For our July online meeting, we welcomed Ben Cross, also known as Alstroemeria Ben. He’s a 4th generation grower at Crosslands Flower Nursery, established in West Sussex in 1936. As well as being a full-time grower, Ben is an avid campaigner for British flowers and he took the opportunity to tell us that British Flowers Rock!
Ben joined us remotely from sunny Sussex and gave us a tour of his greenhouse, sharing the history of Crosslands Flower Nursery and an insight into how they grow and harvest flowers.
Crosslands grows over 70 varieties of alstroemeria in hundreds of beds that are up to 30m long. The plants can grow to 7 or 8 feet tall and some of the plants are 30 years old. Less than 5% are replanted each year and as a ‘cool’ or ‘dry’ crop, alstroemeria is a very sustainable choice for growing in the UK.
In fact, Ben weaved themes of sustainability, climate change and the environment throughout his talk. For example, the nursery doesn’t use any fake lighting in winter to accommodate the local wildlife. Everything is done by hand – the flowers are handpicked, rather than cut. Thousands of bunches are picked each day, often starting at 4 or 5am to beat the summer heat.
Even the weeding is done by hand with no chemicals! Pulled-up roots are left on the soil to rot and provide waste-free goodness for the plants. Ben gave us lots of handy gardening tips focusing on permaculture and biocontrol, including how to use natural predators or tomato plants as ‘banker’ plants to prevent pests.
Growing alstroemeria in the UK has a much lower carbon footprint that imported flowers. However, over 90% of flowers for sale in the UK are imported. In response to this, Ben started the British Flowers Rock campaign in 2014 to educate and raise awareness about British flowers. We learned about the environmental impact of importing flowers, including on local water supplies and the fact that it takes around 5 weeks for flowers to be shipped from, for example, Kenya to Holland to UK. Flowers are frozen on the way and chemicals used to prevent flowers from opening. With only about 10 growers left in the UK, it has never been more important to support local, sustainable businesses.
Ben was incredibly passionate about his work and ensured there was plenty of time to get through the Belles’ questions, of which there were many! A big thank you to Ben for sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm with us!