When Heavens Meet: Petal & Co

When Heavens Meet: Petal & Co

Article written by Georgi Waddy
Images by Suzannah Smith
First appeared in Latitude Magazine Feb/March 2023

Could there possibly be a more fulfilling job than growing flowers for a living? For Marion Smith it is a dream come true, having forged a business growing both edible and cut flowers.

MARION SMITH AND HER HUSBAND GRANT EDGE, a landscape architect by profession, and their two children Suzannah and Joel moved to a one-hectare property in Fernside in 2006. It boasted an original farmhouse with a few paddocks, where sheep were still grazing.

‘We had a bit of a blank canvas, and luckily Grant was just as keen as I was to improve the place. While we restored a bit of order to the general layout, I became increasingly interested in growing food. Flowers, unless for companion planting, didn’t interest me for a long time. We put in an orchard, areas for berries, climbing frames, and a huge vegetable garden. It was a really lovely potager-style space, producing an abundance of food.’

However, as their children grew up and eventually left home, Marion, who was working off the property, decided she wanted to adjust things and rethink her plan. She wanted something where she could be her own boss. ‘It was one day while I was looking at a patch of rocket that had just started flowering, and the idea of edible flowers came to my mind. I thought how lovely it would be to wander around my garden, plucking flowers to deliver to restaurants in town. I was very familiar with edible flowers for my own use as I was brought up with a mother who scattered calendula petals over salads, crystallised rose petals and violets, and baked lavender shortbread.

‘I had also noticed flowers on food and drinks in restaurants more, and wondered if this could be a viable business. We were 30 minutes away from central Christchurch, so distance wise it was perfect!’

Marion trawled through the Internet and Instagram researching all she could about edible flowers and learning about flower-growing businesses both here and overseas. She made endless lists of edible flowers and what she wanted to grow. However, she soon noticed not all of the flowers were available in Aotearoa New Zealand or in fact could grow in our climate. ‘So, it was vegetables out, and flowers in!’ she explains. ‘I sourced suitable containers made from plant plastic, my son [who is a graphic designer] put together my branding, whilst my clever daughter made me a website, Instagram and Facebook page.’ And so Petal & Co Edible Flowers was born.

‘I contacted one of the best restaurants in Christchurch and was blown away when they got back to me. They took me on board.’

‘Soon after I was certified as a food supply business, the flowers were growing and I was ready! I contacted one of the best restaurants in Christchurch and was blown away when they got back to me. They took me on board as a supplier and have been one of my best customers ever since. That gave me a huge amount of confidence, and I knew I was onto something good.’ More restaurants and bars followed.

While the first crop of edible flowers were viola, borage, alyssum, calendula and dianthus, Marion now grows 50 different types of edible flowers including annuals like the daisy Bellis perennis, cornflowers, nigella, and perennials like roses, violets and fuchsia.

Before long it became obvious Marion needed to expand the original vegetable garden area to keep up with the demand for flowers. She needed a bigger area so she could have plants at various stages of growth. Hence, the garden border was pushed out into the paddock, fences were moved, and newly raised rabbit-proof flowerbeds were built. Since then they have put in more flowerbeds and now have 22 raised beds, and separate areas for roses and other perennials. ‘Most of the edible flowers are quite low growing, and the raised beds make planting, weeding and harvesting a little easier. The beds are filled with premixed soils and we make our own compost in a three-bin system to top the beds up.

‘When I began to grow flowers to eat, I realised organic practices would be the most appropriate. So I use sustainable methods and am constantly learning about how I can better improve the way I grow to benefit soil health, and therefore the health of my plants and local wildlife. I try to close the loop and rely on what’s available in our own patch, avoid monocultures and mix things up in the beds with companion plants and self-seeders. I make my own fertilisers and soil conditioners with eggshells, nettles, comfrey and compost teas, and of course the neighbours’ horse poo. 

‘Resultantly we have a pretty healthy, balanced ecosystem and I don’t usually have too many pest problems; I will send away for lacewing and ladybird eggs for aphid control, and live hypermites to keep on top of the fungus gnats. These biological preventative measures are natural top-ups, and I’m happy to use them.’

‘My favourite edible flowers are the dianthus family: beautiful, fragrant and varied, they add drama and pizzazz to any food or drink.’

A couple of years ago Marion put in two beds of saffron corms which she says have been interesting to grow. The exotic spice saffron comes from the dried stigmas of the autumn crocus, and flowers around April when things are beginning to slow down in the rest of the garden – a nice complement to the edible flowers and a handy product to sell through the winter months along with the dried edible flowers.

‘Over the years I have become a bit more savvy about how much I grow which means I had room to spare and diversify, so I began to grow flowers specifically for cut flowers. I joined the Canterbury Floral Collective which sells flowers direct to florists in Christchurch, and now I sell seasonal garden bunches and edible flowers at Riverside Market, which has just been fantastic.

‘Growing cut flowers has been really exciting and has caused another surge in online research and investigations on my part. I particularly love perennials and beautiful foliage plants, so I have put in new beds in the paddock for these, and the beds surrounding the house now have predominantly cut flower varieties.’

It is hard to choose but Marion’s favourite cut flowers are the spring beauties; peonies and ranunculi as they are always decadent and voluptuous and the ranunculi are like perfect powder puffs. ‘I love the fact that their season is only fleeting – but oh so glamourous!’

While there are many flowers that cross over between edible and cut, there are also many cut flowers that are toxic or poisonous, so Marion made the decision to separate her social media so that there was never any confusion about what was edible and what wasn’t. ‘My favourite edible flowers are the dianthus family: beautiful, fragrant and varied, they add drama and pizzazz to any food or drink. Cute pansies and viola are up there too and then there’re cornflowers – so fluffy and long-lasting …’

Marion knows she is lucky to be able to turn her dream into a successful business. ‘It is a lot of hard work,’ she concludes, ‘but when I’m outside and it’s a beautiful day, the birds are singing and our bees are busy pollinating all the beautiful flowers – I feel very fortunate. These memories keep me going through the terrible winter weather and the howling summer nor’westers!’ 



Edible Flowers

‘Edible Flowers’ by definition are non-toxic, safe to eat and can be used in or on food.

According to Marion there are three categories.
  1. Flowers that are edible. Most people know nasturtiums with their peppery bite, violas and pansies pleasantly floral in taste, as are cornflowers and roses. However, try picking a flower off your day lily (Hemerocallis). If you’re lucky enough to have a good one, it’ll taste like the crunchiest sweetest lettuce leaf you’ve ever had. Sometimes the flowers in this category are only nice when it’s just the petals that are eaten.

  2. Flowers that are safe to eat, but not necessarily very pleasant to eat. They might be a bit bitter, like a snapdragon, or a bit unpalatable, like a zinnia. They are, however, extremely useful as garnish flowers. Often edible flowers on food are not eaten, but do look very pretty and we eat with our eyes first!

  3. Flowers where the variety is edible, but they have not been sourced from a safe supply. A good example of this would be roses from florists, or plants in flower from nurseries or the Who knows what chemicals have been used on these blooms before you get to them.

Visit us today at the Riverside Pantry to purchase Petal & Co dried edible flowers.

Please note:

* Fresh seasonal edible flowers are available to order with collection at the Pantry.

Call Marion on 027 222 6392

* Beautiful cut flower bouquets are available from October to April.


























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