Flower grower extraordinaire
What to say about Ben? He’s a former marine biologist who is now shaking up the British Flower scene from Crosslands Flower Nursery in West Sussex where he is a 4th generation British Alstroemeria grower.
When he’s not in the nursery taking care of his plants and his customers, he’s out on road giving talks about the importance of buying British grown flowers ('Home Grown not Flown') and dishing out some alarming statistics: More than 90% of the UK’s cut flowers are shipped in from overseas at considerable cost to the environment. And these flowers are everywhere: supermarkets; wholesalers; florists; letterbox delivery companies; petrol stations, farm shops …
Ben will keep on spreading the message through his ‘British Flowers Rock’ campaign — doing, as he puts it, ‘that little bit to help our planet.’ He’d just like us to take heed and buy British stems.
Your three favourite flowers?
Alstroemeria: This is what I grow (at Crosslands Flower Nursery) and my family has been growing for generations. A very sustainable crop: a ‘cool crop’ and a ‘dry crop’ so it doesn’t take much heat or watering. A lot of our plants are over 20-30 years old and still producing good saleable stems… And a beautiful flower — so yes, alstroemeria that’s got to be my first choice.
Bluebells: the woodlands local to us will be full of them soon.
Sunflowers: I have a go at growing them occasionally and I have good memories of growing them at kindergarten.
Tell us about your childhood garden?
Before we lived on site at the flower nursery we lived in the village. I remember doors leading onto the patio area where I cracked my head a few times trying to do a bit of skateboarding. There was a rusty climbing frame with a little slide that I loved whizzing down. There were pets and animals, always lots of people, family, music, and barbecues in the summer. Lots of patio flowers — and oh my goodness, hanging baskets. Hanging baskets everywhere! Happy memories!
Who or what inspired your career choice?
Growing up in the countryside and being at the flower nursery inspired my interest in the planet. I wanted to do something where I could make a difference so I did marine biology for over 10 years, but I found all the work I was doing, like the marine mammal surveys and the sea surveys, was for the big oil companies and my work became a tick box exercise, which was wearing me down.
So, I returned to the flower nursery. I didn’t want our family business to go the same way as some of the other British growers I’d seen, whose greenhouses had been demolished, their land bought by developers. I felt I could do something valuable at the nursery and grow sustainable British flowers and make a difference. We’ve only got one earth and we need to look after it.
What is a typical day in the life of Ben?
Up before the sun gets up; paperwork; check the vents, boilers, plants; and then I’ll let the day take me wherever that might be. As a farmer grower in the UK, I never know what’s going to happen. In the evening, I might be hopping in my car and driving to some middle-of-nowhere village hall to give a ‘British Flowers Rock’ talk. Home at midnight and then it’s off to the wholesalers to drop off the flowers and in bed by 2am. Often I’m only getting four hours sleep out of twenty-four. It’s a busy life.
No garden is complete without …
a place to chill out and listen to music. Preferably with a firepit or barbecue.
Something we’d find:
· On your bedside table: Pen and notepad
· In your flower arrangement: Alstroemeria and/or seasonal British flowers
· In your garden shed: Hori-hori blade
The flaw you wish you didn’t have?
What would you be in another life?
A park ranger or something to do with animals.
To look after our Mother Earth and practice sustainability
Who is a horticultural hero?
What is the one flower or plant you’d never plant in your garden, but don’t detest when you see others plant it?
I love banana plants. I’d never plant them — but I do enjoy seeing them in botanical greenhouses around the UK.
If there was a fire, and you could only keep one book on gardening, what would it be?
Not a gardening book but I’m going to grab my Mum’s journal/gardening diary, which is all about life here at the nursery.
For posterity, what would you like your work to be known for?
Increasing awareness about the importance of growing and buying sustainable British flowers
Follow on Twitter @AlstroemeriaBen
Follow on Instagram @AlstroemeriaBen
Find Ben on Facebook at Crosslands Flower Nursery
Quick fire: some favourite things
· Book (fiction): I’m a big kid and I read superhero comics.
· Film: Star Wars Empire Strikes Back
· Painting: Street Art, preferably Banksy
· Smell: Either cut grass or baking cakes.
· Meal: Anything barbecued is always good
· Travel Destination: Growing Alstroemeria, also known as Peruvian lily, is just one of the reasons I’d love to go to Peru.
· A cause near and dear to me: Macmillan cancer
· Place to go for inspiration: I get a lot of inspiration from being here at the flower nursery
· A great walk near where you live: A beach walk on the Witterings
· Thing to collect obsessively: Star Wars lego
· Museum: The Weald and Downland Living Museum where the Repair Shop is filmed
· Garden close to home: West Dean Gardens
· Garden anywhere else: When I was studying marine biology in Cornwall, I fell in love with all those beautiful sub-tropical Cornish gardens