It’s that time of year again and we are well and truly in the midst of the tulip season, with gorgeous new varieties arriving in the shop every day. While tulips from Holland are always a delight, we have a very special place in our hearts for British-grown varieties. It was two years ago that we first interviewed Jo, from the Smith & Munson Flower Farm, and it’s with pleasure that we welcome her back, to talk all about the delights of growing this springtime classic in the heart of the Lincolnshire Fens.
Let’s start with the farm, Jo. We’d love to hear all about it…
The area we are situated in is known as South Holland; it’s the biggest flower growing region in the UK, and tucked away in the Lincolnshire Fens you will find our nursery. It is four acres of glass, from which we produce over nine million tulips and 1.5 million lilies a year (Orientals, LAs, OTs and RoseLilies). A big proportion of our tulips go to wholesale for florists – our paper wraps of 50 are becoming increasingly popular. This is good news as our aim is to use less plastic packaging. We care about the environment very much; our boxes are made from recycled card, we heat with biomass boilers, have solar panels on our cold storage buildings, and collect all run-off rainwater for watering. We are looking to adopt a lot more sustainable habits over time, too.
We understand it’s a family business?
Yes, we have been growing tulips for quite a few decades now. Stephen followed in his father’s footsteps, and now Edward has done the same we are fifth generation growers. This site was purchased in the early 1900s by George Smith whose daughter married Jack Munson (Stephen’s grandfather); they established Smith & Munson Limited. We have always been a farm but flowers are now our main crop. Today, we specialise in tulips and lilies.
Have you noticed an increased interest in British-grown flowers?
British flowers are definitely seeing a big increase in popularity. It’s like food – customers are becoming much more aware of provenance. Tulips are synonymous with Holland but they have been grown in the UK for well over 50 years now, and the latest figures suggest that around 200 million stems a year are homegrown and most of these sold to the supermarkets.
There must be lots of logistical considerations and timings involved?
Absolutely. We used to grow our own bulbs but now all of our bulbs are imported from Holland. This process begins a year ahead when we meet with our suppliers to select the varieties we want to grow; this enables us to have new and modern varieties. We try to predict trends and demand – it can be quite a risk!
All of our tulips are grown hydroponically, (on water) they are planted continually throughout the season. They then spend three weeks in cold storage and after that are brought into the glasshouse. Three weeks on, and they are ready to pick.
What do you look for, when you are selecting varieties?
We specialise in having a very good colour selection at all times and a good choice of varieties, with some special varieties too. There are so many to choose from it’s not easy selecting which ones to grow. This year orange has been very popular – we have had some super orange tulips. My favourite is the double orange Icoon tulip – it’s almost like a peony when it blooms. It is fun choosing colours to put together, like a floral pic ‘n’ mix! We hope this is what our customers enjoy; we get tagged daily in Instagram pictures, and it is so exciting to see who is using our flowers.
We saw you recently launched a lovely new website, too?
Yes indeed, we are particularly proud of our branding, designed by Caz Harrison with Fiona Humberstone, who have given us a new brand identity – we’re getting so many compliments! We launched the website last year and now with our social media following growing, we can feel our online presence expanding – this is so exciting! Over the past year, we’ve also appeared in magazine articles, Sunday newspapers and even on the television.
Congratulations! What else do you have in store for the future?
When a business is passed on through generations, you feel a strong responsibility to have something to pass on to the next generation; that is what we are striving to do every day.
Naturally, our top priority is our tulips which go out almost daily all over the UK to wholesalers, florists and retail outlets. The number of enquiries we get is huge and increasing — we are trying our best to make them accessible to everyone!