December a busy month for everyone with lots going on. For us it is that time of year where we transform the greenhouse into a flower packing warehouse in anticipation of the Christmas flower orders we have to pack.
This is a major task in itself as David has already filled the greenhouse with lots of young cuttings ready for the spring orders so we have to start filling up our over-flow greenhouse to give us some space. The overflow greenhouse has no heat so can only house Dianthus plants in it, but this is perfect to help them to harden off ready for when they are needed to be posted in March.
So first we have to move, tray after tray of young plants to create some space, then comes the making of the boxes this usually takes a week with 2-3 people stapling the bases and laying in the paper that the flowers will sit on. Then they have to make up the lids. Each box takes 8 staples and we need over a thousand boxes for the 3 days we post the Christmas orders alone. It takes a good strong wrist muscle for this task as the cardboard is quite thick, once the box is made it then has to be stacked - the stacks looks a bit like a giant game of Jenga.
We then have to arrange collection of our extra post with Royal Mail to ensure there are no delays with the flowers, this normally means a Royal Mail lorry comes direct from the Gatwick sorting office to collect each day's lot of orders.
All this has to be booked several weeks in advance and is a bit of a guessing game as we are still taking orders for Christmas delivery and the total figures keep changing so as we get nearer to the "big day" organising the collection can be quite stressful.
This photo shows some of the piles of boxes waiting to be collected last year by Royal Mail.
Next comes the flowers, all our flowers are grown under contract for us on a private site as we do not have a big enough premise to have them grown here in Hassocks. Now cut flowers are not something that can be produced in just a few days, we have to start the process of what we require months in advance, all the colours and quantities, this was discussed and planned back in the height of
Again it is very much a guessing game of what might be needed, luckily we have been doing this since 1915 so we are fairly experienced on what we might require, but there are still times when a particular colour is more popular than what we anticipated, red of course being the favourite!
The weekend before we are due to start packing the cut flowers arrive. On a normal week, we deal with approximately 1500 blooms, Christmas week we deal with a minimum of 20,000 blooms! each stem has to be cut & placed in water - again good wrist muscles are required for all that cutting and lots and lots of buckets are needed! To try and put it into some kind of perspective there is a minimum of 80 buckets needed for this, the flowers are then sorted into colours to ensure we have enough colour for the orders placed.
We then have the issue of space - where do you store 80 buckets of cut flowers? This whole task falls on David who has to do some amazing juggling acts to fit all this flower - that is needed for just one week only - into our already full greenhouse! So all available paths get taken up.
So how did this all start? Well Allwoods first started sending cut flowers in 1915 to the general public, prior to that they had always been sent to Covent Garden or other local markets to be sold. Once Allwoods realised there was a demand for having quality fresh cut carnation blooms delivered direct to your door they started offering this service in their mail order catalogues.
In those days you would buy a box (literally a wooden box) to the value of what you would want to spend, for example £1, or £2 (old money). They would then supply the relevant quantity of blooms to your box, the quantity of blooms in that box all depended on what the market price was at the time per bloom. This price would fluctuate - a similar thing to buying stocks on the stock exchange. Of course this way of buying had to change as there was never any guarantee exactly how many blooms you would get in each box and it could change month to month due to the fluctuating flower prices and customers didn't like that.
So in 1996 the way to buying the cut flowers changed and is the same way as we use now, you buy by the quantity of blooms you wish to receive and they are at a set price. The smallest bouquet we sell is a dozen, the largest.... well only the other day we sent 80 blooms to a customer in celebration of a birthday! There is no limit on how many we can send.
But none of this is possible without our dedicated flower team, in the office we have Hannah, she will be the one you are most likely to speak to on the phone, she can give advice on what colours are available that week and help on which bouquets are best for the occasion you are wanting to celebrate, she is also the one who ensures your order gets into the computer system ready to be packed and posted at the right time.
Then we have Sarah, our longest team member here at Allwoods, at this time of year she helps with the flower packing, ensuring each bloom is perfect before carefully placing into the box.
Christmas flower packing week we rope in the rest of the team who are usually busy down in the greenhouse and have what we call a "Christmas Flower Packing Party", this involves the team packing the flowers into boxes all day long whilst myself and David ensure each box is packed correctly and goes to the correct address. During this busy time we also have a few friends who lend a hand for the busy week. There is a lot of fun and merriment with plenty of festive treats to keep energy levels high and lots of cups of tea to keep us warm.
So that is what happens behind the scenes here at Allwoods during the Christmas flower packing week. We hope you have enjoyed reading and would love to hear your comments and views. If you wish to (and we really hope you do) there is still plenty of time to place an order for cut flowers, either for delivery now, Christmas or the New Year, so go on place an order, not only are you helping a traditional firm continue supplying a quality product, you now know the effort that we have to go through in enabling this to happen and what is more we love doing what we do!
Thanks for reading and Christmas wishes to you all