Dried Flower Revival
Heather Scoltock harvesting Larkspur
I had to hesitate when it became clear that dried flowers were making a coming back, I took the time to consider “Do I have the strength?”
In 1986, when Eyebright was born, I was 30 years old. We were 100% dried flowers, initially selling posies to ‘The Bay Tree’, a gift shop in the Richmond Mall. Our premises was the old Cheese factory at what is now ‘Old Factory Corner’, or ‘Connings’. The tenant before us fixed lawnmowers. Fertiliser was stored out back where gourmet food is now sold.
Our rent was $40 per week, paid to Mrs Cross who lived next door. We (My wife at the time, Adrienne Matthews, and I) had energy, ambition, and the safety net of my well-paid job with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (Now ‘Ministry of Primary Industries’).
New Zealand was in the midst of a clean out. David Lange’s reforming government had come to power two year earlier, and Rogernomics (named after the minister of finance, Roger Douglas) was sweeping away regulation and unnecessary government spending. Yours truly was unnecessary spending.
I packed up my desk, pulled on my work boots, and strode into the field. Demand for dried flowers was strong, and I had a few years of growing at three different locations, and filling drying racks in a 450 square meter ex-poultry-shed.
Dried flowers went out of vogue before the turn of the millennium, but I was able to keep farming because I had an ongoing order for larkspur from skin care company, Linden Leaves. Also I grew some fresh flowers.
Fortunately Eyebright was already diversifying: Silk flowers, Christmas decorations, jewellery, home décor and Prenzel condiments and liqueurs sustained us while the dried flowers languished as decoration for our ceiling.
About six years ago I got a call from garden design denizen, Xanthe White. She wanted a substantial quantity of dried flowers to decorate a new pizzeria on the Auckland waterfront. I had already started burning product that was a decade old, and I told her that all I had was showing its age.
Not a problem. That is exactly what she wanted. I was flown to Auckland and back in one day to give my advice. Then I sent masses of big boxes of old dried flowers.
Xanthe’s team did a wonderful job. The pizzeria looked great.
Anano Pizzeria on the Auckland waterfront,
and Eyebright dried flowers, 2016.
Igniting the current dried flower boom.
Soon after, I started getting dried flower enquiries That’s when I had to make a decision: ”Do I run with this or do I let it pass me by”. By this time, I was in my sixties. After a few days deliberation, I decided that I was in.
The last year and a half, dried flowers have dominated the majority of my days: Sowing in spring, Harvesting in summer. Corresponding, processing and dispatching in autumn and winter.
Spring is exhausting. On top of our impending and then the launch of the Christmas display, there’s getting the crops underway, plus some early harvesting. The thing about growing is that, putting off a job is not an option. No matter how tired you might be, when windows of opportunity arrive, for example, the ground drying out enough for sowing. You have to scramble or the opportunity may be lost.
When you grow as many things as I do, there is the constant fear that you might forget something. Last year a new planting was 90% annihilated by a hot sou’wester. I could have prevented happening had I not been preoccupied with selling Christmas trees.
Summer brings the reward of reflective hours spent reaping the products of your labour. There are times when you think, “I’d be happy to do this for the rest of my life”. It takes skill, judgement, and finesse to produce uniform bunches. Throw in a gorgeous day, and rock and roll on your headphones and, well --- Heaven couldn’t be better than this.
In the old days, my debtors book always had high-lit entries with notes in red recording reminder phone call. Thankfully technology has come to rescue me from that angst. Rapid direct crediting has made it viable to have payment before dispatch. An order can be placed, paid for and dispatched on the same day.
Although I have a hand in everything to do with the dried flower production and marketing, I couldn’t do it without help. Just like in the shop, staff are our greatest asset. In the field, I am ably assisted by Collette; strong, healthy, twenty years younger than me and ever willing through rain or searing heat. Also, she has come up with many ideas which have been employed to good effect.
Unlike thirty-five years ago when Eyebright was dried flowers and nothing else, now they are just one of the many things we do. Fortunately, we have other people with expertise in those other areas, and I can, when necessary, submerge myself in farming activity, comfortable in the knowledge that our customer service remains excellent.