Author of "The Farmers' Friend, " The Family Gardener," etc.
How truly delightful to spend one's life in a garden of flowers, a garden so rich in choice blooms, so fragrant, so productive that one can depend upon it for a livelihood. The more one thinks about it, the more alluring it becomes. It is Arcadia, a dream of perfect bliss to a woman whose chief delight lies among the blossoms, a phantasy of scent and vivid colouring.
And now, in view of the Utopian vision conjured up by these few words, to what extent can the dream come true ? Is it possible for a lady of refinement to found a garden in which blooms can be raised for the market, and raised in such a way as to pay the rent, the grocer, the butcher, and the baker ? In other words, is there enough profit to be made out of cut flowers for a woman to embark her slender capital upon the project with hope of ultimate commercial success?
The answer to these questions space under fruit trees can be utilised must of necessity be a qualified one. Without a doubt it is quite a feasible proposition to institute such a business, and to make it remunerative, but it all depends upon the woman herself. One of the leading sweet-pea specialists and growers of the day is a lady, Miss Evelyn Hemus, whose name is known the world over. In Covent Garden Market and other places that are as Meccas for cut flowers, lady dealers are recognised and respected. At every show of the Royal Horticultural Society there are lady exhibitors, and their displays are frequently adorned with the highest cards the judges can bestow.
Certainly, with the right kind of worker cut flowers can be made exceedingly profitable, but the earnest gardener must banish for ever her Arcadian ideas. Instead, she must substitute a conception of the country in wet, cold weather, when the brown earth is a quagmire; she must think of the bitter disappointments inevitable to the business; she must sink the aesthetic, and remember that in the serried rows of gay blooms she will have a bread-and-butter interest.
If she is sufficiently practical to conjure up the two vistas - the one of a great joy at the prospect of such wealth of flowers, and the other of the blacker side, and to steer her way carefully between the two - then there should be good prospect in making a commencement.
In all our cities and towns there are periodical markets where cut flowers are bought and sold, and when one is dealing in bulk, one must of necessity have recourse to these agencies of distribution. The usual plan is to take a stall in the market in which to do business, but there is also the middleman, the commission salesman, who will act for growers. Naturally, it is not wise to take all these salesmen on trust, but it is a simple matter to inquire into the bona-fides of an agent, and competition is so keen that the grower can make a change on the slightest doubt or suspicion.
As with vegetables, however, so with cut flowers, it is the private customer who should be sought, and if market charges can be evaded altogether, so much the better. Certainly there are thousands of homes in London and other great cities where a weekly supply of blooms would be very welcome, and the writer personally knows one lady grower who is actually disposing of flowers regularly to no fewer than thirty large households in the West End. This particular lady commenced by supplying a few intimates in a friendly way, and from this small beginning she has built up quite a considerable clientele.
There are obviously many methods of culture for raising cut flowers for profit. There is the ordinary outdoor method under which plants are grown in the open fields; then there are the hothouses and frames. Again, there is the system of keeping roots in a refrigerator and then forcing them in artificial heat, so that certain blooms, such as lilies of the valley and white lilac, are produced three weeks after growth is started. Generally speaking, however, the flower farmer works with a combination of the outdoor and glass culture, the glass being employed for nursing the plants that are ultimately bedded in the open.
Wallflowers also are a remunerative crop that can be grown under fruit-trees. They command a good price during the spring months. The plants must be bedded out in the autumn
Another system of fairly recent introduction is the employment of canvas. In the spring, lengths of canvas attached to upright posts, are used to give protection from frost to young plants, whilst during the summer months the material is suspended like an awning to prevent the sun from bleaching blooms of certain colours, to shelter delicate flowers from hail or heavy rain, and, again, especially in the neighbourhood of towns, to save white blossoms from the blackening effect of the soot which will be borne in the air.
Practically speaking, it is an impossibility to estimate the precise capital required for starting a flower farm. To a great extent it must be like Topsy, and just grow. You can never hope to create a ready-made business, and instead of counting the means you have for initial stock, it would be far wiser to calculate how much money you possess upon which to live during the early-stages of the undertaking. If you can keep yourself for a year or so and still have cash in hand for labour, appliances, seed, manure, and so on, you could wish for no more. Certainly, £100 would give you a goodly start, and for half that sum a small commencement could be made, provided nothing were taken from the business for some time.