Flower Farming in Quinta de Sant’Ana

While visiting England Ann and I picked up an amazing book called “Cut Flower Garden” by Erin Benzakein, it is about how to grow, harvest and arrange stunning seasonal blooms. We were blown away by the idea of doing exactly that in Quinta de Sant’Ana. Every year (except this covid year) we spend a fortune on imported flowers for the weddings. Flowers that have been grown and shipped from Holland, Israel, Africa, South America, the shipping miles are considerable, they are far from fresh when they arrive, they look good but not natural, a flower that does the job but without the scent one expects, far from organic, having been sprayed with all types of chemicals against disease and made to last the journey. The idea of harvesting our own gorgeous organic scented flowers within walking distance of the wedding hall was irresistible.

Gardening has always been one of my passions, and we all know how creative Ann is in all things including flowers, a combination that should work. But we were under no illusion that a lot of hard work is required to build the garden and grow the flowers.

Fortunately, we had Diogo to help start, he had been setting up our permaculture vegetable garden during the summer, his focus was now diverted to the flower production, we now have João the Brazilian, he has an excellent understanding of plants. We decided to concentrate on growing mainly annuals in the first year; these are flowers that are sown, flower and die in the same year. They are some of the easiest to grow and are truly stunning, including Cosmos, Zinnias, Sweet Peas, Gomphrena, Corn Flowers, Antirrhinum and many more. In order have them flowering early enough in the season we had to sow very early, still in February (2019), for them to grow we needed a greenhouse or polytunnel. One was ordered from England and quickly filled with seed trays and thousands of seedlings were germinated.

Soil quality is the most important factor in growing healthy and abundant flowers. Even though we had good rich soil in the only flat field of the Quinta, described by father-in-law Gustav as “die Fruchtbare Ebene” meaning the “fertile ground”, it was still lacking organic matter. Compost, the gardener’s gold, is key in making flowers flourish; we had none. We bought in a couple of lorry loads, but I was disappointed with the results, the bought-in compost had been made from municipal garden trimmings and prunings, from gardens where herbicides had been used, this has a knock-on effect for the compost stunting growth of the plants -the opposite to what we wanted to achieve. So, we started to produce our own compost using our own green waste from the events, the garden, our house, grape skins from the adega, horse manure, straw, leaves etc. Most of this material we formerly burnt in huge bonfires at the end of the summer, doing no good to the environment, and wasting amazing material to make the wonderful compost.

We now make tons of compost each year, it is magic!

We also make compost teas from Comfrey, stinging nettles and fresh horse manure, either spraying it on the plants or watering into the ground, the effects are incredible for growth and keeping disease away.

We now grow biennials, perennials, shrubs for greenery, bulbs and gorgeous David Austen roses that have the most seductive scent imaginable.

This year, without events we have been trying to sell as many flowers as possible to florists, private clients both as cut stems and as beautiful arrangements by Ann. We are the first organic flower producer in Portugal (as far as we know), our flowers have created a lot of interest, with predictably others wanting to copy. We have exciting ideas for how we can make the most of the interest, if we have the time and energy, we hopefully shall carry them out.

-James Frost


Do follow our flower Instagram page: @quintadesantanaflores