Shed accommodation offers visitors a chance to enjoy farm life.

“People from the city are looking for something to do out of town and we provide that experience. They leave the peony paddock with an armful of fresh flowers, having walked around a working farm, passing cattle, horses and dogs. Every year we create an unbelievably beautiful product that people love,” Nicky says.

How to find them

Spring Hill’s peonies are sold from mid-to-late November via the farm gate and at select Victorian Farmers Markets. Peony Paddock Open Day dates are announced on Facebook in early November and often sell out in advance.

Crofters Fold Estate hosts intimate events throughout the year. Visitors can buy roses and peonies at the farm gate when in season, typically from mid-November.

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