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Why Flower Growing?

I suspect that my reasons for being a grower will change over time as I settle into the beautiful and busy world of flower growing. I want to capture the reasons and motivations which have pulled me into flower growing in the first place before they are replaced with new reasons to stay.

Since completing my university education, I have been a secondary school teacher of English. Despite enjoying the classroom element of teaching, I've increasingly felt the pull of the outside world over the past four years and have often felt miserable when I have been cooped up indoors marking endless assessments, planning lessons and writing essays while the sun shines brightly outside.

One particular evening last spring, on a brief walk at dusk, I noticed that the cow parsley and May blossom was out in full bloom, the air heavy with its fragrance, and the natural world was suddenly so lush and green with the vigorous growth of spring. It dawned on me that the whole world had completely changed over the past few weeks and I never noticed it happening. It felt as though I hadn't properly looked around me for months, as though I had missed out on a very beautiful and powerful shift in nature that year.

I realised then that to be able to witness the seasonal changes of the natural world and to celebrate them is very important to me, and it was something I wasn't able to do as a teacher.

After my degree, I took a masters in Landscape History at the University of East Anglia. The masters focused on the East of England was highly interdisciplinary, dabbling in archaeology, geology, cartography, toponymy (the history of place names), pollen analysis, social history, natural history, paleography among others. It also included a lot of archival work and enabled me to delve into the social history of my own village, Blunham, in Bedfordshire Archives.

After discovering a map of the open fields of Blunham in 1719 and several volumes of Blunham's manorial court records, the landscapes I grew up in took on an entirely new dimension. I found myself walking around and referring to familiar fields and lanes by their old names, ones long forgotten. Our home and garden became Hatchgate Pasture again. The field next door was Barkhurst Meadow. We no longer lived on Grange Road but rather on the quaint and wonderful 'Whistling Way'. I saw the ditch cutting through the field behind as the original path of the River Ivel before it was redirected in the 1750s. The fields we walk our labrador in were all part of one great open field called the Hamm and included Oxholm, Cowholm and Lowehill Pasture.

The manorial court records were an evocative read and they placed 17th century villagers back into the fields in my mind. They told of troublesome villagers, fined for stealing eels and fish from the lord's waters around the mill, of escapee livestock causing chaos in the open fields, of a vicar who was fined for failing to clean out his section of ditch and of endless complaints about the dung heaps left on the main road.

After reading them, I found myself imagining villagers of 300, 400, even 500 years before, collectively working the furlongs, guiding their oxen and ploughshares across the vast open fields, and tending to their livestock on Finham Common. Since reading them, when working the land, especially in Blunham, I feel a deep connection with the past and the people who came before us, a satisfying sense of continuity with our ancestors.

Another part of my personal heritage lies in the heart of bulb-growing district in Holland and hence the flowers. My great grandfather and father were both flower growers, first in Holland and then, after the Second World War, in Sandy in Bedfordshire. I feel proud of this dutch flower-growing heritage and am excited to be rejuvenating its connection with the family name.

I have always loved flowers but since embarking on this flower growing journey, the beauty and potential I see in them grows daily. The initial, simple (and sensible) plan was to specialise in a few varieties to sell to florists and wholesalers. But already I'm feeling the desire to grow anything and everything, and to arrange, dry and create with them. The sheer possibility excites and overwhelms me, and leads to great inefficiency and so I am aware of the need to focus on one thing at a time. The possibility is appealing because it equates to great freedom; we can take the business in any direction we like and to some extent I'll be able to spend my time on whatever appeals and on exploring my creativity.

I am aware of just how lucky I am in this respect; there are very few jobs which entails this much freedom, especially at my age. I am hugely grateful to my father because for me he is the great enabler. He has the knowledge, expertise, contacts, experience and therefore confidence to guide the way with setting up Zwetsloots Floriculture.

Another pull is the nature of the work. I have often found physical work more satisfying and stimulating than mental work and I enjoy creating things with my hands. During one particularly busy teaching period, I was drilling together a raised bed on the patio and realised that it was the most satisfied and contented I had felt for weeks. I sought a job which mixed both mental and physical work.

I decided to quit full time teaching in March 2022 and to spend the next school year doing supply teaching and working out exactly what to do next. I knew I wanted to be outside, to grow plants in some capacity, and to be able to create and learn. Before that year really began, a couple of plots of land became available to rent and after some idealistic conversations with my father on holiday, the idea of a flower growing business was floated, very quickly gathered speed and then became a reality. Flower growing seemed to be an amalgamation of all the elements I was seeking. I decided to give up the idea of finding the ideal career and instead decided to start building my dream lifestyle and way of being.

Whilst we are only half way into our first year, I never expected to find so much satisfaction and fun in the business side of things. I am enjoying the challenge of building a customer base, learning how to design a website and brand, building a social media profile and brainstorming products and methods of selling them. I feel incredibly motivated to make the business a success and feel contented thinking about it all day long.

There are still so many more reasons to cover. There is much to learn about the growing itself- about soils, plant science, pests and disease, irrigation, fertiliser, the trade. There is the cultural history of any and every flower to discover. There is the opportunity to meet creative people and like-minded lovers of flowers and the landscape. There is the lovely privilege of getting to share flowers with people, to be a giver of beauty and joy in the world.

Like any new business, we are taking a big step into the unknown which can feel a little daunting at times but my great grandfather took a much greater leap of faith when he decided to move with his young family to an entirely new country on the eve of war to set up a flower growing business here in the UK.

Fittingly, he is finishes his personal memoir with the words 'my advice is - always take a chance in life and be an optimist, because this makes anybody happy and satisfied with the things you have'. If ever I waver in my confidence about this new path (with has been seldom thus far), I will keep these wise words in mind.

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