Entering the garden at Good Hope Blooms, just outside of Canberra in the ACT, is a bit like stepping through the gate of a secret garden. All of my senses are immediately heightened. An intoxicating blend of sweet floral and fresh, earthy scents envelopes us, and row upon row of glorious rambling flowers of different colours and heights lay before us. Cornflowers, poppies, sweet peas, zinnias, peonies, cosmos and dahlias are swaying in the soft breeze, reaching towards the sun.
We find owners Andrew Kay and Brenda Lavender toiling in the garden, each wearing well-loved wide-brimmed hats. ‘On weekends this is all we do,’ says Brenda. ‘We get up and come straight out to the garden and we’re here until dark. There’s so much to do, and we just love being amongst it all.’
The 21-acre property in the Yass Valley, which includes a house built almost entirely by the couple’s own hands, is perched atop a hill with views on all sides. On the gently sloping hillside are a smattering of small buildings – sheds, greenhouses and polytunnels – and the flower garden, which occupies about half of an acre. ‘It’s only a small garden, but we like it that way,’ says Brenda. ‘A big garden would be too difficult to run sustainably, and I also think it would lose a lot of its magic.’
Andrew and Brenda are relative ‘newbies’ to the world of farming. They purchased the idyllic property just seven years ago after relocating from the Blue Mountains near Sydney, where Andrew worked as a photographer in the advertising industry. ‘I would often drive several hours round-trip to a studio in Balmain or downtown Sydney. So moving here was a big change for us, but one that we desperately wanted,’ tells Andrew, who now works full-time as a teacher in Canberra.
Brenda worked a part-time job until very recently, but gave that up just after Christmas so she could dedicate more time to the flowers. ‘As much as we’d both love to be full-time here on the farm, it’s just not possible right now’ Andrew says. ‘We’d have to substantially increase in size for this to be our sole income, and we don’t want to do that. We’re also limited by water and the fact that we can’t grow for six months of the year because it’s too cold. So it makes sense to have another income stream.’
The couple had long planned and dreamed of their tree-change. ‘Ever since I met Andrew he’s wanted to be a farmer,’ smiles Brenda. ‘And my love of flowers and farming came from my parents and my upbringing. I grew up in a little housing commission home and there were plenty of lean times, but our house and garden was rich with flowers, colour, creativity and quirkiness. I spent my childhood picking flowers and playing farmer in the garden.’
The property was originally vacant land, a blank canvas, and had been used for sheep grazing. The couple lived in a shed while they built the house, and set about trying to work out what they could do to generate some income from the land. ‘We knew raising animals wasn’t for us. We’d never really considered growing flowers commercially, but then one day I planted some peonies and we kind of just kept going!’ recalls Brenda.
With no background in farming and no experience growing flowers, the couple have learnt ‘on the job’ and gained most of their knowledge through researching online, reading books and listening to podcasts. ‘We spent about four years just experimenting on a small scale with how and what to grow, learning from our mistakes and expanding the garden space a bit each year,’ she explains.‘This season has been what we consider to be our first official season selling flowers and we’ve had a lot of joy and success. There’s also been plenty of mistakes, mishaps, tears and tantrums … mostly from me!’
The couple now sells directly to florists in Canberra, as well as running a flower subscription service and selling one-off bunches and buckets direct to the public.‘The level of demand means that we’re now almost always sold out every week and on target to make a small profit, which has been quite unexpected!’
At Good Hope Blooms all flowers are grown in an open field, and plants are nurtured with organic composts and biodynamic preparations. ‘We have no need or desire for nasty synthetic chemicals,’ says Brenda ‘we welcome and protect the bees, birds and an array of creatures that call our garden home.’
During our visit, both Brenda and Andrew remark repeatedly how incredibly grateful they are to be here on their little piece of paradise. ‘I think everybody needs a little land to nurture and be nurtured by,’ says Brenda. ‘There’s a lot of magic that happens in a garden and if you spend long enough in it, that magic starts to happen in you too. You become grounded and find acceptance and healing. People shouldn’t be deprived of that. We should all have enough room to grow our own food, medicine and therapy. That’s what growing flowers is really – therapy!’
Will Work For Food is a creative partnership between writer Karen Locke and photographer Honey Atkinson, who are working to elevate the importance of sustainable, ethically produced food. Find out more on their blog Willworkforfood.com.au.