Teacher who quit to grow peonies says sales have doubled every year - as flowers are “like catnip” to Brits
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A music teacher who quit her job to grow peonies says sales have doubled every year - as the ultra fashionable flowers are like“catnip” for Brits. Elonor Tivey has farmed the bright wedding favourites on a seven acre field near Osgathorpe, Leicestershire since 2017.
Peony season starts in three weeks’ time and Elonor says it’s no surprise the blousy blooms are growing in popularity. She had to compost her entire first crop in 2020 after Covid cancelled the wedding season - but now 5,000 red, coral, pink and white flowers bloom every year on her small farm.
The 47-year-old sends flowers in refrigerated vans to weddings and florists across the country and says sales have doubled every year since her first harvest in 2021. She will soon be reaping an extra 2,500 plants once a two acre expansion planted last year starts flowering in 2025.
She said: “I was a music teacher for 20 years and I still do a bit of supply during the autumn and winter when the plants are sleeping. I’ve always adored flowers and in my early 20s I experimented with a garden and I just got absolutely bitten by the farming bug.
“I just adored gardening and then I met my partner Richard who has a seven acre field not far from where we both grew up. We were looking for something we could do in the field.
“I was walking round my garden one January morning and thought ‘oh my peonies are up – bloody hell, yes, peonies!’. They’re long-lived, they’re high value, everybody loves them – as soon as I tell anyone I grow peonies people say ‘they’re my favourite’.
“We’ve got a gently sloping site here, it’s got good drainage and we get full sun – everything about it just dropped into place that peonies were the one. We got in touch with a guy in Holland who sold bulbs saying ‘we’ve had this stupid idea to start a peony farm’ and he said ‘brilliant’ and it all started from there.”
Elonor had to wait until 2020 for her peonies to grow enough to be harvested – only for Covid to wipe out all her potential sales. She said: “Although they take three years to establish, they can be in production for 20 years.
“You are playing the long game with them, it does take a lot for them to get established and for the first three years we did not pull a penny in. Then we had the pandemic which was supposed to be our first cutting year but that went down the toilet – no weddings, no flower stalls, no farmers’ markets.
“But we got cutting in 2021 and we doubled our sales in 2022 so I’m hoping for a really good year. It’s a sprint, not a marathon. The trick is to get the stems off the plant at the right time.
“You can’t do it too early and if they start opening then that’s it, you’ve stuffed it, because you can’t refrigerate them then. If I’ve got 1,500, 2,000 stems at that stage in one of my beds, then they’ve got to come off that day.
“It can be quite busy when I’m fulfilling my orders, packing my boxes and making sure they’re getting off with the courier and then stuffing flower boxes. It doesn’t leave much time.”
“But you’re only doing it for six or eight weeks and that’s it, you’re done. It’s not like you’re doing it all year so you can give it a bit of energy really.”
Elonor says British-grown peonies are always “catnip” for flower fans - and that the demand for homegrown blooms is blossoming. She said: “These days the bigger weddings want 100 to 200 stems and that’s my golden ticket really in terms of the amount to sell.
“We started going to farmers’ markets last year and they are really good fun. People find it very difficult to walk past a British peony stall without buying some.
“They just have that factor where people go ‘Oh wow, peonies’ and then I tell them they are literally grown 10 miles away and it’s catnip really. The British flower movement is growing and we have a lot of high-profile florists getting behind it now and saying ‘we should be using British flowers’.
“It’s all about being more sustainable and more local and that’s something I’m really proud of,” she added. “I think people need to realise that the flowers they’re buying in your average supermarket are not good for the environment and more people should consider paying a bit of a premium to support British flower growers.
“Climate is really important and shipping flowers halfway across the world when they’re perfectly happy to be grown in the UK is something I’m passionate about changing.”