Taking a path from fashion to flowers

Words by:
Kate Chapman
Featured in:
March 2023

Kate Chapman meets artisan grower Fiona Paxton, owner of Pulvertoft Flowers which supplies more than 40 different varieties of beautiful blooms.

A move to the countryside has led to a blooming new career for Fiona Paxton, who after working in the fashion industry for 25 years has established her own artisan flower farm, supplying florists and flower lovers.

Fiona launched Pulvertoft Flowers, near Long Sutton, in 2019, initially growing 10 varieties and now produces more than 40 different kinds of field grown flower – including colourful and sweet-smelling dahlias, zinnias, larkspur, roses and peonies plus foliage – all using sustainable practices.

She sells them at farmers’ markets, direct to customers and wholesale to professional florists, as well as hosting a range of workshops in a converted barn on the farm, making seasonal wreaths and floral candles.

“I only started selling wholesale to florists this year, but it’s really taken off and is the main part of the business now,” says Fiona, previously the art director of a large design studio, selling textiles to companies and designers around the world.

“The florists I’m supplying do a lot of weddings and we’re seeing a real demand from brides who are asking for more sustainable flowers for their big day, while some specifically request UK grown flowers only.

“I started running workshops last year and these are proving really popular – making seasonal wreaths for Easter, autumn and Christmas. We’ve also joined up with other local companies, including Lincolnshire Honey, which keeps a hive on our field, so people can take a look at that, sample the honey and learn about the best flowers for encouraging insect life.

“I’ve always been a keen gardener and I love the variety the job provides – no two days are the same, I didn’t want to do something where I was sat in front of a computer all the time.

Moving to the country
Fiona gained her MA at The Royal College of Art, and then lived and worked in London for many years as well as frequently travelling to New York to deal with global brands and designers, including Calvin Klein.

After starting her family, Fiona launched her own costume jewellery label, selling her pieces in stores including Liberty London and Saks.

“When Brexit happened, I realised things were going to get tougher in terms of distribution as we mostly exported overseas, and had agents across Europe,” she explains.

“I’d always wanted my own label to be eco and sustainable and I knew that it wasn’t and that bothered me, so I started thinking about moving to the countryside and doing something that was more sustainable.”

Fiona grew up near Sleaford, but wasn’t familiar with the southern end of the county, until she stumbled upon the fens while searching for a new rural home.

“I hadn’t really been to the fens before. My husband, Ian, comes from Bristol and thought the area was amazing. He’d never seen anything like it and loved the big open spaces. It’s just such a contrast to London and its hectic pace of life.”

The Paxtons moved to Long Sutton in 2012 after falling in love with Pulvertoft Hall and its large grounds.

A walled garden caught Fiona’s eye and she set about redesigning it, while continuing her jewellery business.

“I soon realised I enjoyed both growing and designing the garden – it was still using my design skills, just in a different way. I met some people who were growing a large variety of flowers to sell, but on a relatively small scale and I started following a lot of them on social media.

“When lockdown happened, I realised I couldn’t carry on with my business, there was no way it was going to survive. I couldn’t travel and all the shops stocking my collections were closed. I’d been thinking about launching a flower farm for a while, so I decided to go for it.”

Wedding Decoration
Fiona began her venture by digging beds in one of her fields and establishing a crop of annual cut flowers including zinnias, calendula, marigolds and cosmos, which she mostly grew from seed, alongside roses and peonies already thriving in her walled garden.

She started selling her crop at farmers’ markets in Norfolk to see if there was demand for them. From there she’s started selling buckets of artisan flowers too, which are popular with people decorating their own event venues. She also grows her flowers to order.

“The buckets are quite popular – a lot of brides want to do their own wedding flowers. They get their bridesmaids together before the big day and decorate their marquee or location, it’s become a bit of a fun thing to do,” says Fiona. “They can choose their own colour scheme. White weddings are popular at the moment, so I’ve been growing lots of white flowers, plus peachy colours have been in demand – chrysanthemums are becoming quite fashionable again too, so I’ll be growing those again next year.”

Flowers From the Farm
Flowers From the Farm – a membership association championing artisan growers of seasonal British cut flowers – has been invaluable in providing support and information as Fiona develops her business.
“I’ve always loved gardening, so I came to this with a reasonable amount of knowledge, and I’ve completed quite a few online courses,” she adds.

“Flowers From the Farm has been very supportive – you can ask questions which hopefully other growers can answer. They run a lot of talks and online courses, plus there’s opportunities to visit other flower farmers to see what they’re doing.

“I’m always reading and researching new ideas as things are moving all the time. I do a lot of this during the winter months when I’m not so busy outdoors. My parents are keen gardeners and they’ve also been very helpful. I’ve loved learning new skills. The work is quite intensive, as once a flower is cut, something else has to take its place. I’ve got to keep turning over the beds and keep a constant supply going.

“I’m always trying to extend the season, starting as early as possible in April and if we don’t get a frost, keeping it going into November. Then it’s time to start with the Christmas foliage and the wreath workshops.”

Fiona runs Pulvertoft Flowers single-handedly, with help from Ian, but hopes as the business grows she will be able to take on employees.

“The aim at the moment is to keep expanding the growing area, so I can grow more flowers and add more foliage and increase the wholesale side of things,” she explains.

“I’m really enjoying the farm and the change of pace it’s brought. People have been so generous with passing on information and support, and the florists I work with are lovely and again so generous with their feedback and positivity.

“Sustainable flowers are something that more and more people are learning about and understanding, I’ve seen awareness and demand grow even in the couple of years since I started out, which is wonderful.”

For more information about Pulvertoft Flowers, visit pulvertoftflowers.co.uk

Photographs: courtesy of Pulvertoft Flowers / Angela Reeve / Pat Horan / Keith Lewinton/ Clive Taylor



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