Whether we’re creating a simple tablescape for an intimate dinner party or decking out the Vanity Fair Oscar’s Party, our first priority is always the quality of the flowers. Sourcing the right blooms with the right people is such an important job that each of our departments has a flower buyer - dedicated to working with trusted suppliers throughout the year. A special supplier of many years is Dutch-based company Hoek Flowers
, loved by florists the world over. Working with Hoek not only ensures the quality of the flowers but crucially reduces unnecessary miles by delivering directly to our doors. However, one of the stand-out qualities of Hoek is their dedication to nurturing longheld relationships with their growers - and when they asked if we would like to join a trip to visit the farms on the Italian Riviera we immediately started daydreaming of ranunculus fields - and of course, jumped at the chance to witness the origin of our flowers.
Landing in Nice alongside six talented UK florists, we set out on the one-hour coastal journey, over theFrench/Italian border to stunning San Remo Aka Riviera Dei Fiori aka Floral Coast AKA heaven for florists. The landscape offered dramatic tree laden valleys, dotted with greenhouses - a clue to our destination ahead. The mellow sunlight helped us to forget it was still January as we made our way to meet the Parodi brothers and their exquisite Ranunculus farm.
From the soil to the weather, North-Western Italy offers ideal growing conditions for ranunculus - making it a mecca for the delicate stems. Arriving at the Parodi’s farm was further proof - we were met with rows and rows of the charming flowers, a spectrum of size and colour. The Parodi’s specialise in the especially impressive Cloony variety akin to a small rose thanks to it’s lush, perfectly layered appearance. Planting over 100,000 bulbs in August, an incredible 2.5 million ranunculus are harvested between October and April. We were fascinated to learn that, to ensure a healthy vase life, the ranunculus should open and close three times before being picked. We were inspired by the passion and care the small family team put into their crop - as well as the efforts to provide new shades.
Day two saw us make a pitstop at another (equally inspiring) family farm - this time Flavio of FT Ranunculi. Flavio specialises in Elegance ranunculus -for the first time this year he's also experimenting with growing hellebores. Innovation was key - Flavio had created a number of different growing conditions - inside, outside within soil and specialised containers. This ensured not only working out which conditions offered the best crop but spread risk.
Having enjoyed the warm hospitality of Itay’s unspoilt seaside town of San Remo, we made our way back over the border to the french hillside town of Hyeres. This time to meet the Pellegrino family, a father and son duo - who grow another winter gem - and McQueen's favourite flower, the anemone. Meeting at the Marche aux Fleurs we were treated to a tour of the market - unusually quiet as it was preparing for the next morning's auction. Sensing our anticipation at seeing the anemones, the group were guided to the near-by Pellgrino’s farm, heaven for an anemone fan! As with the Parodi’s approach in Italy, we were bowled over with the care and attention to the growing environment, far from intensive but the attention to detail to ensure the perfect harvest was evident. Formally rose growers, The Pellegrino’s now farm up to 800,000 mistral anemones every season - with hues ranging from Magenta and Pinkie through to the dip-dye like Tigre.
Reluctantly reaching our final day of the flower-filled trip - there was one more stop to make, this time to meet Mr Oggero and his eucalyptus farm. Just set-back inland from France's dazzling St Tropez - the hillside farm can only be described as a florist's dream. Arriving in the farmyard, we were ready to ramble to the trees only to be told Mr Oggero would be chauffeuring the group in his pick-up truck. What ensued was a magical and memorable (and bumpy) journey of a lifetime! The Oggero's have been growing 6 varieties of the aromatic plant for 30 years on his 30-hectare farm - which comes complete with breathtaking valley views. It was upon the hilltop that we realised Hoek's dedication - Arjan, their buyer was chatting away to Mr Oggero in French, and it's clear they've held a long working relationship for many years. We were equally impressed, how Arjan altnernated seamlessly between four languages! There was one more, fragrant surprise - piling back into the pick-up truck (and new favourite mode of transport) we arrived at a tree-lined bank of Mimosa. The tall, sunshine-coloured trees positively glowed and the group was in agreement that it might just have been their favourite floral moment of all time!
A big thanks the Hoek team, Arjan; Lianne, Frank and Noel for organising such an educational and inspiring trip - and not least to the family farms we visited who reinforced our belief that we buy the best! We'd also like to thank our fabulous florist friends and travelling companions Appassionata, The White Horse Flower Company, Rowan Blossom, Jenni Bloom, Floral Earth, Ellarman Flowers and Grace & Thorn.
For beautiful ranunculus and anemone bouquets - head to the McQueens Flowers online flower shop