My name is Amber Rhodes and I'm the flower farmer behind Blooms on the Hill. My farm is located in the hills of Budgeree, which is a rural area in Gippsland, Victoria. Budgeree means "A Good Place" in the local Aboriginal language and that it most certainly is. Rolling hills, lush green paddocks, native bushland, meandering creeks and plenty of wildlife roaming happily around the countryside is all part of the regular scenery in Budgeree. It truly is a good place and the perfect place for my little flower farm. I have plenty of space to grow my flowers, good red soil and a constant fresh supply of fertiliser by way of our sheep and cattle who share our farm with us!
One of my first loves is cattle...I'm a little bit cow obsessed, so the cattle on our property are technically what I call "my department". I let my husband be in charge of the sheep. I have Angus/Friesian cross-bred cows and I use a Speckle Park bull, which is a beautiful Canadian breed of cattle that is black and white speckled, as the name suggests. My other love, of course, is flowers. I'm mostly dahlia crazy but having grown different varieties of flowers over this season it's pretty safe to say I love all flowers...except maybe zinnias. I have a love/hate relationship with zinnias.
The idea of a flower farm actually came to me before we even had a farm, so going back to the start of 2017 I discovered Floret, a flower farm in America. At the time Erin Benzakein was running Floret from a small plot of 2 acres and was totally revolutionising the flower farming world. It was a single photo of hers on social media, a ute full (or should I say a 'pick up' full) of dahlias that caught my attention, and I have been nuts about them ever since. The 1800 plants I have to date is a good testimony to my dahlia nuttiness! At the time I discovered her she had also just released her first book, 'Cut Flower Garden' and as I, of course, ordered it directly from her, I was lucky enough to receive a signed copy. From there I could be found digging up the lawn of my tiny back garden, in the regional town of Trafalgar where we then lived, trying to grow flowers in every spare spot of soil. Hmmmm....
Fast forward to later that year in August and somehow we were moving off to our own farm. With sheep and cattle and homeschooling three of my four children I was pretty busy so it wasn't until the following year in 2018 that I planted my first dahlias. I had 4 beds, that were of course meant for vegetables. (Phfft). I loved them but wasn't very good at it and it would be another two years before I was brave enough to start ignoring new buds and ruthlessly cut long stems. After that first season I dug and divided my tubers and so next season I had 16 beds, then the following season I suddenly had 450 plants. That was last season and here I was dealing with the terrible conundrum of too many flowers. Oh what to do?! So I started selling. That was last season and now my fall into 'half accidental' flower farming has seen an expansion into spring flowers like ranunculus, tulips and sweet peas as well as other summer annuals like cosmos, zinnias and celosia. I have also planted more roses, peonies, chrysanthemums and other perennials, as well as now having to shift my dahlia collection to a paddock due to the fact that there is 1800 of them.
I can mostly be found crawling about on my hands and knees in my flower patch, although sometimes I have to tend to livestock work on the farm, and each morning I can be found under my dairy cow that I milk for the house. Most Saturday mornings I am at local farmer's markets around Gippsland selling my flowers and talking all things dahlias to customers, and during the week I do a run to the local post office in Boolarra with fresh bouquets to sell. I teach workshops from the farm on weekdays and some weekends and would like to teach online to reach a wider audience. I have started reaching a more global audience via my YouTube channel, which is certainly not to become famous, I'm a middle-aged, fairly introverted woman who never wears makeup and always has dirt on herself somewhere, but I find it a good way to talk about my little flower business and share it with my customers. I have lovely people pop up to the farm to buy bouquets and buckets of blooms, which usually results in an impromptu tour of the flower patch. I have done a couple of lovely weddings over the season and have already started taking bookings for the spring of this year, 2023, and also for 2024. Bookings for weddings are most certainly open.
As this season begins to wind down and the dahlias begin to fade it's full steam ahead with planning for next season and getting stuck in with sowing and planting out hardy annuals. Already I have beds full of ranunculus corms; pinks, whites and salmons the perfect wedding colours. I have statice, stock, scabiosa and sweet peas planted out...why does everything start with 'S'....and the tulip and daffodil bulbs will be going in next week. Over winter it will be time to catch up with other things a bit, namely writing, as believe it or not, writing was my major at university. Among my cow/dahlia/general flower obsession I also have a love of flower books, flower farming books, flower arranging books....basically anything to do with flowers....and really one day I'd love to write my own. On that venture I'll keep you posted.
In the meantime enjoy the last of the summer blooms here in Australia and for those of you in the Northern Hemisphere, I hope you have a beautiful spring.