Organic flower grower Rachel Siegfried recently spent her first day off for weeks at a specialist dahlia nursery where she chose no fewer than 80 new varieties for her cutting garden at Littlestoke, near Wallingford.

Cheering up misty early autumn days with their deep, rich colours, cactus and pompom-flowered dahlias are one of her passions. They have also proved a hit at Oxfordshire farmers’ markets, where customers have been queuing up to buy bespoke, seasonal bouquets from Miss Siegfried’s ethical flower company, Green and Gorgeous.

Miss Siegfried has been a gardener since the age of five, when her grandmother began teaching her, and it was inevitable that she would choose horticulture as her career.

In 2008, with 15 years’ professional experience under her belt, she decided to set up a company where she could concentrate on growing traditional English country garden flowers according to her personal philosophy of what constitutes good gardening.

This includes embracing organic methods; accepting the changing seasons instead of using heat and light to extend them artificially; and selling the flowers locally, to keep their carbon footprint to a minimum.

She set up the business with Jo Wise, an old school friend who is now an events organiser and florist. Miss Wise was unhappy about having to use so many air-freighted flowers to do arrangements for weddings and other special occasions, and keen to find a supplier of local, seasonal varieties, so a partnership with Miss Siegfried was mutually beneficial.

The two women describe going to the big wholesale flower markets as ‘a soulless experience’. Plastic-swaddled, chilled blooms — the vast majority imported — travel in boxes along conveyor belts as traders bid for them on behalf of supermarkets and florists.

Miss Siegfried said: “We’re such a nation of gardeners — it seems crazy to bring in flowers from Kenya and Ecuador. It just isn’t necessary.”

The wages and working conditions on these flower farms are often poor, and few are organic.

The flowers are rather soulless, too. Their scent is either bred out of them in favour of qualities such as stem length, or masked by the preservatives with which they are treated to lengthen their shelf-life.

When most people receive flowers, they automatically smell them. How disappointing to find those romantic red roses have no scent.

Miss Siegfried and Miss Wise encourage their customers to rediscover the pleasures of scent. They are growing highly-perfumed flowers such as spicy traditional English roses and peppery lupins, and mixing herbs into their bouquets. Rosemary is a great companion to tulips, for example, while apple-mint complements roses.

They are experimenting with unusual varieties that are not to be found at the average florist, including foxgloves and black Sweet Williams.

With ingenious successional planting to maximise the use of space, the garden’s season lasts from the anemones and ranunculus of March, right through to the last dahlias and zinnias sheltering in the polytunnel in November.

Miss Siegfried has been learning about how things grow in her new garden, including which plants thrive in the heavy clay soil and can cope with being in a frost pocket.

She fertilises the plants with ‘green waste’ compost bought from the council and nitrogen-rich home-made comfrey fertiliser.

A local alpaca farm may be a future source of manure. Mulching with heavy-duty matting and straw keeps weeding to a minimum, and chicks are allowed to scratch around the plants, eating slugs while also leaving manure. The women have been documenting the flowers of each season to produce a ‘flower calendar’ to show to potential customers next year, for example a bride-to-be who, in May, is choosing the flowers for her September wedding.

They have put considerable effort into developing their brand and producing publicity materials, including a leaflet with drawings done by an illustrator friend, and a website showcasing Miss Wise’s floral arrangements.

To date they have mainly been selling the flowers at local farmers’ markets, partly because these offer such good opportunities to interact with customers and do market research — this year sweet peas were their biggest seller.

Miss Siegfried always advises customers how to maximise the vase-life of their flowers.

“It’s so important that the flowers last. That’s what will bring people back,” she explained.

In future, they hope to sell more through organic shops, and further develop the events side of the business. Green weddings are a growth area, as more couples reject the conspicuous consumption and expense of many traditional weddings.

Running a seasonal enterprise presents some challenges. During the spring and summer months the pair have to work exceptionally hard; cash flow can be a problem in winter; and at each end of the growing season frost may threaten the crop. But they find it rewarding.

Miss Wise said: “We’re about embracing the seasons and celebrating what’s in the garden now; about putting the feel-good factor — and the soul — back into flowers.”