From the UK to Kingston SE: Starling's floral venture blossoms

Starling Flowers thrives from seed to shop

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A new flower farm has sprung up near Kingston SE, with Rebecca Starling swapping a career in England managing people for propagating plants.

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WHEN Australian ex-pat James Starling wanted to convince his English-born wife Rebecca to move halfway around the world, it took the promise of giving her a 1.2-hectare paddock of his South East property to establish a commercial flower farm.

Nearly two years on from when the first seeds were sown, the grazing paddock has been transformed into a thriving field of seasonal flowers with Dutch iris, tulips and ranunculus among those currently blooming.

Native plants are also on the western side of the farm and double as a windbreak.

In the United Kingdom, Rebecca had a successful career as a management consultant.

Her resume included running human resources at Cambridge University, managing an exclusive boarding school in Switzerland and even a stint working at the foreign office.

But she says when she met fifth-generation Kingston farmer James, who was working in finance in London at the time, she always knew the farm was part of their future.

"When we first met he talked about the farm and it was such a big part of who he was," she said.

"It was always the deal that one day he would go farming and I would do something, but what was the big question."

After researching the opportunities for similar management jobs in the local area, she decided it was time for a career change.

With gardening her hobby, something in that field was an obvious choice.

"I would spend my weekends looking through seed catalogues and looking at plants and I studied online with the Royal Horticultural Society (the organisation that runs the famous Chelsea Flower Show)," she said.

A thirst for horticultural knowledge saw Rebecca study a landscape design course at the New York Botanic Gardens when the couple were living in Connecticut in the United States.

It is nearly 12 months since the couple moved to Australia permanently.

I wanted to see my flowers put to use. I didn't want to just package them up and send them off. - REBECCA STARLING

Soon after arriving, Rebecca began taking online orders for her flowers and in November last year opened Starling Flowers in the nearby tourist town of Robe.

Rather than selling her flowers to a wholesaler, she wanted to interact with her customers and see their joy at receiving beautiful bouquets or freshly picked do-it-yourself buckets of seasonal flowers.

"My week was back-to-back meetings during the week with people and then in my personal life I was more introverted. I needed to find a way to get that balance here," she said.

"I also wanted to see my flowers put to use. I didn't want to just package them up and send them off."

She says each day is special to see what Mother Nature has offered up.

"The first dahlia I am always super excited about and when I walk past the stand of sweet peas and there is that honey fragrance in the air I love them," she said.

She loves the ability to pick her flowers in the morning and have them in an arrangement within hours.

"With wholesalers, people tend to get the same flowers over and over again and normally the same flowers all year-round which may be brought in from Europe and Africa," she said.

"I can grow varieties that are too delicate to stand the rigours of global travel, thereby increasing variety, choice and interest in cut flowers."

Starling Flowers' business has blossomed in the past year and even during the COVID-19 lockdown Rebecca was making deliveries each day with excess flowers donated to nursing homes.

"We were doing lots of bouquets because people couldn't be with their mothers for their birthdays, or relatives wanting to send flowers to those people that were feeling down," she said.

Being the only flower farm in the area has had its challenges, including the highly acidic soil.

"I've put out 60 tonnes of compost and there will be more to come to get the organic matter up because it was a pasture," she said.

But she says things are coming together well, aside from the continual challenge of hand weeding the site with no sprays used.

The paddock has been fenced with chicken wire along the bottom to keep rabbits out.

Also proving popular is Starling Flowers' Flower School, with half-day workshops on arranging flowers in vases, flower crowns or bouquets.

"We also work with local wineries and can add wine tasting, which is really lovely," she said.

During school holidays there are also special sessions for young ones like making a herb garden or a succulent planter.

With the growing interest in embracing nature, Rebecca has added workshops focusing on water-wise gardening and growing your own cut flowers.

Her wish is for more people to experience the joy of flowers in their homes.

"You don't need 20 beautiful tulips to put them in a vase at home, with even a bit of a hedge you can bring the outside in and a little bit of colour to brighten your day," she said.

Rebecca is proud of what she has achieved so far in the flower farm but still has a long list of jobs to be done, including planting a couple of hundred roses and completing a greenhouse, as well as more workshops.

"Everyone has been so welcoming and complimentary about my flowers," she said.

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