Flower farming on Scilly

When summer visitors are enjoying beaches, sunny walks and ice-cream, it is quite a leap of imagination to think of Scilly during the winter months. Often I am asked what it’s like to live on Scilly in the winter, and I’m met by genuine surprise when I answer, “We are really busy”.

For the islands’ flower farmers, the season starts in October when the first of the scented narcissi are picked and we work, pretty much every day, through to the end of March. Christmas is really busy, as you’d imagine, as is Valentine’s Day, Mothering Sunday and, if it’s early, Easter!

There is a long history of flower farming on the Isles of Scilly and it has been a mainstay of the Scillonian economy for centuries. Today narcissi are grown commercially on four of the five inhabited islands, keeping up the long held island tradition of producing high quality and beautifully scented narcissi for which Scilly is famous.

In January, the Isles of Scilly often find themselves getting a mention on the national weather forecast for being the warmest (and sometimes the windiest) place in the UK.  Our mild climate is not just because we are so far south, but it’s also because the sea surrounding our little islands acts like a giant blanket and the temperature rarely drops below freezing.  This means we can grow flowers outdoors all through the winter in small fields, sheltered from Atlantic gales by tall Pittosporum hedges.

The way Scillionan farmers grow their flowers might be very traditional but the way we sell them certainly isn’t.  Many flowers are now bought online and sent in gift boxes, delivered through the post or by courier.  Flowers also go straight to the large supermarkets, so next time you spot a bunch of narcissi when you’re out shopping have a look at the label… often it will proudly state that they are from the Isles of Scilly.

As the hotels and guest houses on Scilly spruce themselves up ready for the busy summer season, the flower farmers are gearing up for Valentine’s Day  and Mothering Sunday when thousands of boxes of Scented Narcissi will leave Scilly sending messages of love and a little bit of Scilly to homes all over the country.

As the first flush of visitors arrive for the Easter holidays, the winter flower season will be coming to a close. But the work doesn’t stop there: over the summer months, bulbs will be lifted from the ground and sorted, fields prepared and bulbs planted. If you’re visiting the islands and see some particularly dusty and dirty looking faces, you will know what they have been doing! These processes are all part of the growing traditions and ensure that the best quality narcissi are produced by farmers on the Isles of Scilly.

This article was kindly written by Zoe Julian, owner of Scilly Flowers on St. Martin’s. 

Other flower producers on Scilly include Scented Narcissi and Isles of Scilly Flowers.