We visit Stem & Green, sustainable flower farmers located just a stones throw from the home of Twilight Trees and #aVeryTwilightWedding itself!
So James, how did you start Stem & Green?
I’ve always loved gardening. Before that I worked in TV and I’ve always worked on gardening programs and I was always magnetised towards that. I always wanted to be outdoors and around beautiful things and then lockdown happened and all my work dried up. I thought this is quite nice not having to go up to London or fly off to LA. I just thought why not do something that’s local and the kids can run around whilst I’m doing it and I don’t have to be shouting at them to be quiet. I just thought, do something that’s good for the soul and good for the heart and mind.
Your wife must love it!
She hates flowers! It’s just not her love language.
What do you grow?
Our growing season is from March to October and we grow 8 or 9 different things at a time. I’ve always got lots of herbs, applemint, lemon balm, and lavender. We try to put something smelly into every bunch. Things that have scent tend not to travel and last well.
Who is your customer? Where do your flowers end up?
50% go to people’s homes for weddings, anniversaries etc. We write all the cards out, it’s lovely to share peoples moments. The other half goes to weddings.
We’re very excited about Luby’s wedding!
Yes! It’s very exciting! We were chatting about roses, peonies perhaps. Orlaya, anemones, cornflowers, nigella, veronicas, and poppies. Some herby things. Everything whimsical and frothy! You’ve got this spectrum of creams and whites, white with a touch of pink.
(Luby) Yes! White with a kiss of pink!
Do you ever get stressed?
Yes! Because next week, on Tuesday, right before Luby’s wedding there’s meant to be a big hail storm that’s going to stampede this field!
The biggest stress is when brides and florists are after the perfect peony for example and the sun comes out and they all blow open a week before the wedding.
I hear you were involved in Chelsea Flower Show?
I supplied all the flowers for the South Gate. We provided flowers for one of the Ladurée stands in the Pavilion and another stand wanted 10,000 stems of Orlaya. Then we did a huge dried flower installation for another seller at Chelsea and a whole chandelier of dried flowers. So Chelsea was mad!
And you were involved in the Coronation?
The Coronation was part of an organisation called ‘Flowers From the Farm’. All the small scale growers are part of this and we were asked by Shane Connolly to be involved which was very exciting.
What sets you apart from other flower growers?
Our focus is quality and that comes down to putting extra money into the soil.
A lot of people will grow for cheap and quick and get the flower out the door but we really want something that’s going to last long and have a strong stem. Quality is our absolute core focus.
When you set up your business what was your mission?
The mission was just to grow the most beautiful flowers possible and to do it in as sustainable a way as possible. Imported flowers are one of the highest carbon footprints per pound spent, most things come by ship but flowers have to be flown in so the carbon footprint on a bunch of colombian roses is just astronomical. I thought how can we do something that’s really sustainable, giving back to the environment and leaving these fields better than they were before.
And is it going to plan?
We’ve been letting the business organically take its own direction. I had no plan to sell to the public, I was going to be wholesale only and suddenly after one week someone said ‘can I have a bunch of flowers?’. So I went on YouTube, found out how to make an arrangement, it took far too long but I did it! So now half of our flowers go out in boxes around the country but that wasn’t the plan!
I’d credit a lot of your photography for your success, that’s your background isn’t it?
Photography, TV, storytelling is my background but what nicer place can you find to come and take photos.
And how important is instagram to your success?
Oh my goodness, it’s like our shopfront, we’ve got no shopfront, no high street presence so Instagram is that. It’s incredible, it’s such a lovely community of supporters too.
How much time do you spend at your desk?
I should spend twice as much as I do. I grab an hour a day replying to emails, and not replying to emails. It’s so hard, we’re just always sewing seeds, planting, picking, delivering and even though there’s an amazing team now, it’s always a juggle.
Where do your helpers come from?
All from Instagram. I’ve got Kelly who had an allotment and followed me on Instagram. I once put a shout out a shout out for growers and she came out the woodwork. Then there’s Vicky who’s a proper, trained florist who can whip something up in 30 seconds so she’s usually in the studio making magic. And then I kind of flitter between Vicky and Kerry.
Luby had an allotment during Covid.
(Luby) It kept me alive during Covid, it was just the best thing ever. I spent every day just learning as I go.
(James) I worked with James Wong and he said ‘ a plants default is just to grow’. We worry so much about things not growing and he says, just chuck it in. If it’s going to grow, it’s going to grow and that’s our philosophy down here.
What’s your biggest pinch me moment?
Every day to be honest, I often feel like such a fraud. So this time two years ago, 2021, all the weddings had been backed up and Brexit meant that all the Dutch flowers weren’t able to come across and suddenly after taking this field over in February making it up as I went along, things were selling out. It was just bonkers. It was just a perfect storm of Brexit and Covid and I just thought blimey, I’m actually growing stuff and selling it, its mind numbing. The response was just incredible.
Could you imagine yourself needing more land for growing?
The appetite for British flowers is just incredible. Just this week I had a florist asking for 10,000 stems, the numbers are just insane and I just can’t supply it at the moment so yes we need four times this space.
We do artificial trees and plants, what do you think? Does it make you wince?
No! Do you know what, from a sustainability point of view I think it’s one of the best options out there. To give an example, the local church has a load of silk Lilies and all through winter they just pick foliage off trees and put them in this vase of lilies. That’s like a million times better than buying Lilies from Columbia that are burning up carbon. So no, I think it’s up there in terms of being sustainable and beautiful.
With artificial, you can reuse it and reuse it whereas to produce that in a greenhouse, you need to heat it and water it and it takes so much energy to produce something week in, week out.
I think as part of this industry becoming more sustainable, artificial has to be embraced.
I’m very happy you say that because that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. If you bring some of the real into what we’re doing, it creates some of the drama.
What’s the future for Stem and Green?
I’d love to have hubs in different areas but then it’s hard to control quality and passion. We’ll see, we’re just going to take it slowly.
It’s amazing James, thank you for talking to us. We’ll look forward to watching this space!