A MUTUAL interest in growing flowers has led to two farms combining to create Flower Farm Collective at Dungog.
Vanessa Garcia and Josh Tefay of Sugarloaf Lane, and their friends Dominique Northam and Tom Christie from Four Acre Farm together grow just under half an acre of flowers.
The two couples started the business about 18 months ago and now sell bouquets at local and regional markets, and also through Dungog IGA.
They also offer bespoke arrangements for weddings and events, servicing the Hunter region including Newcastle, the Hunter Valley and Dungog.
The flowers – anything and everything – are all seasonal, grown free of chemicals in the open air.
Sustainability is an important part of the business. With so many fresh flowers on the market being imported, Dom and Vanessa saw an opportunity for flowers that were local, seasonal, and organically grown.
“We both love growing flowers with the added bonus of food for the bees, attracting beneficial insects and helping with pollination of fruit and vegies,” Vanessa said.
“We’re in our second growing season now after starting in winter last year. We had planned to have some downtime through winter but we still had flowers and were getting orders.”
Working with flowers isn’t new to Dominique, who was a florist for 10 years in Newcastle before making the shift to Dungog.
“Initially we thought we could supply florists in Newcastle, but with Dom's experience in floristry we decided to go straight to the public”, Vanessa said.
The first step was to set up a subscription service, which allowed customers to purchase 13 weeks worth of posies in a community supported agriculture (CSA) model.
“The CSA model is popular in the US, and it’s now being used in Australia with vegie boxes so we thought we'd give that a go”, Vanessa said.
“Our initial plan was for Newcastle to be our main market, but we also offered the subscription in Dungog and in the end we had a lot of interest here as well. Growing seasonally means the bouquets change dramatically throughout the season, which our customers love.”
Hail then unseasonably hot weather and wind have hit some flowers hard this season, but the team is still busy with local orders, markets and wedding flowers.
They grow a big range of cottage flowers – all from seed – to keep variety in the bunches, Vanessa said.
“We’re both seedaholics, but we’re still learning because a lot of seeds like different conditions,” Vanessa said.
“Some seeds are direct sown and others are sown in punnets and looked after for a while. We also make our seed raising mixes from scratch.
“The most popular flowers are probably ranunculus – we planted 1000 corms each this year – and dahlias. People generally like the cottage varieties we grow, but we have some customers that prefer natives, so we’re working on building up our supply.”
The wedding service is tailored to each bride’s needs with an initial consultation to determine the flowers required.
“Often brides will provide examples showing what they’re after so we can create arrangements with a similar colour palette,” Vanessa said.
“Sometimes we’re limited in choices for bouquets because we do grow seasonally, but if we know what a bride wants in advance we can specifically grow the flowers. We did that with sunflowers for a wedding last spring, planting them really early and they just flowered in time.”
Tips for making your fresh flowers last longer
- Place your flowers in a vase one third full of water, giving them a fresh cut.
- Change the water daily.
- Keep your flowers in a cool location, out of direct sunlight and avoid putting them near ripening fruit.
- Remove any flowers that start to wilt or die.