Saturday 5th December 2020
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Words: Steffie Shields
Featured in the October 2020 issue

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Steffie Shields highlights a new initiative: The Lincolnshire Flower Company.

The Whitbread family came together to isolate from the pandemic in March 2020 but are far too active and creative a family to sit back and do little for months on end! Consequently, within a short time, the Lincolnshire Flower Company, based at their home in Hough on the Hill, was formally launched on 6th April 2020 during lockdown – a direct, and surprisingly positive result of Covid-19.

At this time Rhoddy Whitbread was contemplating the prospect of retirement from medical practice in August 2020. The family had moved eight years ago to their charming 17th-century home, Hough House, once lived in by the agent for Belton House, the Brownlow estate outside Grantham. Every day, looking across the road to the Brownlow Arms opposite, Penny and Rhoddy are reminded of their first meeting there in 1983. Lately, they have had further great plans on their mind.

Penny remembers spending marvellous summers as a teenager ‘hanging out’ with her maiden aunt, June Wade, a gifted London florist working for the famous Pulbrook & Gould company. Her passion for flowers has now percolated down to the three Whitbread daughters. The eldest works abroad in Singapore in marketing. This might prove quite useful on her imminent return in helping the fledgling Lincolnshire Flower Company take off!

On leaving school, Harriet chose to study textile design at Nottingham Trent, often using photographs from their then garden in Minster Yard, Lincoln as starting points for designs. Taking time out skiing in Val d’ Isère, she woke one morning after a dream, suddenly deciding she would become a florist. She undertook training at the Judith Blacklock Flower School in Knightsbridge and is grateful for her recent training at Sophie’s Flower Company of Kinoulton but, more especially, to her parents for throwing themselves, and their garden, into making her dream a reality.

I marvel at what has been achieved in less than six months. The situation is not ideal – the garden is mostly north facing, heavy clay and rubble but has now been improved with the addition of tonnes of compost and feed, and much digging by Rhoddy and Richard, their marvellous gardener. Also sorting out the drainage, the spoil came in handy for creating a spacious parterre and viewing terrace. Rhoddy set to work making several terraces down the hillside to maximise as much light as possible for cut-flower beds and columns of sweet peas.

Now a chequer board network of stock wire cage supports crisscrosses the slopes with vivid magenta and red dahlias, and rich, velvety Amaranthus caudatus, commonly known as ‘love-lies-bleeding’ growing in profusion. Penny, the greenhouse guru and plantswoman, also grows the green form, Amaranthus viridis. Its drooping, tassel-like panicles trail from branches throughout summer and early autumn, a dramatic contrast in form to rounded anemones, daisies and roses. Rhoddy is planning many more wire hoop flower supports next year. His next project is to sort some trickle pipeline irrigation for all these areas, including, of course, for the greenhouse for nurturing seedlings. Next season’s seedlings are under way ready for all those lovely weddings.

Since three veteran lime trees overshadowed the top garden, two proved to be diseased, so could be taken down to let in more precious light. The remaining singleton lime now dominates the scene to add an air of history, together with the rustic stables, now usefully converted into Harriet’s florist workshop. The Hough House cellar has been invaluable for working during the summer heatwave, for storing flowers in the cool.

Penny sourced enormous wooden troughs from Golding Young auctions for storing and bringing on young plants, while Harriet discovered an immense old work table to set up her studio. They have also acquired the use of another greenhouse in a nearby garden, generously lent by the owners. Superb outbuildings include a barn which will soon prove ideal for Harriet’s winter flower arranging workshops, which she intends to hold from November, to include wreath making, mantelpiece and Christmas table decorations. (You can find more information online at thelincolnshireflowercompany.co.uk and on Instagram)

On their recent ‘open garden’ day, sweet posies of flowers in rainbow colours were displayed on every table. Sitting areas created in every possible corner, sheltered by rustic outhouses, added to the charm, perfect for peaceful relaxation – although I doubt that happens much in the Whitbread household! A variety of interesting plants, useful foliage for cutting in a fernery, included variegated hostas. I also noticed great mounds of Hydrangea ‘Limelight’, a useful filler to blend in with any other colour. Of all the climbing roses on every available wall, the adorable, soft apricot Rose ‘Breath of Life’ is a special favourite, a present from the parents of a teenager whose life was saved in the practice.

An attractive duck egg blue market stall featured a display of Harriet’s amazing garden flower bouquets, together with tied bunches in jam jars, decked with navy blue ribbons. Harriet pointed out unusual annuals that are attractive to pollinators: ruffled snapdragons called Antirrhinum ‘Chantilly’, pale green Bells of Ireland, Moluccella laevis, and long-lasting Cockscomb, Celosia cristata. The family has successfully achieved three sowings of blue larkspur and Ammi majus with its fern-like leaves and large umbels of small creamy white flowers.

Early on in lockdown, online research revealed inspirational companies, such as Swan Cottage Flowers, providing pertinent growing advice and seeds for seasonal wedding flowers and DIY garden bouquets. Cluster-headed phlox flower from June to September in a wonderful array of colours from bright to subtle. I can appreciate why Harriet favours Phlox ‘Crème Brûlée’. She spends ‘every waking moment’ thinking about flowers and even presses both as a record and as a source of ideas for workshops and other designs. I came away, uplifted, with a delightful summer bouquet that lasted for a week!

Word is spreading about the capabilities of the Lincolnshire Flower Company to supply garden flower arrangements for parties and weddings, venue dressings and sympathy or birthday events and photo shoots. They now offer a weekly or fortnightly bouquet subscription service and will deliver any order of flowers over £25 direct from their garden within 25 miles of Hough on the Hill – with no air miles.

This family team have thrown heart and soul into seizing this strange lockdown opportunity to get their new ‘baby’ flower farm off the ground and established as an ongoing, ‘growing’ concern. Witnessing their energy and enthusiasm first-hand, and seeing potential for further development of the garden and outhouses, underpinned by Harriet’s talent for floristry and gorgeous rainbow posies, they cannot fail!

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