There’s a big difference between active service and tending flowers along the South Coast, but for former military careerists Charles and Lee Reynolds, the change was blooming obvious.
The couple had clocked up 20 years in the army, but when they first saw their Albany flower farm, they were wearing what they described as ‘rose-tinted glasses’.
What could be a better sea change than 4.2 hectares by the ocean, stocked with exotic flowers and cherry trees?
Charles was a professional cellist in the WA Symphony Orchestra before he signed up with the army and became an artillery officer.
He was an aide-de-camp to Major-General Michael Jeffery, director of public affairs for the army and organised concert tours for troops serving from Baghdad to Palm Island.
Lee worked at the Royal Military College as an instructor, before becoming the college’s senior instructor.
The couple weren’t entirely sure how to spell lilium, they’d never really intended on becoming commercial flower growers, but Lee and Charles were determined to find a better work-life balance for their young family.
“We were in consultancy contracting groove in Canberra and we’d drop the kids off to child care before school at 6.30am or 7am and pick them up 6pm that night. We never saw them and we thought this is not what life is about, ” Charles said.
So, in 2004, the family took over Albany’s Florescence Quality Cut Flowers.
“We arrived in January and we hadn’t seen the place since September the year before and we thought, ‘What have we done?’ It was rundown and it wasn’t producing, ” Lee said.
The first crop of liliums made it to the wholesaler in April and, at that stage, Lee and Charles were sending out 60 to 100 bunches of flowers each week.
Today, that figure has grown to around 1500 bunches a week and the flower operation runs with almost military precision.
New soil has been brought in to tackle the original sandy, acidic soil and heated water is sent through watering pipes to allow the flowers to grow through Albany’s cold winters.
At any one time, the farm boasts between 80,000 and 100,000 plants and a team of loyal staff hand plant about 500,000 bulbs every year.
Not content to rest on their laurels, Charles and Lee have expanded the business to include calla lilies and an online bulb selling business.
This Christmas, the first of their brandied cherries, from the farm’s 500-tree cherry orchard, will hit the shelves.
The property came with some of the trees and keen on a challenge, Charles and Lee decided to continue the previous owner’s plans for a 500-tree orchard.
This season will be the firstly commercially viable harvest, but Charles admitted he had already developed a taste for their sample brandied cherries.
They still work hard, with early starts and the occasional seven-day working week, but Lee said they have not looked back.
“We’re happy. All the trials and tribulations we’ve gone through, to get to the stage where it’s looking like this — it’s great, ” she said.
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