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  • Ben Cross

british alstroemeria & the british flower industry

Ben Cross is an exciting young speaker, passionate about supporting British flower growers, and a 4th generation family member from Crosslands Flower Nursery, Walberton, near Arundel.

At our May meeting, Ben told us the story of how his family were supported by a countrywide government scheme (Land Settlement Association - LSA) in the 1930s. The scheme assisted out of work families after the devastation of WW1 and the depression that followed. Ben’s family were given a small holding settlement in Sidlesham, Sussex: training in market gardening processes was also provided as part of the LSA to enable the families to make best use of the land they had been given.

Initially, Ben’s ancestors grew salad crops, chrysanthemums and also what was known by it’s common name; the Peruvian Lily. The family realised that the Peruvian Lily, or Alstroemeria (its correct name) loved the local climate. It was the right plant in the right place. In 1957, the Cross family moved away from the government scheme and set up Crosslands Flower Nursery, specialising in growing Alstroemeria.

Alstroemeria were originally brought to Europe from the cool mountain ranges of the Andes in South America. They are named after the Swedish scientist Clas Alstromer who discovered them there in the 18th century. In the UK the British Alstroemeria is classed as a protected ornamental.

Back to Crosslands, who grow their plants under bio-control using no pesticides or insecticides. The processes used keep re-planting to a minimum; as a result some plants are now 30-40 years old and are still producing great stems. If new plants are needed, re-planting takes place towards the end of June. The plants get established over the autumn and winter and will produce great flowers spring / summer.

The plants at Crosslands flower all year round. 70 different varieties of Alstroemeria are grown. The flowers are best in the spring and autumn; currently thousands of bunches of stems are being harvested over 6 days per week. In the heat of summer and the cold of winter the plants are more dormant and flowers are harvested 2 or 3 days per week. All flowers are picked and sorted by hand. Crosslands offer a posy grade and a premium grade on a same day or next day delivery. Flowers are supplied direct to clients (via their website ordering system), and to farm shops, florists and other like-minded businesses.

Crop maintenance involves ‘thinning’ (removal of the bits of blind growth that won’t produce flowers) and weeding between the plants. The climate and soil within the polytunnels must be right. Overhead sprinklers are used for watering; this is not needed every day and the amount of watering is variable on the time of year. Soil samples are taken before spring and autumn. The best PH level for the plants is about 4-5, slightly acidic. The potassium, calcium and nitrogen levels in the soil are checked, and the crops are given the bio nutrients needed. This is hand fed straight onto the soil on the beds.

Crosslands use natural bacteria to remove any unwanted pests. No chemicals or sprays on the plants are used. Aubergines are grown sporadically around the polytunnels as they attract whitefly away from the flowers.

The final part of Ben’s talk focused on the British flower industry. Like other flower growers in the UK, the biggest competition for Crosslands comes from imported flowers. In the UK, 60/70% of buyers get their flowers from supermarkets, garages, Moon-pig etc. Of these flowers purchased, over 90% are imported. Flowers are transported around the globe in freezers within shipping containers to Holland. For the UK, they are then shipped to Great Yarmouth, then transported by road to distribution centres in the Midlands - where they are then distributed across the UK. By the time they reach the end consumer, they can be up to 2 months old!

Ben asked, how often do you unwrap supermarket flowers and they droop - or some are already dead? The freezing process stresses the flowers and results in this reaction when they are brought to room temperature. Fresh, locally grown flowers are not frozen, may cost a little more than supermarket varieties - but will last longer, and ultimately, be better for the planet.

Crosslands also offer tours / organised visits to groups. I have a feeling TGC will be visiting soon! A very enjoyable and interesting talk from Ben, with a strong message promoting sustainability and looking after both the local environment and the planet.

Dawne Dunton


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