Peonies, dahlias, roses and geraniums – they’re pretty to look at, but did you know they’re also edible?
Jane Penders and Jay Dryden are building a life from their edible-flower farm, Cloudland Flower Farm, near Gunning in the NSW Southern Tablelands and inspiring chefs, florists and cafes along the way.
Jane is a full-time public servant who relishes the weekends when she gets to pull on her farm boots, while Jay, who is semi-retired, tends to the flowers through the week.
“Jay and I met in September 2015,” says Jane. “Jay had just moved back to Canberra after living off-grid in Lightning Ridge. He didn’t want to settle in the suburbs.
“He loved off-grid living and wanted to live on land out of town. I decided it would be the perfect opportunity to start a flower farm.”
Jane has always loved flowers, and worked for a florist for six years after studying floristry in 2000 and 2001.
She was inspired by a peony farm in Victoria, and a year after finding their four acres at Lade Vale in April 2018, she and Jay planted their first peonies.
According to Jane, the great thing about farming edible flowers is almost anyone with a block of land can do it.
“Our investment hasn’t been very big at all,” she says. “We have a 350-square-metre flower field that we fully fenced to keep out rabbits so we needed to buy fencing material. We grew a few flowers from seed sown into the ground, we bought about $1000 worth of peony rootstock, and spent about $400 on dahlia tubers.”
“Dahlias multiply each year so you can expand your stock pretty quickly. Peonies can live for 100 years and they get bigger every year. We buy the zinnias as little plugs for about 38 cents each and we water them all using rain and creek water.”
Jay has worn many hats during the years, starting with the Air Force, then running a landscaping business and working as a business analyst.
He was able to build all the structures on the farm and he even converted a small shed into a cottage, which the couple rents out for nightly stays.
Jane and Jay grow all of the aforementioned flowers, plus lavender – mostly for lavender jelly – cornflowers, sunflowers and stocks organically.
Most are dried and sold to florists and cafes. The couple also hopes they will soon find a market with cake decorators.
Some are also sold fresh to florists.
“We find most of our clients through Instagram,” says Jane.
“I am always contacting people and offering them a sample of our products. We had a lady in Perth who found us through Facebook and made contact. She buys dried petals and lavender jelly each month.
“I contacted Billie from Ensemble & Co [in Crookwell] just before they opened to offer our lavender jelly, and I told her about our other products – dried petals, shortbread and almond bread – and she bought them all.”
Jane and Jay believe they are the only people growing edible flowers in the region despite there being a huge market for the products.
Jane says edible flowers can be added to everything, including cakes, desserts, cocktails, cheese boards, fine dining dishes and salads.
“They sure are pretty and add a lovely pop of colour,” she says. “Some are actually nutritious, but the main reason they are used is for their beauty.”
No type of farming is without its challenges, mostly because they all rely on one thing: Mother Nature.
Anyone considering turning a block of dirt into an edible flower enterprise should do so with enthusiasm, but be prepared for hard work and long hours, according to Jane.
“We don’t tend to grow much during winter,” she says. “Other challenges can be bugs and birds. In the past week, a flock of cockatoos came through and broke off all the new shoots on the peonies.”
However, the negatives are far outweighed by the positives for this couple, which include spending time together and being in the great outdoors.