Think tulips and you might think Amsterdam, but perhaps you should think again. One company at the vanguard of the home-grown flower sector is Smith and Munson.
“We specialise in tulips and lilies,” explains Jo Munson. “We started growing tulips in the 1950s and have grown them ever since. Today, we grow around 9 million tulips each year - around 60 different varieties - from single varieties to parrots, doubles and fringed tulips.
For the love of lilies
In the 1980s, the company broadened its range and began growing lilies and now produces roughly 1.5 million of the vivacious blooms each year.
“Our main focus are classic Oriental lilies,” says Jo, “these include hybrids such as OT lilies, which have huge flower heads, and range from white, pale pink through to dark magenta; the scent is astounding. We also grow LA lilies, an asiatic hybrid, these flowers have a tamer scent and are available in a much more extensive colour scheme.
“We grow all these types to fulfil all areas of the lily market, from the premium and events market, to the more humble bunch of lilies to go in your kitchen. We offer a variety of colours too, you’ll be amazed at what lilies have to offer, with lots of new varieties, even some that are pollen-free. Our tulip growing season runs from December to May and our lily season from May to December, so we can pick a flower 365 days of the year!”
The past five years have seen challenge on challenge for British business but, despite it all, Jo seems relatively optimistic. “Brexit, whilst it was looming, was quite a concern,” Jo continues. “We do import our bulbs from the Netherlands, but with some good relationships and careful preparation it has gone very smoothly.“
"The pandemic has affected us an awful lot. When the first lockdown happened, every outlet for us was gone, but we worked very quickly to diversify and our online shop was born. The fantastic response and support we receive has been very uplifting. There has certainly been a demand for sending flowers and receiving flowers in this unprecedented and unpredictable last year.”
Backing British blooms
“I think that British flowers have provenance,” continues Jo, “most are grown by family businesses with generations of growing experience. There is also many environmental factors which help, for instance, the transport we use is considerably less than the volume of transport needed to import foreign-grown flowers.“
"The market has definitely seen an increase in demand and we have been growing for many years. I don’t think until recently that consumers gave much thought as to where their flowers were grown; there is definitely an increase in awareness of origins."
Grown with love: Smith and Munson is a real family business.
"We really care about what we do - we select the most wonderful varieties, and put our heart and soul into growing and nurturing the flowers. We choose the varieties that we know we would be happy to put in our own home. We are a small family business and work well together, we have a lovely team. We are proud of our brand and hope that comes across in what we do.” Jo Munson
Jo hopes the market for British flowers will continue to blossom over the next 10 years and believes growers have their part to play. “I think we need to be more open and tell our story; consumers want to know all about what we do. They want to know where their flowers are coming from and feel a connection to the grower,” she says.
“Also there are a lot of people without access to social media, which is why it’s wonderful to do this article. We have had some lovely conversations over the telephone from customers who didn’t have access to the internet and wanted to order our tulips, we must not forget those, too.“We have also hosted open days and lunches in our glasshouses, and would love to get back to doing much more of this when circumstances allow.”