Rebecka Bjelfvenstam Keeling is not just a grower and a champion of local seasonal flowers; she is also an educator with a strong commitment to cultivating a greener tomorrow.
We hope you enjoy this free article from OrganicNZ. Join us with a print or digital membership and get the latest from us each issue.
In the picturesque landscape of Matakana, north of Auckland, Rebecka Bjelfvenstam Keeling has sown the seeds of a quiet floral revolution. The founder of pick-your-own flower farm, Slow Blooms, Rebecka was recently elected to the National Council of Soil & Health NZ.
Born in Stockholm, Sweden, Rebecka’s journey into sustainable flower options began when learning how the flowers traditionally used by florists or sold in supermarkets in the Western world, are often grown overseas in countries with poor wages and working conditions, using harsh sprays and unsustainable growing methods.
“I felt pretty bad for flying back to Sweden once a year to see my family,” she says, “so I couldn’t believe it when I realised we’re flying tons and tons of flowers across the world, packed in plastic sleeves – even though we can grow flowers year round here in New Zealand.”
Already a keen gardener of food for her family, Rebecka felt called to not only start growing seasonal flowers, but to also create a space to teach others about what flowers are in season and how anyone can grow and harvest them.
Slow Blooms proved popular right from the beginning.
“We have cultivated a space where people can slow down, and either just appreciate the beauty of local seasonal flowers, or participate through picking their own bouquet.”
It is an experience as much as a product.
It’s more than a traditional flower farm; it’s an immersive experience, as visitors are invited to pick their own blooms and connect with the land in a truly organic way.
This appreciation initially brought challenges which Rebecka turned into opportunities. Visitors’ appreciation, taking photographs, and desire to learn took up time, but didn’t add to the viability of the business.
“Like any gardeners, we do love talking about flowers and soil and showing off our garden, but we got to a point where we realised we actually needed to get work done.”
Having an organic garden open to the public all year takes, well, work.
So they now offer guided tours and workshops through Secret Gardens, and set up an honesty box for donations from those who are only coming to look or take photos without buying any flowers.
The Matakana community is a great place to be. In addition to selling direct from the farm, Rebecka also sells her flowers at the Matakana Village Farmers Market, which is proudly zero waste.
“I did my Permaculture Design Certificate with Trish Allen and Guenther Andraschko at Rainbow Valley Farm, which was an amazing experience,” Rebecka says. “Trish embodies the values of Matakana – the blend of community spirit and permaculture values.”
Every Friday morning, a group of Matakana locals meet up for Greenswap. “We exchange our excess homegrown or homemade produce, along with gardening tips and general catch-ups,” Rebecka says. “For someone like me, who originally learned to grow in the northern hemisphere, it’s been invaluable to get the local insight to what works here and not.”
At Slow Blooms, Rebecka is forgoing the artificial fertilisers, weed mats, and plastic netting that many growers use to create the perfect stems for maximum profit. Instead, she’s opting for organic inputs such as effective microorganisms (EM) along with using cardboard and organic matter as mulch to keep the weeds down. She’s also committed to bringing a range of different flowers of different heights to the market, from small posies to bigger bunches.
“Valentine’s Day is probably our busiest day, with a lot of loved-up couples in the rows,” Rebecka says. “We’re also hosting company Christmas parties, hen parties, and even a few DIY brides picking and arranging their own wedding flowers.
“Overall, we have been blown away by the overwhelming reception since we started. It probably also helps that we’re next door to Charlies Gelato, which has some of the best ice cream in the country,” she says.
Rebecka is looking forward to using her communications and PR background to support Soil & Health NZ with its important mission.
“It’s an exciting opportunity to be part of an organisation that shares my passion,” says Rebecka. “As a council member, I’m hoping to contribute to our advocacy work and fundraising, and also help us reach more potential members and supporters for our cause by strengthening our profile in social media as well as in traditional media.
“It’s not just about buying organic; it’s about fostering an understanding of the intricate relationship between ourselves and the land, which then guides us in making conscious choices that benefit both the environment and our own well-being.”