From flower girls scattering them down the aisle, to a swimming pool at a wedding reception being filled with the floating pops of colour, to a romantic marriage proposal, to a television set being adorned in rich red tones to depict a love story, Simply Rose Petals have been sprinkled in various scenes not just locally, but globally.
Situated on the banks of the Murray River at Swan Hill is a farm with a crop that’s certainly in full bloom.
It was in 2004 that Sarah Sammon became captivated in the romance of brides being showered in beautiful rose petals on their wedding day, and discovered a niche market in Australia, and together with her mum Jan Slater, who had been growing roses commercially for more than 20 years at the time, established Australia’s first rose petal farm. The company is now also the first of its kind in the world to produce freeze dried edible flowers.
When I speak to Sarah from the picturesque property located 10km north of the Swan Hill township, she has been busy pruning the 6000 rose bushes and taking orders for the upcoming spring/summer wedding season, and several of the edible flower range – dianthus, pansies and snap dragons – are in the midst of their production phase.
Sarah is particularly excited about this new business development and the growing supply of the edible range to bakeries, patisseries, restaurants, wedding caterers and cake decorators, and for use as garnishes and in exotic cocktail varieties.
“Our freeze dried petals can be stored for up to six months without refrigeration, where as a fresh edible flower has a shelf life of seven days,” Sarah explains, also adding that not only have the edible flowers been purchased in Australia in the first 12 months of operation, but exported to the United States, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.
Depending on the colour and variety, the freeze dried rose petals can last up to 12 months.
The scientific process in creating the rose petals is certainly a fascinating one too, and maintaining freshness is of utmost importance.
“It’s quite amazing, because we grow all of our roses, our products are super fresh going into the freeze driers which is what gives it that longer shelf life as well – we’re not buying in from elsewhere,” Sarah explains.
“With freeze drying, the rose petals don’t shrivel, they maintain their full size and colour so they look like fresh rose petals and dried under vacuum so their cell structure isn’t altered like dehydrated petals. Our rose petals are brought down to -30 degrees then brought up to room temperature while under vacuum. It’s that change in temperature under vacuum that allows us to draw the moisture out and keep the petals looking vibrant and fresh.”
Sarah believes the region’s hot, dry climatic conditions mean roses can be grown outdoors and produce flowers for eight months of the year without using heat or protected cropping practices, and there is suitable access to water from the nearby river.
“The climate is also very good for growing organically, there’s not so much susceptibility for these hardy plants to pests and diseases and we don’t use any chemicals, we grow completely organically, all of our fertilizer is certified organic as well.
“The harvest (over late spring through to early winter) is very manual. We pick every flower by hand and remove every petal by hand, and then sift through making sure there are no tears, spots or creases. It’s very labour intensive, but we have a beautiful product as a result. There is care taken when handling every petal because we are both perfectionists so we decided to go with a premium, unmarked quality, which is also in line with a product Mum and I would like to buy ourselves.”
Whilst Sarah reveals that growing roses was never a career path she envisaged, even though she recalls taking phone orders for roses from as young as five years old, it wasn’t until she had been working as a scientist for some years and travelled overseas, a return home and a foray into business with her mum, seemed like an ideal opportunity.
“People actually underestimate the technology and science involved in farming practices, especially freeze drying, and I love marketing and the outdoors… It was just perfect timing to start the business in the age of ecommerce as well,” Sarah says.
Since establishing Simply Rose Petals, Sarah has now been involved in various leadership programs, farming scholarships, has won women’s business awards, and the company has achieved 10 Australian Bridal Industry Awards in 10 years.
And if you watched Tim and Anna’s love story on the first series of The Bachelor, or Sam and Sasha’s romantic scenes on The Bachelorette, or tuned in to The X Factor, Big Brother or Dancing with the Stars, you may have spotted Simply Rose Petals showcased on our television screens.
“It’s always a nice surprise for us to see the rose petals used in this way. It was a great experience flying up to The X Factor semi-finals and seeing our rose petals in use, and I just realised it’s been exactly 12 months since we were at the filming of Dancing with the Stars,” Sarah tells me.
“I had underestimated exactly how big The Bachelor would be, and then I was in Melbourne on Collins Street, and I looked across the road and the rose petals were on a billboard at a tram stop, the next thing a tram went past and there was a sign with the rose petals as well, and then driving around the city, the advertising was everywhere. We’ve never chased it, but TV production crews like to know they’ve used a brand before and we always make sure we supply a consistent quality. Last week we sent out a couple of packets to be used as part of a TV commercial. You never know the companies using them, but they’re out there all the time.
“It’s been an exciting ride for us and definitely not something you expect from a country town but with technology and the potential for online business, anyone can grow a business today.”
With more than 100 varieties of roses and a crop of hydrangeas (giving pastel blue and green tones) grown at the property, it’s no surprise that the popular tones of petals change each year according to the different wedding trends, but Sarah admits she has her favourites.
“It’s really nice to have such diversity in our colours, but all of our pink ranges are pretty special to me. Our Antique Ivory and Red Passion colours are always popular, but it does change each year. Vintage pastels and burgundy seem to be emerging colours for the wedding seasons ahead.”
Words: Rosie O’Keeffe