Lorelie Merton is the face behind Florelie Seasonal Flowers in Bungaree, Victoria. We visit her farm regularly during her flowering season, and headed out early one morning in March to photograph her amazing dahlia patch, and ask her what it’s like to be a full time flower farmer.
Lorelie, her husband Ethan, and employee Hannah grow high quality dahlias through summer and autumn, along with spring/summer varieties including foxgloves, bearded iris, feverfew, zinnias, scabiosa and more.
What was your inspiration for growing flowers?
I’ve always enjoyed flowers but have never been much of a gardener. When I was stay at home Mum with a baby I wanted to spend more time outside, and that’s when I started growing flowers, and reading more about them.
My husband Ethan also wanted to have a small farm and I thought it would be nice to grow some cut flowers on our property. When I started looking into flowers to grow I wanted something that gave me a niche advantage. Dahlias are ideal for this as they don’t transport well over long distances, which means I am not competing against imported flowers or flowers grown interstate.
The quality of locally produced dahlias is incomparable.
How big is your farm?
Our farm is 20 acres, however we are currently growing on around 2 acres with a combination of dahlias and other flowers. This year (2021) we grew around 5,500 dahlias which is roughly an acre of dahlias. Our first year on our property – four years ago – we grew 300 dahlias, and before that it was a handful of dahlias in pots at our rental.
What does a regular harvest day look like?
In the mornings our start times vary depending on the weather, however 7am is fairly usual. If it will be a particularly hot day Hannah and I will start harvesting earlier in order to beat the heat and get flowers to the cool room as soon as possible. We have a harvest list for orders that need to be picked which we work through.
The dahlia paddock is separated into colour sections for ease of harvest. We drive buckets back to the cool room as they are picked. Usually we finish harvesting mid-late morning by the time both dahlias and annuals are picked.
We do a Ballarat delivery run twice a week around 11.30-12 then home for lunch. After lunch we head back to the cool room and sort the buckets we harvested into each florists’ order, labelling everything so it’s ready for collection.
After Hannah goes home for the day I spend time doing admin like invoicing, emails, social media etc. Depending on the weather and how the plants are going we may also have to water, fertilise or deadhead damaged flowers.
When not in harvest, what else happens on the farm?
Before we even get to planting the preparation begins with the soil. Ethan does the tractor work; first he works the soil and then we add organic matter so the plants have a base fertiliser to access. Then we measure the beds, set up irrigation, and plant according to our plans, which are based on the previous year.
These plans include what colours were the most popular, which varieties were the most productive, and whether we grew too much or too little of anything.
After planting the weeding and hoeing begins. When the plants are about 10cm high we pinch out the growth tips – yes, by hand. Yes, all 5,500! Yes, your back hurts when you’re done. (Pinching out encourages more flowers on each plant). Then back to weeding, watering and fertilising until the plants start blooming.
After harvest the work doesn’t stop either as we dig up all the dahlia tubers – again by hand, and store them in the shed over winter. We also divide tubers and sell the excess over winter too. With dahlias there really are jobs to be done year round!
Do you find sales & marketing challenging?
At the start I was definitely unsure about how I would find customers. At first we started selling dahlia petals to an edible flower farm and then I started visiting local florists with a bucket of dahlias and letting them know what we were growing.
As our business has grown I’ve had more florists contact me through Instagram. I love working directly with florists and we now have a stable base who order from us regularly. Instagram has been a wonderful marketing tool for connecting directly with florists.
What else grows on your farm?
Aside from the dahlias we also grow a range of summer annuals to coincide with their flowering season, including strawflower, scabiosa, zinnias, achillea, feverfew and amaranth.
We have also recently planted our first crop for spring harvest which includes ranunculus, anemones, stock, nigella, bells of Ireland, and a few other annuals.
Do you have a favourite dahlia?
I have lots of favourites! Usually I’m swooning over the latest seedlings though – we love breeding our own varieties.
Love Lorelie’s Dahlias?
To read more about this amazing local farm, or to order yourself some tubers when they go on sale in winter, head to Lorelie’s website and add yourself to her mailing list so you don’t miss out!
You can also follow along with the farm’s journey throughout the year on their Instagram, where Lorelie shares an abundance of growing tips and helpful info regularly.