Our founder and flower farmer Rosebie Morton launched The Real Flower Company to reintroduce local English flowers, grown as nature intended, to the UK flower market. People are therefore often surprised when they discover that when English roses are not in season, our roses are imported from our sister farm in Kenya. We caught up with Maggie Hobbs, our Kenyan flower farmer, to give you the inside track on Tambuzi, our Kenyan sister farm.

How it all began

It all began with a chance meeting I had with Rosebie and Matthew Morton back in 1998 – twenty years ago! They were growing roses in their beautiful walled garden in Hampshire in the summer, but they knew there was a demand for garden roses in winter too. My husband and business partner Tim and I were already living in Kenya, so they approached us to offer a year-round supply of ethically and sustainably grown garden roses – like swallows following the sun, from Kenya in winter and England in summer.

Making the right choice

I would emphasise that the roses from Tambuzi are also sustainable and homegrown – it’s just a different home! I often get asked at the Chelsea Flower Show how it can be OK for flowers to be grown in Kenya and flown to the UK, and my answer is always the same. If you want to buy only seasonally and locally, our Tambuzi roses are not for you. But if you like to buy beautiful roses in winter, do it from Kenya. We are slap bang on the Equator and the light and warmth from the sun means we can grow all year round without any additional greenhouse heating or lighting. In addition, growing roses for export allows us to employ more than 600 people who would otherwise struggle to find jobs in a very rural area. We are strong advocates of Trade not Aid.

Where to find us

Our farm is located near the town of Nanyuki, just south of the Equator – in fact, my daughter Edith crosses the Equator every day to go to school in the ‘northern hemisphere’! We are 6,000 feet above sea level, which is a wonderful altitude for growing roses. We have a view of Mount Kenya and our water comes from the rivers that cascade down its slopes in the rainy season. Our neighbours are mostly small-scale farmers who grow maize and cabbages and keep cows. We are the only big employer in the area and we take our responsibilities very seriously. We believe that the stronger the community, the stronger our business will be.

David Austin roses

Our rose varieties bred by David Austin are distinct and special. I believe there are only five growers in the world who have been given a licence to grow David Austin cut roses, so it’s a pretty exclusive club. We enjoy working with David himself in experimenting with what will work on what farm – it’s a dynamic relationship between breeding and growing. And in the end, we grow some of the most beautiful roses money can buy.

What it’s like to be a flower farmer

There aren’t many bad things – we do end up giving roses as wedding presents to our friends and my sister always rolls her eyes when we are thanked yet again in the speech for the gorgeous roses! But we also get to have fresh scented roses in our house every day, which is quite a luxury. More importantly, I love the impact our business has in the community we live in. The fundamental dignity of employment is important all over the world and the flower industry is very labour intensive. In Kenya, it employs more than 500,000 people.

Family favourites

We grow more than seventy varieties of rose, so I don’t really have a favourite. I love the colour of Caffe Latte and I have a soft spot for the shape of Edith, which is also my daughter’s name. In many ways, my favourite is a rose we can’t grow commercially because it is too soft to send out. It is the first rose Rosebie sent us and the scent is heavenly – of course I’m talking about the sublime Margaret Merril!

Community and environment

We have a Partnerships Officer called Kelvin Ngari who works full time on projects for our internal community, our employees, and our external community, our neighbours. We are constantly looking for projects that can benefit individuals by making their daily lives more sustainable. We have helped our staff to buy solar lighting systems, gas cookers, refurbished laptops and second-hand bikes from Amsterdam. Today we had a very exciting visit from an organisation called Life Straw http://www.lifestraw.com who make available a wonderful technology that can turn dirty water clean – we are looking to find ways for our employees to buy this kit for their homes.

What does Fairtrade really mean?

Most of our flowers are sold direct and not into supermarkets, where Fairtrade has the biggest market. However, we made the decision to undergo the expensive and rigorous annual Fairtrade certification process because our goal is to operate to the highest ethical, environmental and sustainable standards. The constant reviews and our need to make sure we are complying keeps us on our toes. Our staff also get a premium from the sales to spend on community projects. If you are a florist and are interested in finding out more about the glorious roses grown at Tambuzi you can email us at [email protected].