Hello flower gardener, are you our next ornamental crop farmer?

Luther Burbank said, “Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul.” Plant the right flowers, however, and they could very well become a viable farming business too.

Jacky Goliath and her partner from the Western Cape planted their first 1 000 fynbos plants in a garden back in 2001. Today, they own a full-fledged farm, De Fynne Nursery, where they grow more than 500 000 ornamental plants a year. These are supplied to leading retailers, such as Woolworths, as well as wholesalers, research institutions, commercial farms, wine estates and landscapers. 

Directly translated, fynbos means fine bush. It is a type of evergreen vegetation or shrub that is unique to the southern and southwestern parts of South Africa, including the Eastern and Western Cape, where we have a Mediterranean-like climate. Fynbos plants include proteas (South Africa’s national flower), ericas and restios, as well as geophytes such as daisies, legumes and vygies.

Fynbos farming forms part of a small but essential part of the indigenous flower industry in what is referred to as the Cape Floral Kingdom of South Africa. This industry creates a wealth of direct jobs for people from the local communities; to such a degree that it is commonly said, “Find a fynbos farm, and you find a community.”

The industry has also managed to turn the demand for good quality cut flowers into both local and foreign currency. Whilst the local demand remains high, more than 90% of what is produced is exported to meet the overseas demand, which is still growing. During the 2020/2021 season for example, total protea exports was estimated at just over 7.1 million stems, up from just over 6 million stems the previous season.

Apart from their decorative value, fynbos plants are popular for other uses as well. The Khoisan were the first to discover their medicinal properties, and to this day, fynbos plants are used by traditional healers and in modern medicine. The sap of the Sour Fig, for example, is a natural antiseptic used to treat mouth and throat infections and wounds and burns.

The leaves of fynbos plants such as Rooibos, Dune Sage and Cape Mistletoe are also sought-after for medicinal properties and are generally used to treat chest-related issues such as coughs, colds, asthma and bronchitis. Then there is the distinct rose-scented Pelargonium, which is used by cosmetic companies as a skin softener and for its fragrance.

Another interesting fact about fynbos is that more than 1 700 of our fynbos species are actually critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable. Which means we desperately need more fynbos farmers! Should you be enticed to get into the business, it is very important to do proper research to determine where they will best grow and how to grow them.

According to Jackie from De Fynne Nursery, it is also crucial to form the right partnerships. “You need to know who to talk to and who to network with.” A good place to start may be to get your first seedlings or plants from another fynbos farmer, such as De Fynne Nursery of course, so you can minimise having to learn by trial and error.

For more info, or to talk to Jackie and her team, go to http://www.defynne.co.za/. Be sure to also follow @NicheFarmers on Facebook to connect with and learn from other niche farmers.