Nestled in an expanse of rolling Worcestershire countryside, Anna Brian’s Sandal Lodge, on the outskirts of Droitwich, is a little piece of smallholding heaven.
A sandy-coloured gravel driveway leads you through a set of gates, past paddocks with contentedly munching goats and down to a traditional farmhouse and numerous outbuildings. It’s not until you reach this point that you realise the holding’s main business — flower growing, or, more specifically, Flowers By Anna.
A well-stocked cutting garden sits resplendent in between barns, perfectly sheltered from the elements and hosting rows of well organised flower varieties, while a wooden-framed polytunnel houses neat lines of more mature plants, these closer to picking time.
Neat rows of beds line the polytunnel’s soil floor, organised into small blocks of different species, with square netting helping to divide and order their growth. In one corner bright blue cornflowers, already at shoulder-height, are loosely contained with a belt of baler twine as they reach skyward to get their share of the sunlight streaming in through the plastic tunnel cover.
Potting tables are full of seedlings ready to be sown into the ground, while more tables hold vases and jars of stunning flower arrangements, freshly prepared this morning and ready for collection by clients.
Despite my visit taking place over video call due to current distancing guidelines, I can clearly hear the buzzing of busy insects as they frisk from one flower to another, delighting in the sheer number and variety of delicious flowers at their disposal. I can just imagine the heady scents coming from the thick swathe of sweet peas, their stunning red, purple and baby pink flowers weaving their way up a wire frame.
It is two months into lockdown when I interview Anna on a sunny morning in June. By now she is usually smack bang in the middle of a frantically busy wedding and events season which she runs alongside on-site workshops. This year, of course, is somewhat different.
“Lockdown has seen all our weddings and events postponed and we haven’t been able to hold any workshops either,” she says. “We’ve grown the same amount of flowers, though, because we weren’t sure if we’d still have the August and September weddings — we didn’t want to not have enough flowers. We’ve also been supplying a lot more bunches and gift bouquets, as well as our honesty box at the front of the drive.”
It was certainly a gamble continuing this extensive growth programme despite the uncertain future.
“If we don’t use the flowers, the seed and manure aren’t a huge expense, so the biggest loss is our time,” she says.
Time is of huge value for Anna and her partner, Paul, who juggle the flower business alongside breeding Boer goats for meat, bringing up their 18-month-old son, Dexter, and working full time selling seed for a local manufacturer.
“We can earn more going to work unfortunately,” Anna muses. “It’s a catch-22 situation — if I had more time I could market and grow the business, but we’re doing what we can with the time we’ve got.”
Anna was born in Droitwich, where she grew up on her parents’ mixed arable, sheep and cattle farm. She admits to having always had a penchant for flowers which she says came from her grandmother.
“My nan was a flower lover and used to do the church flower arranging,” she says. “I’ve always been outdoorsy and loved flowers, too, so I went to Pershore College and did a floristry diploma and, more recently, I studied for an NVQ level 3 at the British Academy of Floral Art in Exeter.”
Anna started her floristry business initially at her parents’ farm, making wedding and sympathy bouquets before buying the four-acre plot six years ago. Conveniently it backs on to Anna’s parents’ property.
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