Roses would have to be one of the most popular flowers used in floristry for weddings, birthdays and funerals and special days like St Valentine’s Day and Mothers’ Day. Unfortunately, many of the perfect rose stems bought from florists have been grown utilising poor environmental practices in countries with cheap labour, like Kenya and Ethiopia in Africa, and now Ecuador in South America, and then flown long distances around the world or have been forced in hothouses, but luckily there are local alternatives like Soho Rose Farm, 1.5 hours from Melbourne. Unfortunately, the business is now closed, the property selling in October 2017, so this post, while written well before news of the sale, is now more a commemorative post about our wonderful two years on the farm!
Clare Russell and Wally Stannard
1 Drakes Rd Drysdale, Victoria 3222 Ph: 0412 117 570
We were very lucky during our time in Geelong to work at Soho Rose Farm, a wholesale rose farm on the Bellarine Peninsula: Ross in the paddock, cultivating and pruning roses, while I was toughing it out in the air-conditioned shed, conditioning the blooms for market. Soho roses are field grown roses, which are grown naturally out in the paddock and involve slower growth, more maintenance and labour, and increased susceptibility to the vagaries of inclement weather like rain, drought and high temperatures. For example, the ideal temperature for roses is 28 degrees Celsius, but 4 days of temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius resulted in having to throw away 150 000 deadheaded blooms one Summer!The roses, sourced from Treloars Nursery in Portland (http://www.treloarroses.com.au/), are highly fragrant and twice the size of the normal florist rose blooms, with up to 40 petals per bloom. There are over 60 varieties, mainly David Austin shrub roses over five years old, but also Hybrid Teas and Floribundas. Fair Bianca (above) is a particular favourite for weddings with its pink tipped buds and cream blooms, opening flat, though the scent tend to go off after a day or two! For more on the particular roses grown, please consult: http://www.sohorosefarm.com.au/rose-gallery and http://dakotaflowercompany.weebly.com/soho-roses.html.
Soho Rose Farm started 12 years ago (July 2005) in a different location and after farming three different blocks, it moved to its current site in Drysdale six years ago due to the current block’s continuity of water. The average rainfall in Drysdale is 400 mm and extra water is sourced from a 30,000 gallon water tank, as well as town supplies. When we were working there from 2010 to 2012, Clare and Wally also leased a paddock over at St Leonards, next to a large dam, with a spectacular view of Queenscliff and Corio Bay. I used to love working over there, even though the toilet facilities were non-existent, as the view was spectacular. We would often watch honking swans or pelicans fly low overhead, as they came into land on the dam. There were also flocks of sheep and alpacas grazing in the paddocks next to the rose field and the odd rabbit, as well as lots of bird song, fresh air and sunshine! However, in the end, it was too difficult splitting their time between the two sites and the owners decided to focus intensively on the home paddock at Drysdale instead. We were given the option of digging up as many roses as we wanted from the St Leonards patch, the source of the 12 roses in our Soho bed, hence the name! The first two photos below are the start of the garden in September and October 2015 and the 3rd photo is from November 2016. Such a difference in just one year!At Drysdale, over 8000 plants are grown on 1 hectare with well-drained loamy topsoil, ideal for growing roses. The roses are planted 1 m apart to allow for good air circulation and space to thrive, as shown in this photo from the St. Leonards rose patch. The soil is tested three times per year to determine fertilizer requirements, with a liquid brew, fed to the plants through a fertigation drip irrigation system. Fertilizer is applied three times a year in February, September and late November to early December after the first growth spurt. Roses are pruned lightly or deadheaded throughout the growing season, according to the rose type, to encourage more blooms, and then in Winter (after the July school holidays or when the leaves start to drop for 6 weeks), they are pruned back hard. Each rose type is pruned differently, with Hybrid Teas being pruned more heavily than David Austin roses. The roses are then mulched with pea straw and manure before the new shoots start to emerge, in order to control the weeds, save water and replenish the plants for their growth over the next Summer. Winter is also the time for planting new roses.Roses are picked by hand five days a week from 6.30 am till mid-morning. Each variety needs to be picked at a different stage, so that it’s not too open, nor too closed, by the time it arrives at the florist’s shop. They immediately go into buckets of water on the trailer and are then brought up to the air-conditioned shed for conditioning. There are usually about 10 staff, many migrants and refugees from Thailand and Burma, who were learning English at the local TAFE, as well as some locals like Pam and Meamatua (hope the spelling is correct!), floristry students like myself and Berna, other students like the gorgeous Genevieve, who was training to become a primary school teacher, and an assorted dog population, including Clare and Wally’s staffy pup, Sid, born in 2012; Pam’s border collie Scarlett and visiting dogs Otto and Maple Syrup!
While some worked out in the paddock in the fresh air, heat and the rain, picking blooms, deadheading, pruning and doing all the hard physical labour, others worked mainly in the luxury of the air-conditioned (though often slightly cool!) shed with the cut blooms, but we would all get together over a cup of morning tea with cheese and biscuits and lunchtime, trying out different exotic Asian meals!
And at Christmas, we would have a Christmas feast, assembling our own pizzas from Wally’s ingredients, which were then cooked in their wood-fired outdoor oven, with salads and desserts contributed by staff members. The photos above and below are my Soho watermelon dessert, while the next year’s offering on 12th December 2012 (12.12.12) was cupcakes!
Clare and Wally are such good people and offered a decent wage and a wonderful introduction to work in Australia for unskilled newcomers to Australia. It was a very friendly and inclusive environment and so interesting learning about all the different cultures.But back to work! Over 6 000 stems are picked a week with up to 12 000 stems in the peak season from November to March. Picking starts in late October and extends through till the next May. Rose stems are stripped by hand to remove the lower leaves, sorted into bunches of 50 stems, cut diagonally on the stem ends and placed in buckets of water to be stored in the cool room. Roses were arranged in buckets according to the rose orders on the blackboard and the urgency of the job. While some florists wanted only one type of rose in the bucket like the wedding rose, Fair Bianca, others wanted one colour only like pink, so we would mix David Austins and Hybrid Teas in a range of pinks like The Childrens’ Rose and Heaven Scent (both Hybrid Teas) with David Austin roses, Eglantyne or The Claire Rose. Others wanted mixed soft pastel shades, elegant antique creamy pink and coffee shades (Spirit of Peace and Julia’s Rose) or dramatic bold mixes of red and purple; red and orange; or my favourite Moroccan Mix with oranges, reds, golds and purples! There was such a wonderful array of colour and form on the cool room shelves and the scent was divine! A fully packed coolroom is a wonderful sight to behold, as was the floor of the shed at the end of the day! Any leftover blooms are donated to the local nursing home or divided amongst the staff, the latter the best perk of the job. I would arrive home from a long tiring day at the rose farm, only to be transported into another dreamy relaxing world, as I arranged vases of beautiful blooms- a sure sign of being in the right job!!! In the afternoon, the flower buckets are loaded into the air-conditioned van for transport to the Avalon Airport, where the blooms were then collected by Dakota Flowers (http://dakotaflowercompany.weebly.com/), who distribute them at the Melbourne Wholesale Florist market and to florists around Melbourne. Florists buy their flowers from the market three times a week from 3.30 to 7 am. It’s a very early start and often you are up with the hot air balloons! My dear friend and co-worker came with me!Soho Roses are loved by the Melbourne florists and have graced many a famous wedding or event. They have been used in bouquets, on wedding cakes, in vases and table arrangements and in photo shoots. High profile weddings have included:
TV presenter, Catriona Rowntree, and farmer, James Petitt, on 5 April 2008
TV presenter, Rebecca Twiggley, and Australian Football League player, Chris Judd, on 31 December 2010, the roses arranged by florist Katie Marx; and
Georgia Clark and footballer, Andrew Mackie, on 29 June 2011, the flowers arranged by florist Jodie from Flower Bowl.Special events have included:
The Spring Racing Carnival at the Bird Cage and Melbourne Cup Day
L’Oreal Fashion Week 2012 (florist Fleur)
Alannah Hill Winter Collection 2010 (florist Flowers Vasette)
Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show at the Exhibition building in Carlton, including the inaugural Growers Avenue in March 2010
Dame Elizabeth Murdoch’s 100th birthday in 2009 and 102nd birthday in 2011
Oprah’s baby shower at Bebe, the roses being arranged by florist Ascha Jolie, on December 2010
Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Government House on 27 October 2011
The visit of Princess Mary and Prince Frederick to Government House in November 2011
Visits by Prince Charles and Camilla to Government House 2012
Visit by Madonna
The engagement of James Packer and Mariah Carey 2016
Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race 2015
Movie set of Fred Schepsi’s film The Eye of the Storm
The photographs posted by the florists of their work has considerably raised the profile of Soho Roses and has been wonderful publicity for their business. Clare also has an Instagram account, which can be accessed at: http://www.sohorosefarm.com.au/social-media-instagram and www.instagram.com/sohorosefarm. The photographs really show up the beauty and perfection of their blooms.
Before Instagram, Clare also kept a blog till 2012, but it was hard keeping it up during the hectic flowering season! Clare and Wally certainly lead very busy lives, in amongst raising three children. They usually have a short break in September for a few weeks after the Winter pruning and mulching, while waiting for the soil to warm up and the new buds to develop. For more about Soho Rose Farm, there is an article in the Plant Hunter written by Meaghan Cook on 31 March 2016, titled ‘Life at Soho Rose Farm (It’s Blooming)’. See: http://theplanthunter.com.au/harvest/soho-rose-farm/.
Now that you know all about wholesale rose growing at Soho Rose Farm, it is time to discuss:
Roses in Floristry
Roses are one of my favourite flowers in floral arrangements, not just for their form and colour, but also their exquisite fragrance, which can fill a closed room for hours! While Hybrid Teas have been specially bred for the floristry trade with their continuous flowering; long strong stems and perfect high-pointed buds, but they often have no fragrance- a major failing in my eyes! I much prefer the blowsy, generous cupped fragrant blooms of the old heritage varieties and David Austin’s English Roses, even though they may not last quite as long or lose their petals easily! Please note that all the vases in this post contain Soho blooms, given to us at the end of the working day! How lucky were we !!!Roses should be cut in the bud stage, just as their outer petals are starting to uncurl. At Soho, Clare and Wally would cut the stems early in the morning before the sun hit and immediately place them in buckets of water on the trailer. When the roses arrived up at the air-conditioned shed, we would strip the lower leaves with gloved hands, then recut 2 cm off the bottom of the stems on a diagonal and place 50 stems in a bucket of water, according to the order- Mixed Pastel/ Moroccan/ Red and Purple/ Fair Bianca/ Spirit of Peace and Julia’s Rose (photo below) etc., and place them in the cool room.The vase life of roses is up to 14 days, but it is very dependent on the correct treatment of the blooms at every stage. Roses are sensitive to ethylene, some varieties more than others, especially the dark reds. Signs of ethylene damage are blackened petal edges and failure of the buds to open. The roses at the back of the vase in the photo below should be removed! The stems ends should never be left out of water, as an embolism (air bubble) will form in the bottom of the stem and prevent the uptake of water. When buying blooms, roses should always be sold with a water source.Here are some pointers to buying roses:
Buy bunches with strong stems, which support their blooms;
Buds should be firm, show strong colour and be slightly open, even half-open in Winter, as tight buds will often fail to open in cooler weather and predispose the rose to bent neck, where the heads of the roses droop on their stems.
Lower leaves should be dark green and the veins should not be prominent.
Stem ends should be crisp and green, not dark and dry, a sure sign of age.
Do not buy roses with small brown spots on the outer petals, a sign of botrytis, a fungal infection, which turns the petals brown.Arranging Roses:
Strip lower leaves, that would be below the water in the vase, as these would be a source of bacterial infection. Only remove thorns, where absolutely necessary, to avoid damaging the stem and further encouraging infection. Do not use metal strippers, as they will damage the stem, and do not crush stem ends either.Cut 2 to 3 cm off the stem ends, preferably underwater to prevent an air embolism. Cut stem ends on the diagonal for maximum exposure to the water. Immediately place in a vase of water. Cool water will prevent early opening and blowing the blooms. Warm water can hasten bud opening in cooler weather, but use carefully, as the buds can open fully very quickly!Flower preservative is essential (or 1 tsp sugar and a few drops of bleach) to help the buds to open, maintain open blooms and extend the life of the flowers.Top up the water daily. Change the water and replace the preservative every second day. Recut stem ends whenever the rose is out of water. Remove dying blooms and fallen petals, as they will release ethylene and decrease the vase life.Clean the vases after each use with bleach to prevent bacterial contamination.Treatment of Wilted Dropping Blooms, caused by an air embolism:
Wrap the flower heads tightly in newspaper, forcing the rose blooms into an upright position. Recut the stems underwater and place in lukewarm water up to their necks for several hours.
If that doesn’t work, try soaking the roses in a bathtub or sink of clean water for 30 minutes or a little longer, but less than 2 hours.
As a last resort, tightly wrap the flower heads in paper, forcing their heads upright, and plunge the stem ends into boiling water for 30 seconds, then into a vase of lukewarm water. This releases the oxygen in the stem, but will decrease the vase life.
Other Ways of Using Roses in Floristry
Rose blooms can be floated in a bowl of water.
Rose hips can be used in wired arrangements.
For wreaths, cross wire through the base of the head to stop further opening.
Cécile Brünner has tiny rose blooms, eminently suitable for posies, corsages and buttonholes, hence the common name, the Sweetheart Rose or Mignon, the French word for ‘cute’.
Roses in Dried Floral Arrangements
There are three main ways of drying roses: air-drying; microwaving or using a dessicant like fine sand or silica gel crystals. While roses can be hung in a warm dry dark place like an airing cupboard, it is better, if possible, to cut the just-uncurling buds with fairly short stems, then mount them on wire stems immediately and make them into small bunches, which can then be hung. If the flowers are bent carefully away from each other, they will retain their shape perfectly.They can also be dried by spreading short-stemmed buds out in a warm box or on a sheet of greasedproof paper in a microwave on the lowest setting and checked every minute. When dry, spray with a light coat of hair lacquer to protect them and extend their life, but be careful not to overspray or they will have an unnatural shine.Sand Drying
Put 1 cm of sand (or silica gel crystals) in an airtight container and lay the rose heads face up. Cover very carefully with more sifted dessicant until every part of the flower is concealed. Seal the container and keep at room temperature for 7 to 10 days before removing from the dessicant, though one source I read stated that roses only take 4 days to fully dry in sand.
Attach wire stems while the receptacles are still soft, otherwise you will have to wind the wire around the hardening stem, with the risk of snapping the stem and leaving no other options.
Never use fully open roses, as the petals will fall off immediately when the rose is removed from the sand. The other option is to dry the petals separately in the sand, then glue them back to the receptacle, a very time-consuming and exacting job, but it can be done!
Single flowers, like those of Species roses, will often dry well in sand, but will become limp in humid weather, whereas large double blooms will often last for a long time.
Colours usually darken with drying in sand, so use lighter coloured blooms.
Rose hips are very difficult to preserve because they shrivel, but results are better, the smaller the hips eg R. multiflora.
For more on sand drying and other forms of drying, consult the following websites:
and You Tube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I2j1yjwUtUY.
Dried flowers can be used in dried bouquets, corsages, wreaths and garlands, flower balls, potpourri and even round mirrors and the base of candlesticks. Potpourri was used extensively to sweeten the air in days when personal hygiene and garbage collection did not exist. Rose petals are dried separately on absorbent paper till completely dry, then mixed with other dried petals and leaves of scented,colourful flowers like Dianthus; Delphinium; Calendula; Scented Geraniums and herbs (lemon verbena; borage; lemon balm; chamomile; lavender and mint), as well as spices (cinnamon or allspice); essential oils (rose) and a fixative like orris root. Here are two online recipes for rose potpourri:
They can even be preserved in sugar for crystallized roses to decorate cakes- a fairly precise and time-consuming technique, but make sure the roses used have not been sprayed with pesticide or other chemicals or have been grown by the roadside. Rinse and dry the rose petals and remove the bitter white triangle at the base of each petal. Generally, it is easy to do each petal separately, then reassemble the rose, but if you want to crystallize complete blooms without dismantling them, leave a short piece of stem to hold them by and use a paint brush to reach all the cracks and crannies. Make sure you paint the underside of the petals as well, otherwise uncoated areas turn brown and shrivel up, and work quickly before the egg white dries. For a more detailed explanation, see: http://www.marthastewartweddings.com/226319/crystallizing-rose-petals . Note: Do not store crystallized petals in the fridge or they will weep. Store between layers of tissue paper in a dry cool place.