The sustainable florist who works from an allotment in Leeds

Everything is blooming lovely in Gemma Boardman’s garden, as Sally Clifford found out when she chatted to the Farsley sustainable flower grower. Pictures by James Hardisty.

Gemma Boardman wants her flower arrangements to be as sustainable as possible
Gemma Boardman wants her flower arrangements to be as sustainable as possible

Intermittent heavy downpours on a morning in so-called “flaming June” demonstrate how the surrounding landscape embracing this bijoux flower plot provides a natural barrier against the elements. Gardeners’ calendars revolve around the weather, and despite all the physical hard grafting on the plot, the outcome is constantly governed by the challenge of growing in the UK climate, which has been made all the more unpredictable by climate change.

Yet here, in this picturesque corner of Leeds, a pretty colour palette of flowers, though delicate to the eye and touch, is taking a robust stance against the rain.

When the sun finally emerges, it illuminates the beauty of Gemma Boardman’s tranquil flower plot. Set back from a commuter corridor transporting traffic to nearby destinations such as Calverley and Horsforth, her growing area provides her with more than 30 varieties of flowers destined for home deliveries to pretty up interiors, with the vibrancy and beautiful scent of hand-cut blooms picked fresh from the patch and creatively arranged for indoor decoration.

Gemma Boardman tends her plot before and after her day job as a support worker

Brides seeking something individual and sustainable for their bouquets have also found their way to Gemma, who has seen demand for her flowers grow within the bridal market since she set up Wildwood Corner Flower Co in April last year.

The 32-year-old, who fits her business around her day job working as a support worker, inherited her love of flowers from her grandmothers. “Both my grandmas were into growing flowers,” says Gemma, who decided to follow in their footsteps when she moved into her current house five years ago.

Situated close to her flower-growing plot, which belongs to a local farmer, her home garden is where she grows her roses – some say a difficult and high-maintenance flower to nurture.

She also has her greenhouses at home where she grows her plants from seed and prepares and creates Christmas wreaths using natural foliage.

One of Gemma's beautiful bouquets

“I got my own garden when I moved to my current house five years ago but it’s tiny and I maxed out with what I could do in that. I really wanted to grow flowers. I wanted to grow cut flowers,” says Gemma.

Conscious of the environmental impact flower production can have, she is keen to create a sustainable growing operation. Her flowers are grown without the use of chemicals or pesticides, and being a local supplier also keeps her company’s carbon footprint down.

“My aim is to reduce carbon footprints by growing and locally sourcing flowers, and hopefully encouraging more people to think differently about how they source their flowers, plants and associated products,” says Gemma.

She believes the success she has seen in her first year of trading is testimony to the mindset of many to make the change – for the sake of the planet. “The success over the past 12 months shows that there is real interest in the concept, and this has encouraged me to work even harder. ”

Gemma’s germ of an idea became a reality just before lockdown. Finding the land proved a challenge though. She contemplated taking on an allotment but discovered plots were more focused on growing vegetables than flowers.

Undeterred in achieving her ambition, Gemma took the initiative with an old-fashioned approach – putting pen to paper – and was delighted when her plan finally came to fruition. “I wrote some letters to local farmers and just said ‘if you’ve got a scrap of land, I would like to grow some flowers to sell’,” she says.

Thanks to the generosity of a local farmer, Gemma was able to take on a plot not far from her home and, “with some help from family and friends”, she set to work in the summer of 2020 creating 10 flower growing beds. “I prepared it for the autumn planting and my first sales were tulips in April 2021,” she recalls.

The convenience of the location means that she can spend time before and after work, in the early morning and late into the evening, tending her blooms.

Spring-flowering tulips add vibrancy to the delicate pastel shades on Gemma’s plot. The sweet-smelling aroma of fluffy daffodils, another springtime favourite, is a scent to heighten the senses when carried in bouquets, secured in bridal party button-holes or admired in living spaces. Sweet peas, among Gemma’s favourite flowers, sway gently in the breeze in their wooden boxed bed as the rain finally abates, their pretty pink and pastel tones picked out by the sunlight.

Close by, a patch of white foxgloves stand resilient against the inclement summer weather. This abundant plot is also meticulously planned out with sunflowers, achilleas, carnations, cornflowers, peony poppies, California poppies, strawflowers, clary sage, aster, cosmos, statice, scented stocks, belles of Ireland, larkspur, scabious, rudbeckia, nicotiana and Tagetes.

The nature of being home-grown means they can be cut, creatively arranged and delivered within 24 hours of leaving Gemma’s plot. Although her growing area is an unusual, almost tapered shape, being long yet wider at one end than the other, it offers everything the flower grower needs. “It is compact, you can look around and feel like there is a sprinkle of something here and there, and when you go around with the bucket you can get a full bouquet,” she says.

The plot also provides perfect growing conditions, as Gemma explains. “The soil is lovely and I use a mix of organic mulch and manure to keep it fertile. I also try to dig as little as possible to keep the soil healthy. They are perfectly happy here,” she says, referring to her flower family.

One of her latest assignments was putting together a bouquet of flowers for a hen who wanted to make their own flower crowns for a “do”. “I plan it out the best I can,” says Gemma, referring to the types of flowers she grows to ensure there is something to suit all tastes.

Following trends and styles is imperative for flower farmers and it enables them to satisfy demand when the wedding season arrives.

Gemma is constantly researching trends to ensure that she can fulfil her clients’ wishes, but there is always conscious that ideals also have to suit the seasons too.

“The key thing about being seasonal is to expect what is in flower,” she says.

Gardening is all about experimenting too, she adds. “It’s trying new things. I’m always trying new ones in the mix as well and seeing what other growers are growing.”

Being part of the wider Flowers from the Farm network has been a great support to Gemma who is researching and learning her craft along the way. That is, after all, what gardening and growing is all about.

“With weddings, I say I can work with a loose colour palette – I can’t promise specific flowers on the day because growing outside in areas of Yorkshire, anything could happen,” says Gemma, referring to the weather.

“If something disastrous happens and an important crop doesn’t come through, I would always use Flowers from the Farm to find someone else who grows in the same way. It is a really lovely network. Everybody is really helpful and supports each other.”

Growers will empathise with the unpredictable nature of this rewarding pastime but the benefits are immeasurable.

“I love being up here and I love seeing the fruits of my work when things come into bloom after nurturing them for months and months and months,” says Gemma. “It’s a patient activity, but once they come into flowers, there is a sense of achievement.”