What do you get when you cross landscape design, farming and floral design on 100 acres adjoining a river…..
One of the most beautiful flower farms around, and not one but two floral artists.
Helen Leighton is a landscape designer and floral designer using flowers grown sustainably and chemical free at Riverdale Farm – where she lives, gardens and farms with her husband Jim Leighton.
Her daughter Abbylou is also a floral designer, using flowers from the farm.
Riverdale Farm is on the banks of the Kalgan River near Albany, the southern tip of Western Australia and by the look of these images, it’s a floral paradise.
Q and A with Helen Leighton:
Where did it all start?
We moved to our rural property in 2004 to increase the size of our garden, run some cattle and generally enjoy all the good things that a rural property offers with our children. They have grown up and moved away but love to return to our home as often as their commitments allow. Our property runs 45 Murray Grey breeders and has a large country garden including a cutting garden, rose garden, kitchen garden, orchard, small vineyard growing pinot noir and bee hives.
What do you grow?
We grow a wide range of both native and exotic plants including 300 David Austin, heritage and garden roses and mixed flowers over an area covering 1.5 hectares. These are used exclusively for the Floral Design work by my daughter Abbey and I for local weddings and events. In addition bouquets and arrangements are made to order. We are also offering Garden Gathered Workshops at the farm in collaboration with two Perth based floral designers Jane McGlynn and Steph Wall using our farm grown product.
We have run Spring (2017) and Autumn (2018) workshops with a 2 day workshop planned for this coming Spring.
“Over the past 4 years we have developed a farmer/florist business growing a wide range of floral material for use in our floral design work. The aim was to offer flowers grown locally for a local market offering seasonal and sustainably grown flowers. We supply fresh chemical free blooms to a number of cake makers in Albany.
“I have a background in Landscape Design studying at the Inchbald School of Design in London in the early 2000’s. I became frustrated by the amount of time spent at the computer with that style of work and with a strong desire to be in the garden more and bring the fruits of my gardening labours to a wider audience I returned to London to study Floral Design with Zita Elze in Kew (early 2014).
Abbey undertook Floral Design training in 2013 after completing high school.
In subsequent years I have been fortunate to participate in workshops with Floral Designers using 100% locally grown product in the US (Floret), UK (The Garden Gate Flower Company, The Blue Carrot and Jo Flowers) and NZ (Field of Roses in conjunction with Soil and Stem).
I have become a farmer/florist.
Fences were moved and a large cutting garden was added to the already expansive gardens at Riverdale Farm. Jim my husband with a background in farming is an integral part of the garden workforce. The gardens are managed without any outside assistance.
The farmer/florist phenomena is gaining momentum around the globe as people become more aware of the provenance of the blooms they buy with many seeking to opt for a lower carbon footprint with food and flowers. Slow Flowers movement is following on from the popular Slow Food movement. Local seasonal flowers produced sustainably for a local market.
We are now offering locally grown, seasonal blooms from our sustainably managed garden with a low carbon footprint. The great joy of working this way is the changing palette of materials throughout the season. There is never a chance to become bored as there is always something new to work with keeping our work fresh and interesting.
What’s involved in cultivating these flowers?
Our gardens include 300 scented garden roses, dahlias, a wide range of trees and shrubs for foliage, perennial species and many varieties of annuals. We grow our perennials from cuttings and seed and the annuals from seed. We have a dedicated nursery area for raising seedlings and cuttings. New sowings of seeds are undertaken every few weeks to ensure a succession of interesting material to work with.
Winter is quieter from a design perspective but very busy on the gardening front. Pruning of the roses, vines and fruit trees takes several months and this followed by the spreading of manure and finished off with a thick layer of pea straw. Grape vine prunings are wound into wreaths for decorating later in the year. Garden flowers are available in spring, summer and autumn with the natives taking over in winter. Natives are at their best over late winter and spring.
What’s your farming strategy or philosophy?
We grow our blooms sustainably using loads of manures and pea hay for mulching. Our blooms are chemical free. We keep bees to assist with pollination and the delicious honey they reward us with.
Why do you grow flowers?
I enjoy the mix of tasks associated with being a farmer/florist. Physical exercise, planning and management of the garden to ensure a succession of material and the great joy that comes with finishing setting up a venue with our home grown blooms. Meeting with prospective brides to discuss their ideas for their flowers.
I fell in love with gardening as a new mother 28 years ago and have been hooked ever since. I just love the way gardens and flowers have the ability to transform a space whether indoors or outdoors. I enjoy sharing the beauty of flowers with people and the joy it brings them. We have opened our Garden on several occasions as a fundraiser for the local community run Hospice.
The seasonal changes and the scents. The ability to evoke happy memories of times spent with family in gardens.
I love the process of seed to vase which allows me to work seasonally with an ever changing palette of interesting flowers and foliage.
What do you find challenging about life as a flower farmer?
Each season brings a new set of challenges and one needs to be constantly aware of the climate variations of temperature, wind and rainfall.
We are lucky enough to have a cool room which allows us to pick product and store it for upcoming events when we have adverse climatic conditions such as extreme heat, rainfall or winds that might damage delicate flowers.
How would you describe your style/philosophy?
Our style is for loose, romantic, seasonal, scented garden inspired florals. We particularly enjoy collecting antique/vintage containers that can be used to display our flowers. Repurposing/reusing is a particular passion.
Can you talk a bit about your approach and process to creating a piece?
Generally I like to establish shape in an arrangement using foliage/branches before adding the focal flowers and finishing with some delicate airy smaller accents that float above the main body of the arrangement. Our arrangements are always foam free.
It is important to give thought to the positioning of an arrangement in a space or landscapeand ensure it has a sense of place in the wider landscape/room/season that it sits in.
I really enjoy each event as it always brings with it a different palette of materials. I love the process of harvesting/collecting the foliage and flowers as much as creating the final product. It always brings with it a lovely mix of excitement and anticipation.
There’s much change and enthusiasm in the industry for more local, field grown flowers. What are your thoughts on this and what other changes are you seeing in the industry.
I am delighted to see a rise in the number of flower farms bringing their blooms to the communities in which they are located. Farmer’s markets have become an integral part of local communities with the paddock to plate movement gaining popularity. It would be wonderful if locally grown blooms could gain a similar amount of traction in the communities in which they are situated.
Tips to brides who are in the planning stages?
Choose a designer whose work you love and trust them to create something that is beautiful and represents your unique self. Talk to your designer about a colour palette, scents that evoke memories for you, particular flowers that have a special meaning for you and let them guide you with what will be in season at that time.