Careers

Always wondered where edible flowers come from? Meet the woman who grows them

Posted by
Hannah Keegan
Published

Work/Life is Stylist’s regular column about the professional routines of successful women. Meet Jan Billington, edible flower farmer.

Jan Billington, 52, is an edible flower farmer and founder of Maddocks Farm Organics. She lives in Devon with her husband, Stu, and terriers, Pickle and Lily

My alarm goes off…

At 4.30am in the summer and at 7.30am in the winter. I get up with the light, because we need to start picking the flowers as early as possible for freshness. I have two large cups of coffee; I can’t bear to eat that early. Then I check any overnight emails. 

Most days, I wear dungarees, an apron and some boots. I go out into the fields, which are just three minutes from my front door, about an hour later.

I’m responsible for…

My entire business. We grow organic edible flowers for wedding cakes, cocktails and decorative purposes. I’m responsible for everything from the wellbeing of my staff to the growth of the business.

I got the job…

By deciding I wanted to raise my kids in the country. I’d worked as a management consultant in London for 15 years when I thought, actually, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life on the Northern Line, so we moved to Devon. 

I started growing all kinds of vegetables and a chef we were working with asked for some edible flowers. This was way before they were cool. As a small business, I think you have to say yes to everything. It grew into the business I have today.

Delicate hands are essential in this job

My typical day…

Starts when my team arrive at 5.30am in the summer or 8.30am in the winter. There will be between two and six of us depending on orders. I assign each person a selection of flowers to pick. Everyone works on their own box for a client and we work on anywhere from 25 to 300 a day.

We have a big, communal lunch around the table in the farmhouse at about 12pm. It’s physical work, so everyone needs carbs, usually bread and cheese with salad from the garden. I think it’s important to take that time to chat and de-stress as everyone’s under such pressure from the deadlines.

After lunch, I organise the couriers and make sure the boxes of flowers are ready for collection. We’ve had huge orders before, like 7,000 flowers for the Spectre launch party or a special selection of Salvias for Elton John. But, sometimes, it’s a small order from a woman for her wedding that makes me the happiest. She might have placed the order a year in advance and we will have worked together to find the exact shade of blush she’s after.

I’ll catch up on emails, too – we get more than 100 enquiries a day. Depending on how busy I am, I can be in the office until 8.30pm, but I try to leave at 6pm.

My most memorable moment…

Was when we won the award for Best Organic Produce from the Soil Association, last year. We were up against big companies, so it felt really validating.

Jan’s produce, looking good enough to eat

The worst part of my job… 

Is invoicing, I hate it! I’m like a kid who doesn’t want to do homework.

The best part of my job…

Is that my office is a field. Right now, there’s a buzzard wheeling overhead and bumble bees are buzzing. I live a magical existence.

After work…

If my husband isn’t in London, he’ll cook dinner. If I’m by myself, I grab something quick from the fridge. I like to relax with light TV, such as Great British Menu and I read before bed. It’s embarrassing, but I’m asleep by 9pm most nights.

Plan B… Mixologist 

I would be behind the bar making cocktails but I’d only live for about six weeks, so it’s probably better that I work in the field. Mixologists these days are fermenting, brewing, distilling – it’s all become so exciting. What a great job.

Images: Neil White