Ben Cross grows alstroemerias all year round in West Sussex. Even in midwinter, long beds of these tropical-looking flowers, native to South America and commonly known as Peruvian lilies, rise up defiantly in the energy-efficient greenhouses at Crosslands Flower Nursery, where they are picked to supply British flower markets all through the seasons.
“From Christmas to February, we harvest three times a week,” says Cross. “In March, the plants will go berserk: from then to Christmas we harvest seven days a week, at least 1,000 bunches a day.”
The plants grown at Crosslands are hybrids created for their flowers, but probably contain some genes from hardier species such as A. ligtu and A. aurea. These originate from the Andes, where conditions are cool and dry; similar to a British greenhouse for much of the year. “Where we are, sandwiched between the English Channel and the South Downs, we have the perfect growing conditions: the perfect light, the perfect warmth,” says Cross.
The greenhouse is kept at 13C through the winter. Heat is provided by a biomass boiler powered by renewable wood pellets – a sustainable source of fuel, as long as new trees are planted to replace those cut. Water consumption is minimal; plants are watered for 20 minutes once a month in winter. In summer this increases to 20 minutes every 10 days.