Ben Cross (aka Alstroemeria Ben - he can often be spotted on social media in his 'British Flowers Rock' T-shirt) is a 4th generation flower grower with his great grandparents being one of the original families to take part in the Land Settlement Association (LSA) back in 1936. Crosslands Flower Nursery in West Sussex specialises in growing alstroemeria in a rainbow of colours, and championing sustainable British flowers is at the heart of everything Ben does.
The flowers he grows are not sprayed with any chemicals after being harvested and go into recyclable and reusable boxes, before arriving with customers the next day. No soil cooling techniques are used to force production and some flower beds are over 20 years old and still producing premium quality stems. Under 5% of the crop is replanted each year, so sterilizing the soil is kept to a minimum.
Alstroemeria don’t need much heat input or watering: in winter, optimum heat (13°C ) is maintained at night via a biomass boiler and the crop is watered for just 20 minutes once a month, rising to 20 minutes once every 10 days in the summer.
When his flowers have been picked they don’t go into big freezers as the cooling storage system at Crosslands is usually turned off between November and March. When the flowers need to be stored in warmer weather, they’re only chilled at about 6°C instead of 0.5°C like most imported flowers. They’re only stored for a couple of days before they’re with the customers, so they're a lot fresher than flowers from the other side of the world. Most importantly, all the stems are harvested at the ‘ripe big fat bud' stage, giving a bigger, more vibrant flower, as Ben doesn't need to worry about how many he can pack into boats and planes.
What’s been good about being a member of the FFTF network?
I only joined FFTF in May this year but it’s been great to speak to so many growers already and I'm looking forward to my first meeting and to hosting my region’s gathering in January 2019. It’s been awesome to see so many FFTF members spreading the British flowers love, and it was especially great to see them win Gold at Chelsea.
Is there anything you’d like to see FFTF doing in the future?
I hope that all British growers, whether growing on a large or small scale, keep working together to raise awareness and educate the public about where our flowers come from. We need to encourage florists and the public to support British grown flowers as much as possible.
What are your hopes for your business next year?
To keep spreading the word about British flowers. I’m already booked for over 50 talks and tours of the nursery; I’ll be going into floristry schools and colleges as well as carrying out apprentice schemes with horticultural colleges.