Choosing a Site
The ideal situation for a floral farm is in the near proximity of a city or town; certainly, railway or other transit facilities should be near at hand. A deep, well-drained soil is essential, and the more sheltered the position the better. A bleak hillside is quite unsuitable for flower culture, but a site on the south side of a slope should be sought. As for the area, this, too, depends upon circumstances, but if a small beginning is made, there should be opportunity for adding to the acreage at will.
One grower the writer has in mind works no fewer than fifty acres for cut flowers, and at the present moment has four lineal miles of sweet-peas in full bloom. Two or three acres would, however, be ample for a start, and quite a useful income might be anticipated from such a comparatively small piece of ground.
Although in this series the writer is dealing exclusively with cut flowers, it is highly advisable to intermingle vegetables and fruit in a small way. By following this plan, there is no waste of ground, and in the winter land that might otherwise lie idle can be put to use. Even the space under fruit-trees is distinctly serviceable, and the accompanying photographs depict wallflowers and narcissi flourishing beneath plum-trees in the late spring months. Both subjects are distinctly profitable, for. they entail but little trouble, and wallflowers will sell for as much as six shillings per dozen market bunches in March and April.
It is almost immaterial at what time of year a start is made with a flower farm, for, obviously, to be remunerative it must be productive year in and year out. The Michaelmas quarter is an excellent one to choose, for not only is it a favourite one for farm land to change hands, but by starting at that time of year one has every opportunity of preparing the land, planting bulbs, and laying down glass for early spring use. There is always a steady demand for the spring flowers produced from bulbs, and sweet-williams, pansies, wallflowers, and such hardy subjects are bedded out in the autumn to stand the winter. Peonies are also planted out at this time of year and lavender, phlox, and perennial sunflowers, to say nothing of roses, are also dealt with in October.
In the greenhouses, too, the autumn is a busy time, and the work of propagation proceeds merrily practically right through the winter. Violets in their frames receive winter attention; white flowers for bouquets and wreaths are always in demand, and many bulbs are forced so as to bloom by Christmas; in fact, summer success depends largely upon winter activity, and for this reason I advise the taking of house and ground from September.
It is surprising how the fashions change in flower fancies, and this is a point that growers have to watch with care. It is a fact that one firm of large growers have representatives in the markets of London, Manchester, and Birmingham, who telegraph each day the market demands. It will not be necessary for a small grower to go to this length, but at the same time one must always have a finger on the pulse of public taste.
Dahlias, for example, were once strong favourites, fetching most remunerative prices; now they are almost out of favour. Shasta daisies will command a ready sale in one city and be tabooed in another. And not only must the grower cater for the public demand of the moment, but she must also be early with her produce. The period during which there is a large demand for a certain flower is a short one, and the moment the season arrives for another flower the first-comer is forsaken. Wallflowers, for instance, will one week make five shillings per dozen bunches, and a short time later will hardly be worth the gathering.
The growing of cut flowers for market is a science as well as an art, and not only must the lady grower be an expert floriculturist, but she must also be a shrewd business woman, capable of taking advantage of every phase of market supply and demand. She must, indeed, contribute not only skill in raising her flowers, but she must also be prepared to diffuse energy from a busy, practical mind as she reviews the situation in the evening after a hard day out of doors.'
Before embarking upon the venture of growing flowers for profit a lady gardener ought certainly to make a point of personally visiting some of the most successful floral farms. There is nothing to equal knowledge gained at first hand, and, generally speaking, country folk are only too willing to welcome a recruit to their own ranks.
Obviously the wisest plan is to secure an introduction to a market gardener who specialises in flowers, but if this is not possible, no hesitation need be felt in writing for an appointment. It may sound rather impertinent, perhaps, but nevertheless permission courteously sought is seldom refused, and only in very exceptional cases is there anything pertaining to trade secrets that growers are loth to disclose.
As a matter of fact, many of our best-known floriculturists actually accept paying pupils, and after a season in such a forcing-house of knowledge the veriest tyro should feel sufficiently confident to launch out for herself. The premium for such tuition varies with the standing of the farm itself, but, as a general rule, it is only a matter of a few pounds, and the expense would not be so great as that incurred at a school of lady gardeners, whilst the experience would probably be more useful and practical.
The writer's advice to a lady setting out on a new venture to raise flowers is to engage the services of a man of sound experience. Such men, men who thoroughly understand hybridisation, are to be obtained by careful search, and are worth the enhanced wages they can claim during the critical early stages. Certainly, a useful, practical man should be obtainable for £2 per week, and he should be appointed as foreman with the direction of the other hands employed, and with a certain amount of licence.