Lizzie Fox: 'Gardening's cool - it's for everyone'
- Credit: Katherine Ashdown Photography
It was Elizabeth Fox who brought the dahlia to England in 1804 after being presented with a precious packet of seeds on a trip to Madrid’s magical Botanic Gardens.
Back at home, Elizabeth’s beautiful dahlias were successfully cultivated in the garden at her London home and became the botanical darlings of the English flower world.
More than 200 years later, namesake Lizzie Fox, 27, who lives in Stoke Holy Cross near Norwich, is also bringing flowers to the masses with her business The Rose Press Garden.
“I didn’t know that!” laughs Lizzie, “I love that Elizabeth Fox brought dahlias to England! I’d like to think I’m doing something similar with flowers, so maybe there’s something in the name!”
Lizzie is on a mission: to turn gardens, balconies and outdoor areas into beautiful flower-filled spaces and nervous young gardeners into green-fingered success stories.
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And seed packet by seed packet, she’s slowly but surely turning the UK into a floral rainbow.
The young entrepreneur has been, forgive the pun, a Busy Lizzie during the past few weeks which have seen her quit her day job in order to give The Rose Press Garden her full attention, take a trade stand to BBC Gardeners’ World Live, launch this year’s seed advent calendar (reader, I bought one) and take on her first employee: her mum, Bev.
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“My mum has left the job she had for more than 30 years and has come to work for me!” said Lizzie, “I’m just overwhelmed that she’s taking this risk alongside me in order to make my dream a reality. She’s the Yin to my Yang.
“On Instagram she’s known as Behind the Scenes Bev because she’s just the most organised, efficient and dedicated person you could meet and the best person to work with. At the BBC show, people were as excited to meet Behind the Scenes Bev as see what was on my stall!”
Bev has been instrumental in Lizzie’s journey to running her own business for many years.
Born in Norwich, Lizzie lived with her mum, dad and brother William in Wreningham and loved being in her family garden, where she had her own small plot.
“Both my parents were hobby gardeners and my Great Grandad was a head gardener, so it’s in my blood. I grew vegetables and flowers as a child and I loved nothing more than pottering around in the garden near my little Wendy house.
“I even got my Brownie gardening badge by keeping my garden and earned pocket money when I was older by mowing the lawn!”
After sixth form, Lizzie went to university in York where she studied philosophy (“I chose it because it opened so many doors”) and by her own admission, gardening took a back foot as she enjoyed being away from home and uni life.
After university, jobs in marketing offered the perfect chance to learn just how to reach audiences online, build brands and sell products: all skills which would become hugely important for her own business.
Lizzie moved into her own home in 2018 and began creating her first garden, transforming a new-build backyard of mud into a floral heaven filled with colour, scent and beauty.
Lavender lines the front garden path, a circular lawn is edged with flower borders and beds which in turn are filled with flowers in shades of pale pink, pale purple and white.
“I wanted a pretty garden and quickly realised that I would concentrate on flowers rather than vegetables and create a space where I wanted to spend lots of time. It was also a real lifesaver when lockdown started.”
Ah, lockdown: irrefutably a hateful nightmare but also, for many, the springboard to invention for ‘Covidpreneurs’.
At the end of 2019, Lizzie bought tickets for the following year’s Chelsea Flower Show in and had planned to visit BBC Gardeners’ World Live - by the end of 2021, she will have had stalls at both and turned The Rose Press Garden from a side hustle to her full-time job.
“I started this business in lockdown last year and to be here, now, having sent out thousands of packets of seeds and filling other peoples’ gardens with colour and fun, having been to BBC Gardeners’ World and on my way to Chelsea: it’s unbelievable,” she said.
“During lockdown, having the chance to garden was wonderful because it’s always been the one place I could completely switch off and just lose myself in the moment but when the world is scary, it’s an even more important place to be.
“If I’m not gardening, my phone is right by my side, but when I’m planting or weeding, I am completely involved in that moment. The garden was where I escaped to and where I could just forget about everything and just work towards making things beautiful.”
It’s believed that around three million new gardeners sprung up during 2020’s lockdowns with almost half (49 per cent) being under the age of 45.
“I loved growing, but I found the actual process of buying seeds and plants was quite drab and dull, particularly online,” Lizzie said.
“I’d buy my seeds and get sent a catalogue full of frumpy tartan trousers with elasticated waists, stairlifts and leather reclining armchairs. There didn’t seem to be anything aimed at my age group, and suddenly there was this huge new market.”
An idea began to germinate, and on September 3, 2020, Lizzie launched The Rose Press Garden, selling beautifully packaged seeds online.
The business, named for her beloved late Godmother Rosamund Press, also reflects her own middle name – Rose – and the name of her house.
A percentage of sales goes to the Greenfingers Charity which creates magical gardens for children in hospices across the UK (including the forthcoming garden at EACH charity’s The Nook, which Lizzie will help create).
“It seemed the right time: for me and for the people who were asking me where I got my seeds and plants from and how to make a garden,” she said.
“I also knew from experience that gardening is all about patience and that it’s a good lesson for my generation who are so used to getting everything they want almost instantly. Nothing about a garden is instant and that’s why it’s so rewarding.
“It was all about making a growing garden easy, fun and modern. I had struggled to direct my friends to one place where they could buy everything they needed to put together a garden that would give them lots of gorgeous flowers and an outdoor space that they truly loved.
“I’d see people of my age queueing at the garden centre with trollies full of full-sized plants because they hadn’t known when to sow seeds at the right time of the year.
“So I decided to do it myself and offer a service for people like me who wanted to create something beautiful really easily. I wanted to get people growing and I wanted the whole process to be lovely.”
Lizzie’s packages are sent in letterbox-friendly boxes, seed packets nestling in pretty tissue paper alongside motivational quotes: it’s like receiving a box of beauty products…for your garden.
Her first product was the seed advent calendar which saw Lizzie up at 5am every day working on her website, briefing designers Amy Cole and Charlotte Munson, hand-packing 5,000 packets of seeds and making up hundreds of boxes…all before her working day began.
She then began offering themed seed packs with wooden plant labels, twine and ribbon and teamed up with partner Ed’s family business Smith and Munsun to offer a tulip subscription.
Individual flower packs followed along with easy how-to online tutorials, ‘surprise me’ packs of seeds, prints for walls, monthly seed subscription packs, ‘head gardener’ jumpers, flower year calendars, gift boxes for birthdays and other occasions, wildflowers and accessories.
When I speak to Lizzie, her and Behind the Scenes Bev are tackling the seed subscription box mountain with a view to posting countless boxes to those who have signed up for the service.
It’s a mammoth job, but one that Lizzie loves, particularly as she sees rising numbers of subscribers month-on-month and can see that like the gardens she is filling across the country, her business is growing.
She’s also preparing to take her trade stall to Chelsea Flower Show later this month, ticking off a major player on her five-year wish-list within a year of trading.
“When I got the call telling me I had a stand this year I nearly fell off my chair and then I sobbed for about half an hour before calling absolutely everyone I know,” laughed Lizzie.
“For me, Chelsea is such a big event. Bigger than my birthday, bigger than Christmas, just the biggest day out ever and the biggest inspiration. To be there professionally is a dream come true.
“People wait years to be invited to have a stand but the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) told me they loved that I am aimed at younger gardeners.
“I’ve got lots of fun plans for Chelsea and it’ll all be funky and modern – my giant neon sign will make it look a bit like a nightclub for gardening!”
In addition to running her fledgling business and growing plans for the future, Lizzie is also investing in herself by taking courses with the RHS and broadening her knowledge base.
“It is so important to me that I keep learning and challenging myself to grow,” she said.
“I’m very aware that new gardeners can be downhearted if they look on Instagram and see lots of wonderful photographs when their own seeds have failed.
“I make sure that if I have a disaster, I tell people about it so they realise that it’s perfectly normal and nothing in gardening terms is the end of the world, it’s all part of the journey.
“With gardening there’s always next year and you learn from your failures and your successes and it’s always a learning process. Life can be uncertain, but gardening is a constant. The process of taking a seed and watching it grow is unbelievably rewarding.”
As the summer begins to fade, Lizzie is turning her sights to bulbs for next spring, her favourite time of year when “all the hard work of winter” bursts into life.
“My favourite part about gardening is the ‘doing’. I love seeing the plants come to life and having a beautiful place to sit, but for me, it’s about getting my hands dirty,” she said.
“I love the day after Boxing Day, too. It’s when lots of people turn their attention to planning their garden for coming year and thinking about what worked last summer and what didn’t. Even after the excesses of Christmas, it’s energising to think about what your garden will look like next year.”
Lizzie is full of brilliant ideas for her brand, hopes for the future and for gardening as a whole becoming a less mystifying concept for younger people.
“I still find myself being patronised in garden centres,” she laughs, “I’ll be looking at the racks of seeds, thinking about colours and places that I could put different plants, and someone will wander over and start talking to me as if I couldn’t possibly have a clue what I’m doing.
“My number one dream is for my brand to be in those garden centres and for my section to be the place you go if you’re new to gardening and need a helping hand.
“I feel so passionately about getting more people into gardening and whenever people post pictures of their seedlings and their gardens I feel like I could burst with pride.
“I am so overwhelmed with the way people have supported me and my dream to take the confusion out of gardening to allow people to focus on making something beautiful.
“Flowers and gardening have the most amazing effect on people, the environment and wildlife and I’m so pleased I can help others get the same joy that I do from growing.
“My Mum once said ‘you never meet a horrible gardener’ and when I talk to my customers, I know she was absolutely right.”
Gardening jobs for September
September is an unusual month as some flowers are in their element and others are just about hanging on. Ensure you keep the flowers that are flowering now lovely and fresh by deadheading and feeding to ensure they last until the first frosts.
· Sow hardy annual flowers for flowers early next summer
· Plant up containers for autumn interest: there are lots of colourful plants to choose from
· Bring any houseplants that you moved outside over summer back indoors, before temperatures start to drop
· You can now start to plant some spring bulbs, including crocuses, daffodils, hyacinths, bluebells and snake's-head fritillaries in pots and borders, although I tend to plant mine later in the season when it is cooler.
· Keep summer bedding flowering in hanging baskets and pots until the first frosts by deadheading and feeding regularly
· Leave sunflower seedheads in place for birds to feed on
· Water autumn-flowering asters regularly to deter mildew
· Clean out water butts and check downpipe fittings in preparation for autumn rains
· Check that tree ties and plant supports are firmly in place, ahead of any autumn gales
· Wash and disinfect bird feeders and tables to maintain hygiene
· Collect fallen leaves to store in a chicken-wire cage or bin bags to make leaf mould
· Hunt for rosemary beetles on lavender and rosemary, picking off the striped metallic beetles and their grey larvae