Gardens: Saying it with Flowers
With demand for British blooms soaring, Cathy Marchant’s Midnight Garden - a half-acre flower farm in Stapleford - has had its busiest year yet. Editor Alice Ryan pays a visit
In the golden hours of early autumn - as afternoon fades to evening, evening to night - you’ll find Cathy Marchant walking through her growing beds, secateurs in hand. Her only companions are the birds, bees and butterflies. For the flower farmer and florist, it’s bliss.
“Coming down here in the evening, the birds singing, the sun falling. . . It’s just gorgeous. That’s the reward for me. It’s not financial; I mean I make a living, but it’s never going to make you rich.
“If I’m making a bouquet, I’ll start by picking a single flower I love, then I’ll walk around the garden to see what works with it. Sometimes something springs out and the combination is just amazing - a beautiful surprise. That’s what I love: that creativity. And being here with the flowers.”
Cathy set up The Midnight Garden six years ago, just as the market for British blooms began to spark. The last year has been her most successful yet, with her flowers selling out almost the moment they’re ready to pick. “For the last however many years, British flowers have made up 10% of the market in this country,” she says, “but in the last 12 months that’s risen to almost 15%. People are really sitting up and taking notice.”
The climate crisis is, says Cathy, the biggest driver. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the carbon footprint created by an out-of-season flower, grown overseas in forced, hot-house conditions, fuelled by chemicals, and then flown in. “Scientists analysed some imported flowers only recently and identified 27 different chemicals on them,” adds Cathy. “I see roses for sale in mid-winter now and recoil, to be honest: summer flowers belong in summer. Anything else feels wrong.”
Spanning a series of allotment plots and a neighbouring garden - whose owner is happy for Cathy to grow there, in return for the beauty her flowers bring - The Midnight Garden Flower Farm totals little more than a half-acre, but it’s home to everything from the first tulips of spring (fabulous frilled and striped types, reminiscent of Dutch Master paintings) through to doughty end-of-year dahlias, which troop on until the first frosts.
It was inevitable, says Cathy, that she’d end up working with flowers. Growing up in Yorkshire, her parents were keen gardeners who taught herhow to do everything from naming plants to nurturing a compost heap. “I have a lot of memories of my grandad’s garden, too,” she continues. “It was very traditional: a lawn, a bed of roses, a bed of gladioli, a bed of dahlias. The dahlias were my favourites - still are. My grandad and I would always pick a bunch for my mum.”
While on the subject of dahlias, Cathy points out that they’ve only recently returned to favour with gardeners and florists alike. “They were out of fashion for such a long time. The renaissance began with Gardeners’ World: they showed a daisy type, Bishop of Llandaff, on an episode about 15 years ago. It aired on the Friday night and every garden centre sold out that weekend.
“Now, thank goodness, people love every shape and size of dahlia. I’m often stopped in my tracks by the intricacy of their blooms - it’s one of nature’s wonders.”
Always artistic, Cathy initially trained in fashion design, relocating to London to launch her own line of wedding dresses. Living in a first-floor flat, she found herself craving the colour and scent of the garden, so installed window boxes which she planted to overflowing.
“I didn’t really start gardening until we moved to Cambridge 20 years ago. The children were small - they’re 24 and 19 now - and I started gardening for other people because I’d always had a passion for it. I did that for 15 years and never had to advertise, it was purely word of mouth.”
Also foster carers, Cathy and her husband, a freelance photographer, both wanted to be able to balance work with family life. When she started The Midnight Garden - which takes its name from the magical children’s book - Cathy knew she wanted to run the business as locally as possible. Supplying weekly bunches to Shelford Deli and selling to-order buckets and bouquets in and around Cambridge, her flower miles are minimal.
Cathy, who describes her arranging style as “natural, instinctive”, also does wedding flowers, supplying either bouquets and buttonholes, DIY buckets, or DIY buckets plus bouquets and buttonholes. She credits Philippa Craddock, who did the flowers for Prince Harry’s wedding to Meghan Markle, with igniting public interest in homegrown blooms for big occasions, after she dressed St George’s Chapel with arches of white garden roses, foxgloves and peonies. “I actually saw her at Chelsea and stopped her to say thank you,” says Cathy.
Craddock is also at the vanguard of the anti-floral foam movement: the arches were created using a bespoke-built frame fitted with water buckets. “The industry is evolving and we’re all learning from each other as it does,” says Cathy. A member of Flowers From The Farm, a nationwide network of 500 flower farmers, she says the sense of mutual support, rather than competition, is “wonderful” and pushing forward “real change”.
“Flowers From The Farm had a stand at Chelsea this year,” Cathy adds. “It showcased flowers grown in all parts of the country, and everyone came together to make it happen. It won Gold.”
Cathy’s harvest starts in spring, with the tulips: capricious, low-cropping but worth every effort. Amenable and abundant cornflowers, larkspur and nigella come next, in May, with poppies, foxgloves and scabious the stars of early summer, before cosmos, scented phlox, astrantia and, of course, dahlias, take their turn in the spotlight. This list is but a fraction of the varieties Cathy grows: her planting plans are always evolving and expanding. Her Victorian greenhouse is a conveyor belt of seeds being sown, seedlings being pricked out, young plants being potted on.
Supplying numerous local florists - Wild Rosamund, Wild Stems, Willow & Wolf, Larkspur Floral Design - Cathy also hosts flower arranging workshops in the greenhouse, studio or, if the weather’s kind, out on the lawn. “Seeing the pleasure the flowers give people is wonderful - you can honestly see their faces light up,” adds Cathy. “For me, this is the definition of a labour of love.”
For more information, visit themidnightgardenflowerfarm.co.uk and follow Cathy on Instagram @themidnightgarden. To get in touch, email
firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07804 893388.
More by this authorAlice Ryan