5 Jul 2019

Flower Power on the Peninsula

From Country Life, 9:34 pm on 5 July 2019

Jessica Cooke was a personal trainer in Christchurch before returning home to Banks Peninsula six years ago to take over her mother's floriculture business on the family's steep seven-hectare property at Barry's Bay.

Proteas are Jessica's main focus and she grows several varieties at four different locations on the Peninsula.

The protea is from the oldest families of flowers on earth, dating back 300 million years. The flowers are picked during winter and are sold to florists and at farmers' markets around Canterbury.

"It started off as a way to make money and now I'm reading books and trying to learn as much as I can and looking into new ways of doing things," she says.

One of those 'new things' is not using sprays and chemicals to kill weeds and insects on the plants.

"A friend of mine is into regenerative farming and I've been using him as much as I can to look at what bugs can I introduce that are going to eat my pests."

Jessica is in her first year of being fully spray-free and so far the trial is going well.

Developing a commercially successful growing business hasn't been plain sailing, though.

For the first couple of years, the 32-year-old was a struggling solo operator – planting, propagating, picking, selling and living in a caravan for much of the time. It took a toll on her health.

"When I first started I didn't look after myself and ended up in hospital with exhaustion."

Since then Jessica has learnt how to look out for her mental and physical wellbeing. She has also employed staff to share the workload and is not afraid to ask for help.

Now two people help Jessica manage the proteas and another assists with sales and running Peninsula Flowers stalls at several farmers' markets in Canterbury.

Jessica has plans to buy the farmland at Barry's Bay off her mother and open the protea nursery to the public.