Words Karen Locke Photos Honey Atkinson
Where GOOD HOPE, Yass Valley, NEW SOUTH WALES
Entering the garden at Good Hope Blooms, just outside of Canberra in the ACT, is a bit like stepping through the gate of a secret garden. All of my senses are immediately heightened. An intoxicating blend of sweet floral and fresh, earthy scents envelopes us, and row upon row of glorious rambling flowers of differing colours and heights lays before us.
Cornflowers, poppies, sweet peas, zinnias, peonies, cosmos and dahlias are swaying in the soft breeze, reaching towards the sun...
We find owners Andrew Kay and Brenda Lavender toiling in the garden, each wearing well-loved wide brimmed hats and sun-kissed faces.
‘On weekends this is all we do,’ says Brenda. ‘We get up and come straight out to the garden and we’re here until dark. There’s so much to do and we just love being amongst it all.’
The 21-acre property in the Yass Valley, which includes a house built almost entirely by the couple’s own hands, is perched atop a hill with views on all sides. On the gently sloping hillside are a smattering of small buildings – sheds, greenhouses and poly tunnels – and the flower garden, which occupies about half an acre.
Andrew and Brenda are relative ‘newbies’ to the world of farming. They purchased the idyllic property just seven years ago after relocating from the Blue Mountains near Sydney, where Andrew worked as a photographer in the advertising industry.
‘I would often drive several hours round-trip to a studio in Balmain or downtown Sydney. So moving here was a big change for us, but one that we desperately wanted,’ says Andrew, who now works full-time as a teacher in Canberra.
‘Brenda worked a part-time job until very recently but gave that up just after Christmas so she could dedicate more time to the flowers.’
‘As much as we’d both love to be full-time here on the farm, it’s just not possible right now. We’d have to substantially increase in size for this to be our sole income and we don’t want to do that. We’re also limited by water and the fact that we can’t grow for six months of the year because it’s too cold. So it makes sense to have another income stream,’ says Andrew.
The couple had long planned and dreamed of their tree-change and always shared a passion for farming.
‘Ever since I met Andrew he’s wanted to be a farmer,’ smiles Brenda. ‘And my love of flowers and farming came from my parents and my upbringing. I grew up in a little housing commission home and there were plenty of lean times, but our house and garden was rich with flowers, colour, creativity and quirkiness. I spent my childhood picking flowers and playing farmer in the garden,’ says Brenda.
The property was originally vacant land, a blank canvas, and had been used for sheep grazing. The couple lived in a shed while they built the house, and set about trying to work out what they could do to generate some income from the land.
‘We knew raising animals wasn’t for us, and we could have never competed with all the large farms in this region anyway. We’d never really considered growing flowers commercially, but then one day I planted some peonies and we kind of just kept going!’
‘It took a lot of work – the soil was very compacted and had very little life in it. We added a lot of compost and mulch, manures and amendments.’
With no background in farming and no experience growing flowers, the couple have learnt ‘on the job’ and gained most of their knowledge through researching online, reading books and listening to podcasts.
‘This season has been what we consider to be our first official season selling flowers and we’ve had a lot of joy and success. There’s also been plenty of mistakes, mishaps, tears and tantrums …mostly from me!’
The couple now sell direct to florists in Canberra, as well as running a flower subscription service and selling one-off bunches and buckets direct to the public.
‘The level of demand means that we’re now almost always sold out every week and on target to make a small profit, which has been quite unexpected!’
Brenda attributes overwhelming enthusiasm and support from their local community with their success, as well as her thrifty husband.
‘Andrew’s ingenuity and resourcefulness in recycling and repurposing materials to create infrastructure has helped a great deal to keep our costs down.’
At Good Hope Blooms all flowers are grown in an open field and plants are nurtured with organic composts and biodynamic preparations.
‘We have no need or desire for nasty synthetic chemicals,’ says Brenda ‘we welcome and protect the bees, birds and an array of creatures that call our garden home.’
‘It just wouldn’t make sense to use chemicals because we’re in there every single day, amongst it and touching everything. If we spray anything then its going to be all over us! But apart from that, we don’t want to contaminate the soil, we want to leave it better than it was when we came.’
During our visit both Brenda and Andrew remark repeatedly how incredibly grateful they are to be here on their little piece of paradise.
‘I think everybody needs a little land to nurture and be nurtured by,’ says Brenda. ‘There’s a lot of magic that happens in a garden and if you spend long enough in it, that magic starts to happen in you too. You become grounded and find acceptance and healing. People shouldn’t be deprived of that. We should all have enough room to grow our own food, medicine and therapy. That’s what growing flowers is really – therapy!’
You can find further information on Good Hope Blooms here: