A blooming business at Matlock

Vanessa Swetman.

Catherine Roth meets a woman whose flower-growing business is booming.

BUSINESS is blooming for a local enterprise in Matlock. Kitchen Garden Flowers was set up by Vanessa Swetman, an advocate for locally-produced seasonal flowers, grown without chemicals.

Her flower field is based at Matlock Meadows, on a two-thirds-of-an-acre plot. Most surprisingly, considering the lie of the land around Matlock, is just how flat the site is, perhaps explained by the fact that it was once an old football pitch. She has planted the edges with shrubs including willow which is used for the bases for Christmas and funeral wreaths and native spindle trees which have the most amazing orange and pink fruits. She chose these not only to provide foliage and flowers for floristry, whilst doubly acting as a windbreak, but also to provide a habitat for wildlife including nesting birds. 

Weeds are left to grow freely around the edges, attracting insects and other wildlife. The remainder of the plot is divided into over 20 no-dig beds as well as housing a large polytunnel. In amongst these is a small pond as well as a chicken run. Vanessa says: “There are several large compost heaps but the chickens eat their way through a lot of the weeds that I throw in for them!”

Vanessa originally grew crops for veg boxes, with cut flowers being just a sideline. However, when others in the business decided to move on, so did Vanessa. She says: “After lockdown, my business partner decided she was going to retire and other people involved moved on. I didn’t want to carry on growing veg myself but did want to carry on growing flowers. Growing flowers locally and without chemicals is very important to me. A lot of flowers are grown abroad in often quite dubious circumstances, with chemicals, and where people are not always protected from them. Then they are flown all over the world.”

Vanessa got involved with Flowers from the Farm, a nationwide organisation that promotes locally-grown flowers. She says: “Flowers from the Farm supports local flower growers, and raises awareness of what could change in the flower industry.” It was an ethos that mirrored her own and Vanessa launched her new business in 2022.

Kitchen Garden Flowers provides “Buckets and Bouquets” for weddings, including brides’ bouquets, buttonholes, table flowers as well as buckets of flowers for DIY weddings. Vanessa says: “Some people choose to have buckets of flowers so they can decorate the venue themselves with family and friends, which is always really nice.”

Vanessa’s wedding season runs from April to September although she offers funeral flowers all year round. She says: “There is a big move away from florist’s foam. My flowers can be split up to take to the wake or to be given to guests to take home rather than being left at the crematorium, and they’re all compostable.”

As well as occasions, Vanessa also offers ‘pick your own’ days where visitors can fill a bucket with flowers to create their own arrangements – though these must be booked in advance. She also provides a subscription service for customers in Matlock and surrounding villages, whereby they can have ever-changing bouquets delivered on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis from April to late October.

Vanessa grows around 300 varieties of plants. She says: “When people ask me what I grow I think, ‘where do I start?’” Depending on the time of year, her field is filled with cornflowers, marigolds, cosmos, foxgloves, sweet rocket, rudbeckias and grasses. There are also dahlias, which Vanessa describes as the mainstay of a summer garden, and chrysanthemums which follow a little later with their spidery blooms – of which Vanessa chooses the old-fashioned, more glamorous varieties. In true autumn fashion, stems from blackberries and raspberries also find their way into Vanessa’s arrangements.

There are also plenty of perennials, which bloom over a longer period and grow back every year. Vanessa describes these as forming the backbone of her pick your own and wedding flowers. These include hellebores, narcissi, delphiniums, perennial scabious and sunflowers, geums, irises and lots of herbs. Vanessa says: “I grow three to four varieties of mint which give an amazing fragrance in bouquets and also produce flowers later in the season. I also grow bronze fennel, lemon balm, cinnamon and lemon basil. 

With so many plants to choose from, it is not surprising that, when asked what her favourite flower is, Vanessa’s answer is ever changing. However, she does love growing roses. “I think they’re amazing with their long stems and they’re completely different from florists’ roses. They don’t last as long as some flowers but are absolutely perfect for weddings and events – they’re scented and remind people of an English country garden.” 

For anyone wanting to create their own cutting garden, Vanessa’s advice is for people to keep their eyes open and to look at what is already growing that could be cut. It is also important to think about the foliage as well as the flowers. She suggests also growing hardy annuals including cornflowers, nigella and pot marigolds, while not overlooking the herb patch: “You’re not supposed to let herbs flower if you’re cooking with them, but if you’re cutting them they produce gorgeous flowers.”

A typical week in July on the flower farm begins with planting out and looking after the growing space including weeding, watering and feeding. Still being in the wedding season, midweek is dedicated to harvesting, a huge undertaking as Vanessa will select many hundreds of stems for a large celebration, as well as bunching up further flowers to be delivered locally or sold on her farm stall. By Thursday she is arranging flowers into bouquets, buttonholes and table decorations for the weekend with collections on Friday for Saturday weddings. Friday afternoons are dedicated to workshops and growing flowers; and on Saturday mornings she hosts ‘pick your own’ events.

The farm stall, housed in a small shed, which only opened last month and is based in the car park at Matlock Meadows, is a new addition to Kitchen Garden Flowers. Due to the nature of the site, people have to book in advance to visit the flower farm as there is no direct access from the car park. However, with the addition of the farm stall, which will be open on Fridays and Saturdays, customers can now purchase bouquets without the need to book in advance.

As well as growing flowers for cutting, Vanessa has always been interested in the design element of gardening and approaches her growing and flower arranging from this point of view. She graduated with a masters degree in landscape design, likening flower arranging to designing a herbaceous border in a bouquet. Drawing on her training, she carefully chooses what to grow, considering colours, shapes and forms of plants. Vanessa says: “My buckets are curated as a group of flowers that will go together. I’ve never used florist’s foam, it was never part of what I wanted to do. Designing with garden flowers is a looser style and about creating with what you’ve got around you.” For example, instead of snipping off each stem when harvesting sweet peas, Vanessa cuts chunks out of the plant – leaves, tendrils and flowers, so they will last longer and create more texture.

Kitchen Garden Flowers is a full-time business and Vanessa admits that she never gets to the end of her lists. While she receives some help from her partner Jonathan and a few volunteers, the majority of the work is done by Vanessa. It’s a job she enjoys but one that isn’t easy, particularly with the challenges that climate change brings. She says: “This last winter has been a real challenge – it’s been so wet at times. I have been growing plants for decades and have never seen it like this before. The season has been really late, so I’ve not had the volume of flowers.” This meant concentrating on the weddings she had already committed to whilst delaying the ‘pick your own’ days to mid-June. 

Deciding what to grow can also be challenging as there are different factors to take into account: “It’s making sure there is a good mix of the right flowers to create the type of floristry you want. It’s hard work – people who have gardens will understand. When I’m harvesting my flowers, they need to be beautiful and have that wow factor – shape, form and colour. For example, when designing a kitchen, once you have finished, it stays the same. But in a garden it all starts changing again as there is the fourth dimension of time. In April and September you’ve got to think about when particular flowers will be available and how they complement the other. It’s choosing plants that do two or three things in different seasons.” She adds: “Crocosmia and honesty are gorgeous when they’re in flower but they also have lovely seed pods.”

To arrange flowers into bouquets that will impress, Vanessa recommends mixing together some large flowers, together with secondary filler flowers and foliage as background. She says: “Garden style flowers are very amenable to being arranged by people who don’t have experience of arranging them and it’s hard to go wrong!” However, for those who are looking for some direction, Vanessa offers a monthly flower club from April to November where people pick their flowers from the field before creating arrangements to take home. Vanessa says, “It amazes me how everyone chooses from the same flowers and everyone does something different. People also get a real appreciation of how the flowers change throughout the season and how the colours change.”

As for ensuring longer lasting flowers, Vanessa explains that the secret lies in the quality of the water. She says: “When you’re coming to buy flowers from the farm, bring your own water to put them in – it needs to be clean enough to drink. Freshly cut the ends of flowers when you put them in water at home – this opens the cells to take in water. And the water needs to be changed regularly.” 

Vanessa loves growing flowers and creating bouquets that change throughout the year. However, for her, the real magic is in the memories they evoke: “Lots of people say they’re the best flowers they’ve ever had because they remind them of their childhood, and a garden they remember they were in. They have a connection to these kind of flowers.”

Editor’s Note: For further information, email Vanessa@kitchengardenflowersandproduce.org.uk or go to www.kitchengardenflowersandproduce.org.uk 

Open Garden highlights…

There are some new NGS  gardens to visit at Barlborough on July 13 and 14.
There are some new NGS gardens to visit at Barlborough on July 13 and 14.

JULY is here, and hopefully we’ll all be enjoying some long summer days, perfect for garden visiting, writes Tracy Reid.

Over the weekend of July 13/14, ‘Barlborough Gardens’ returns, with some new gardens to visit. The open gardens form part of ‘The Big Barlborough Festival’ with lots of events around the village including Art & Heritage exhibitions and Church Flower Festival.

There are five private gardens to visit, plus a community garden. Long standing opener ‘The Hollies’ will welcome visitors once again, including their legendary cakes and bakes. Part of this garden is based on the Majorelle Garden in Marrakech and was featured on TV’s ‘Love Your Garden’.

‘Lindway’ has extensive basket and container planting displays and a small ornamental pond. There’s a vegetable plot laid out in raised-bed style with grass paths between, as well as fruit trees and bushes.

Greystones Barn features a new garden based around an old stone built barn, with added pond and planting. 19 West View is a small garden where the aim is to reuse, repurpose and recycle as much as possible. An interesting collection of vintage items are interspersed throughout this garden.

A short distance away is 90 Boughton Lane, where various styles and features have been used to maximise space available including vegetables, a greenhouse and poultry. A serene middle section contains a raised pond and cool planting plus in contrast a packed long border on the opposite side. A courtyard provides space for dining and is filled with colourful pots and containers plus quirky features.

All this for the bargain price of £6 for adults (children admitted free) and all proceeds go to the beneficiaries of the National Garden Scheme, including nursing and health charities such as Macmillan and Parkinsons UK, so you can enjoy a lovely afternoon and support good causes too.

The previous winners of Chesterfield in Bloom, the Kellys, are opening their garden in July. 

Byways Open Garden, at 7a Brookfield Avenue, S40 3NX, will be open on Saturday, July 27 and Sunday, July 28, 11.30am-4.30pm each day. Admission £3.50, children admitted free. 

There are well-established perennial borders including helenium, monardas, phlox, grasses and acers. There is also a rockery and a large shady pergola.

Home-made teas are available with a gluten-free option; donations gratefully received for Ashgate Hospice. Please park carefully in Brookfield School car park or on neighbouring roads.

A completely different garden opens on Friday and Saturday, August 2 and 3. The ‘Grow Outside Garden’ is a community garden based at Butterley Station, near Ripley. This garden is based on no-dig, organic and regenerative principles. There are raised beds growing cut-flowers, showcasing what is achievable in small spaces using minimal resources. There will be family friendly activities and games over the two days. Admission is just £3 for adults, £1 for children. 

Further details about all the open gardens to visit in Derbyshire this month are at www.ngs.org.uk

On August 2 and 3, a community garden at Butterley Station – the ‘Grow Outside Garden’ – will be open under the NGS scheme.
On August 2 and 3, a community garden at Butterley Station – the ‘Grow Outside Garden’ – will be open under the NGS scheme.