English Peonies in June; visiting a Norfolk Flower Farm
Driving along narrow and winding Norfolk roads toward North Walsham in the pouring rain was not what I originally had in mind when I’d arranged a June visit to meet Sarah Hammond of English Peonies. I’d envisaged a sun drenched day involving a casual saunter around a colourful English flower farm.
When I arrived at English Peonies I found Sarah in her flower workshop with her son. They were eagerly sorting through and conditioning their morning peony pickings. With the weather being so horrendous Sarah and her son (home from university for the holidays) had to pick buckets of peonies in the morning rain before less than favourable weather conditions took its toll. Despite the inclement weather Sarah greeted me with a smile and launched into telling me about the flower farms heritage. The farm belongs to her husband’s side of the family and has been passed down through generations to generation. Peonies first made an appearance on the farm 50+ years ago when horticulturist Betty Hammond planted a field of pink Sarah Berhardt peonies. Cutting flower peonies have been grown on this site ever since in the most idyllic North Norfolk location.
Sarah recalls how Betty initiated her for years into the art of peony growing. Betty showed Sarah everything she needed to know but still wouldn’t allow Sarah to cut the peonies for over five years. It wasn’t until Sarah took over the peony farm about 5 years ago that she was really able to put make it her own and start evolving Norfolk Peonies in the way she herself envisaged.
With the rain showing no signs of desisting we headed out towards the walled garden with a brolly in one hand and camera in the other. I’m glad we did – it was a beautiful sight even in the rain. The walled garden is a project which Sarah has been working on since taking on the flower farm. She has carefully considered her flower selection to cover all seasons and colours*. Currently in full bloom were foxgloves and roses with dahlias waiting patiently in the wings. Despite receiving a storm battering the walled garden still looked like a tranquil floral haven.
I caught Sarah at possibly her busiest time. As well as June being prime peony season it’s also the start of the main wedding season too. Looking at the weather and then the flowers I asked Sarah how she could be so calm? Wasn’t she panicking about her flowers? Would they withstand the battering of continuous heavy? Amazingly she wasn’t fazed and she explained that all her brides know that there has to be a degree of flexibility when working with a British flower farm; in a natural growing environment it is impossible to guarantee that a certain flower will be at its prime at a certain time. As Sarah works closely with each bride she knows exactly what is required and after that she lets nature play its hand. None of her brides have ever been let down or disappointed.
Back inside and drinking loose leaf Earl Grey we chatted about all things flower farming. Sarah’s client base is UK wide, including retail and trade customers. As we chat what is most apparent is how passionate Sarah is about her craft and how much she enjoys liaising with her customers, whether it’s for a wedding party, funeral wreath or personal bouquet everyone gets her individual attention and personal touch. It is this which makes her business so special; she appreciates how special flowers are to each individual and takes such care and pride in what she does.
As I was leaving we popped back into Sarah’s flower workshop. We continued to chat as I watched Sarah casually and skilfully make a bouquet. She carefully selected each stem and produced the prettiest bouquet for me to take home.
It was such a delight visiting English Peonies, meeting Sarah and enjoying the home comfort of her cosy farmhouse kitchen. It’s an experience I hope to do again soon; I will be returning to English Peonies to attend one of Sarah’s flower arranging workshops which she hosts regularly. I’m organising a group of Norfolk Insta friends to come along with me (do let me know if you are interested)
*Sarah uses The British Flowers Book by Claire Brown as her flower farm bible. It’s a must have anyone with an existing cutting garden plot or anyone planning to create one from scratch.