Festive, floral and fabulous!
Barbara Young finds out how Hannah Benson’s passion for flowers blossomed into a growing business, with advice on how to create your own Christmas wreaths.
A diversification idea which began on her family’s East Kirkby farm has created a successful business for Hannah Benson, who at the age of just 24 specialises in growing and supplying seasonal, freshly cut flowers which she sells to wholesalers, florists and the public from March to November.
The months leading up to Christmas are equally busy with Hannah supplying homemade Christmas wreaths and DIY wreath kits using her own homegrown foliage, as well as dry flowers.
“I only supply what I grow and pride myself on growing fresh, fragrant flowers that are slightly unique, loved by many but also affordable,” says Hannah, whose blooms are lovingly grown on a five-acre site at her family’s home.
Her freshly cut seasonal favourites are much in demand from customers in search of colourful bunches, celebratory bouquets, “jam jar” floral displays, as well as dried flowers and wreaths, with 95% of sales coming via social media.
“My ethos is that I only sell what I grow and I do not import or buy anything in. As a small British grower, it’s important for me to stick to this and I try to educate my customers to appreciate the flowers when they’re available and in season.
“All the flowers I supply are cut and wrapped by myself on the morning of either delivery or collection which ensures top quality but also ultimate freshness.”
Hannah, who is a member and former chairman of North Holland YFC, grew up and went to school in Cleethorpes before continuing her studies through a productive horticulture apprenticeship at Riseholme College.
“I started growing flowers in 2015 when I was working on my dad’s small vegetable farm and decided I would not only like to do something for myself but also diversify,” says Hannah.
“I started small in a polytunnel and officially went self-employed and set up Hannah’s Flowers with my first year growing commercially in 2018 and just supplying wholesalers. However, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, I had scented stocks in the tunnel with nowhere to sell them, so started advertising on local Facebook village and town groups, and now combine all outlets.
“Farming and flowers definitely run through my family, it’s in my blood, so it was no surprise when I started growing flowers. My dad, Craig, has 100% supported me by letting me use some of his land to kick-start the business and has always been there for me when I need advice.
“My partner, Chris Hall, who is also from a farming background, also supports me, and understands the long hours that I have to work and encourages me to keep going.
“Although I was only 19 when I launched the business, I think being young, carefree and not seeing any disadvantages to setting up a business played a big part in the way I just got stuck in and started growing immediately.
“I am quite an impulsive person anyway – do now, think later – but I also work closely with my dad and pick his brains for any growing advice, although horticulture runs in our family, with my grandad having studied at Kew Gardens many years ago.”
Hannah has now been growing flowers for seven years and each year she aims for her business to expand, offering more varieties.
“My favourite flowers are sweet Williams and my least favourite are dahlias. Although I think dahlias are beautiful, they don’t last very long in a vase and I also find them too ‘faffy’ to grow as you have to look after the tubers.
“My passion has always been being outdoors, growing vegetables and flowers and being in the countryside and I just love it. Yes, there are times when things become stressful but a lot of the time it’s down to nature and out of my control, so I’ve learned that you sometimes have to sit back and just go with the flow!”
Creative wreath making
As well as her popular readymade festive designs and DIY wreath making kits, Hannah’s classes, which are held on the farm and run from late November up to Christmas, are much in demand with all elements provided, including a complimentary festive bake and drink.
“For me having natural elements in a home brings a sense of calm and joy,” says Hannah. “With no more than ten people in a class, this allows me to be more hands-on and give customers the support they need. During our two-hour classes, participants get to work with six different types of foliage and pick six different accessories, plus a ribbon.
“At the end of the class, participants have created a beautiful wreath unique to them. Next year, I’m hoping to host more flower workshops which will be based more around the growing side of the business.”
Hannah says that a typical student joining up for her wreath making class is usually a complete novice, but this shouldn’t deter anybody keen to learn.
“My classes are open to all and anybody can learn how to make a wreath, you just need the right tools and patience.
“Most people who come along to my classes just want to spend quality time with their friends and family, have lots of fun, enjoy the day and end up with a nice wreath for their front door.
“To start off with, learning to make a wreath can seem fiddly, but you soon get the hang of it and then you’re away!”
Hannah says that when creating wreaths, her inspiration simply comes from the foliage she finds around the family’s nursery and land.
“I include several different types of foliage in my wreaths which not only gives them that luxury feel, but they also smell amazing!”
Hannah also highlights the importance of respecting nature and the countryside when sourcing foliage from hedgerows.
“Creating wreaths can use quite a lot of foliage and remember that you need permission to cut from public places, or farmers’ fields.
“All my foliage is cut from our nursery and around our land that has been grown specifically and is re-planted regularly, so you have to be mindful of where you’re cutting your foliage from, especially if you’re harvesting from hedgerows.
“If you have a conifer tree in your garden, that’s a great place to start as all my wreaths contain conifer.”
Hannah says that when making wreaths, make sure the foliage you’re using is fresh enough to last at least a month.
“The foliage I use includes conifer, bay, yew, holly, ivy and pine. Make sure you don’t cut anything too young. For instance, if you cut eucalyptus too young, it just flops about and doesn’t hold its structure.
“Most Christmas wreaths are made from spruce, but a good tip is to source a local Christmas tree farm and see if they will let you have any of their leftovers.
“When making wreaths, I aim for natural, unique, but affordable and when it comes to choosing which flowers, I like bright colours because I always say life is too boring to not have a bit of colour in your life!”
How to create a wreath
You will need: foliage, moss, secateurs, binding wire, stub wire, wreath ring (I prefer 12″), ribbon of your choice and any accessories you wish to use.
1. Place your ring in front of you flat on the table. Look at your ring as if it is a compass. If you’re right-handed, attach your binding wire to the ring in a south east position. If you’re left-handed, attach your binding wire in a south west position. To attach the wire, wrap it around the outer edge a couple of times to secure.
Grab a handful of moss and mould it into a sausage shape. Make sure the moss is as wide as the ring.
Place the moss on the ring with the top of the moss in line with where you attached the wire. If you’re right handed, use your left hand to hold the moss down while you use your right hand to pick up the binding wire and wrap over and under the moss, pulling tightly each time.
Travel clockwise. (If you’re left handed use the opposite hands and travel anti-clockwise). Work across the moss to secure it down. Repeat until your whole ring is covered. Make sure you keep the moss even too.
3. Next, take your foliage and cut small pieces about 10cm long and create a small bundle by layering up.
With your left hand hold all the stems together and lay onto your ring near where your binding wire is. When you lay your foliage, slightly angle it outwards, this will make a nice fan finish.
Keep holding your foliage onto your mossed ring with your left hand and use your right to wrap the binding wire several times around the stems of the bundle. Pull tightly to secure. Keep repeating this step until you get to the last bundle. Make sure the top of each new bundle covers the stems and the wire of the last bundle.
4. When you have reached the end, you will have a small gap, enough to fit one last bundle in. Create your final foliage bundle as previously explained.
Using your right hand, pull your first bundle slightly outwards so it exposes the mossed ring and then slot your final bundle stems underneath the first bundle.
Wrap with the binding wire, avoid catching any other bundles and then push your first bundle back to finish the wreath off.
5. Reel off some of the binding wire, about 5cm. Cut using either some wire cutters or sharp secateurs. You should have a little tail of wire left. Lift up your wreath so you can see the metal ring underneath and use that little tail of wire to wrap around the metal ring to tie it off.
6. Now it’s time to attach your accessories. Use your stub wire for this part. How you attach them will depend on what accessories you have chosen. If using dry fruit slices, layer up your fruit and pierce the stub wire through the edge until the fruit is halfway, then bend the wire so it’s a U-shape.
Push the two ends of the wire through your foliage and moss and then twist them off underneath.
Make sure you push the wire back down into the moss to avoid any sharp ends.
7. To attach a bow, get a decent length of ribbon. Fold the ribbon in half and loop the ribbon, similar to if you were tying shoelaces, where you do the two loops first. However don’t tie the two loops together. Slightly cross the tails over, keeping hold of the centre and get your U-shape stub wire and push over the middle so your two wire ends stick out the back. Then twist off to keep the ribbon secure.
Finally, push through your moss and secure them off again.
8. For video explanation, please visit my Facebook page where I will be sharing videos on how to attach accessories. You can also purchase Hannah’s Flowers’ DIY boxes which contain everything you need for only £18.
For more information visit www.hannahsflowerslincs.co.uk