Love, hard work and finishing each other’s sentences is at the heart of a mother and daughter’s flower farm and floral studio in Gisborne.
When a family friend asked florist Zoe Field to do her wedding flowers, it set in course a chain of events that changed not only Zoe’s life, but her mum Sue’s too.
Zoe wanted to use garden roses for her friend’s bouquets instead of the stiffer, unscented – and therefore slightly soulless (because what’s a rose without scent?) – greenhouse roses grown for the floristry trade. But she couldn’t find anyone who was growing them commercially.
Having identified this gap in the market, Zoe approached her parents and asked if she could use some land on their farm to grow garden roses and if Sue would be her business partner. The Fields have been farming the same piece of land in the Waingake Valley, on the outskirts of Gisborne, for four generations, and while they raise cattle and grow maize and pine trees, they’d never grown flowers commercially. “But I’ve got quite a big garden, and I’ve always loved gardening,” says Sue, “and Zoe’s always been the same.”
“Yeah, I was one of those geeky teenagers that had a vege garden,” Zoe adds, laughing.
Being the only girl in the family, with three older brothers, Zoe has always been close with her mum and Sue says she knew they’d make a great team. “Our relationship as mother and daughter has always been a partnership. Zoe has always been there to help me with cooking and other tasks. This business is kind of an extension of what we’ve always done.”
Our relationship as mother and daughter has always been a partnership… this is kind of an extension of what we’ve always done.
To work out which rose varieties they wanted to grow, they pulled out all Sue’s old garden books, started making lists and drawing up field plans. Then, in 2011, after visiting a rose nursery to source their stock, Sue and Zoe dug up the paddock around their house and planted 500 rose bushes, which was the beginning of their business, Field of Roses.
As Zoe had predicted, there was a huge demand for garden-variety roses and when the flowers bloomed in spring 2012, they were overwhelmed with orders. “But then all of a sudden, in December the roses had finished their first flush,” says Sue. “We didn’t even know they had flushes!” says Zoe, laughing.
Fortunately, they’d sown cottage favourites such as nigella, sweet peas and cornflowers, which meant they had something to sell while they waited for the roses to bloom again later on in the season. “The annuals sold like hotcakes,” says Sue, “and we realised that this was something that was going to work well.”
Although they sell many of their roses to the cut-flower trade, Zoe’s main focus is her floral work and she’s busy many weekends from October to April doing wedding flowers. She also sends DIY flower-crown kits around the North Island and runs sellout workshops in a studio her dad built her, where participants can learn how to make wedding bouquets and centrepieces, or can pick their own flowers, photograph them against a black backdrop, then take home a print of their creation.
With 56,000 followers on Instagram, Sue and Zoe are celebrities in the homegrown floristry space and are friends with international flower-farming royalty, having hosted workshops for well-known American floral artist and grower Nicole Land of Soil & Stem. They’ve also been interviewed by the world-famous Floret Farm several times.
“Instagram changed our lives,” says Zoe. “One of our big worries was that because we live in the middle of nowhere in Gisborne, we might not be able to sell the flowers. It’s amazing that people are coming to us.”
Hosting visitors to the farm is one of the most enjoyable parts of their job and Zoe has plans to ramp up business this year, offering more workshops, including one where participants can create arrangements that look like a Dutch master’s painting.
Behind the dreamy photographs and romantic beauty is a lot of hard work involving long days in the fields, particularly in spring when the roses are ready to be picked, the annuals need to be sown and the weeds pulled. Sometimes they’ll be up picking flowers at 5am, then head back out after dinner. “Mum and I solve most of life’s problems out in the field,” says Zoe. The only staff members who do get time to frolic among the flowers are their four dogs – all “oodles” of some sort – who even nap under the rose bushes.
Mum and I solve most of life’s problems out in the field
Ten years on and 1000 rose bushes later, Sue says that their complementary personalities are key to her and Zoe’s strong working relationship. “We’re a good team because we respect each other and play to each other’s strengths. And we just get each other. When we have a big wedding and we have extra people to help us, we even have our own language. I’ll say, ‘Did you get the…’ and Zoe will reply, ‘I’ve got it!’”
“There are lots of unfinished sentences,” says Zoe.