At Sydney Flower Markets
Craig Scott, from East Coast Wildflowers is exhausted. Yesterday was Valentines Day, a busy day for him, and he’s had little sleep. But Craig is no stranger to long hours and early starts. The well-deserved winner of Sydney Market’s Flower Grower of the Year in 2018, he works hard to promote and develop the wildflower industry.
While much of Sydney is already in bed, he prepares for a long day. Three nights a week, he drives down the M1 from his farm at Mangrove Mountain, arriving at the Sydney Flower Markets at midnight. The rest of the week he works on the farm, planting, picking, pruning and doing all the behind the scenes jobs required to ensure a constant supply of native wildflowers to Sydney Florists. Craig readily admits that “the hours and the weather” are his biggest challenges.
It is only 6am, yet the flower market has been buzzing since it opened an hour ago. Craig sells his own flowers together with flowers from growers as far afield as Western Australia. Almost all his own stock has already sold. I watch as Craig, smiling readily, interacts with customers, answers questions from his staff and tidies up bunches of blooms on display.
Getting to Know Craig
When he has a minute, he comes over to chat. A gentle unassuming man with a quick open smile, he nervously tucks a strand of his collar length hair behind his ear. Known as a trendsetter in the wildflower market and for going the extra mile for his customers, I get the feeling that he’d prefer to be tending his flowers than be in the spotlight.
East Coast Wildflowers is a family concern with Craig the fourth-generation flower grower. His daughter, a florist, is now the fifth generation. Col Scott, Craig’s father, bought the 50-acre family farm in Mangrove Mountain in 1968 and still works at the markets on Saturdays.
I wonder how Craig deals with the long hours with little sleep. Nursing his second coffee of the morning, he smiles ruefully saying “It’s pretty full on” adding that if he gets “three hours sleep in one go that’s OK”, but “under two hours is pretty miserable”. Today must be one of those miserable days. His eyes are heavy and it’s almost like he’s on automatic. But the regular smile and openness is still there.
We chat about the friendships Craig has developed with market folk and customers over the years. He remembers over 30 years ago sitting on a bench with Litza, a florist, asking her advice on what flowers to give his girlfriend, Angela, for Valentine’s Day. Angela became his wife. They picked the wildflowers for their wedding and Litza, who still buys flowers at the markets, arranged the flowers.
It’s a Team Effort
East Coast Wildflowers is a team effort. Narissa removes empty buckets and consolidates others. Shane, Hannah and Craig ensure customers are seen to while at the warehouse Steve and Kel prepare orders for tomorrow. There’s always something to do, someone to attend to.
Now, at 7am, there’s mostly only greenery left. Craig meets up with a couple of growers from Grenfell for breakfast, and I take my leave. We’ll see each other again at his farm next week.
Making a Wildflower Wreath
In the meantime, let me inspire to make a native flower wreath. If I (a novice) can make one, you can too.
Choosing Flowers for a Wreath
In choosing the elements for my wreath, I follow Hannah’s advice and look for colours and textures that inspire me. The paper daisies, wheat stalks, gum nuts and star shaped seed pods (commonly called crows ash or Australian teak) are perfect together with a circular base made from twisted vines.
Putting the Wreath Together
Besides a bit of creativity, these wildflowers, florist wire from a local bargain shop and pliers with side cutters are all I’ll need for my Australian wreath.
An internet search provides practical information on how to wire flowers. I start by weaving wheat stalks into the base for softness and adding teak seed pods for interest and texture. Paper daisies fill the gaps with colour and a group of gum nuts work well at “12 O’clock”.
Wanting my wreath to be balanced, but not completely symmetrical, I weave flowers up one side and wheat up the other. Then, following the rule that less is more, I stop, very happy with the result and silently thank Craig for the inspiration.
At the East Coast Wildflower Farm
A few days later, I drive along winding country roads past farm stalls and grazing sheep to the farm on Mangrove Mountain. Baz, Craig’s brown and tan kelpie, greets me followed closely by Craig who then continues moving buckets of freshly cut greenery into the refrigerated storeroom.
It’s a Team Effort
Trent, a horticultural apprentice, and Tim who according to Craig “is in charge” gather stems of vibrant red flowering gums into bunches. Picked this morning, these flowers are at the end of their run. Steve is spraying in the paddock and Johnathan attending to seedlings and cuttings in the propagation greenhouse. Jason is at the other farm in Somersby.
In the propagation greenhouse, a misty jet of water surprises me and Craig demonstrates how, when a strategically placed leaf dries out, a switch triggers the watering system.
Trialling New Things
As autumn approaches, work at the farm changes. There are less flowers to pick and much tidying up to do. In the greenhouses, Craig shows me rows of kangaroo paw (one of his staple crops) needing attention. Always keen to try new methods, he is going to trial “putting a flame thrower to them” to see how that affects new growth.
In another experiment, tiny shoots of sorghum sprout up in otherwise bare soil. Attempting to “organically” add more nutrients to the soil, Craig plans to dig the sorghum back into the soil once it reaches knee height.
Today, Craig explains, with the trend for free-flowing flower arrangements, wildflowers are popular and “generally in short supply”. As we walk, he points out Australian Christmas Bells, and excitingly, the “hard to grow here” flowering Sturt desert pea.
Craig sells the popular flannel flower out of season as the variety he grows flowers steadily most of the year, with a “full flush” in spring.
Trying to avoid leaf spot caused by humidity, Craig grows some eucalypts under cover, cutting them back before they reach the roof. So far, it seems to be working.
A Buggy Ride
A customer has a special request for a shaped banksia branch that will “die gracefully”. Craig invites me to accompany him on the buggy to the undeveloped part of the farm. Baz leads the way, and then darts off into the bush to chase a wallaby.
We bump along the rough path, Craig craning his neck searching for a suitable banksia and pointing out where the wallabies have eaten the soft buds of the wild waratahs. He shows me some tiny lesser flannel flowers which his wife wove into her hair when they got married.
Growing Wildflowers is Hard Work
Having spent time with Craig, I realise why East Coast Wildflowers won the Sydney Market’s Flower Grower of the year in 2018. I understand more about Australian Wildflowers and better appreciate the efforts of people like Craig whose passion and hard work means that we can enjoy the beauty of native wildflowers in our homes.