Des­de­mona Free­man is the founder of Petals of the Val­ley, which makes rose­wa­ter from her home in Mon­mouthshire

The Simple Things - - LIVING - Words: SIAN MEADES

The best ideas can come from any­where Petals of the Val­ley be­gan ac­ci­den­tally. I was chat­ting at the school gates to a woman who made her own skin­care prod­ucts. We dis­cussed how ex­pen­sive rose oil is and I de­cided to plant some roses on our farm to try to make it my­self. After much re­search, I dis­cov­ered we’d have to plant 17 acres of roses to make a de­cent amount of oil. How­ever, I was still in­spired by the idea. One thing led to an­other and we ended up distilling roses and mak­ing rose­wa­ter in­stead. Rose­wa­ter is best known as a cook­ing in­gre­di­ent, used for flavour­ing. It’s usu­ally a byprod­uct of mak­ing the oil, but we’ve made it a prod­uct in its own right.

Work­ing with na­ture means work­ing

un­usual hours We get up very early. You have to pick be­fore the sun rises and you have to do it the day the roses bud, so there’s no day off. It’s very sea­sonal. I love that. You pick like mad for about six weeks of the year and then it’s over. Once we’ve dis­tilled the rose­wa­ter in our tra­di­tional cop­per still, it needs time to ma­ture – which means I get a sum­mer hol­i­day. The mar­ket­ing is in­tense over Christ­mas and then it’s quiet for a cou­ple of months be­fore the whole process starts again in April.

The joy is in the va­ri­ety There are only two of us, so we need to wear sev­eral dif­fer­ent hats. We pack and dis­patch ev­ery­thing our­selves, which is some­thing we’re re­ally proud of. We take and process or­ders, and we speak to our cus­tomers. We also do all our own mar­ket­ing and so­cial me­dia. De­sign­ing and cre­at­ing a web­site was def­i­nitely a learn­ing curve, but our web­site is so im­por­tant. It has to carry our mes­sage. It has to inspire peo­ple to buy. Then there’s the prac­ti­cal stuff – muck spread­ing (roses love that) and main­tain­ing

plants. We go from the dirty out­doors to a clean, shiny in­door space to make sure our prod­uct is suit­able for con­sump­tion. Noth­ing feels like a grind, be­cause I’m not do­ing the same thing all the time.

A great prod­uct is the key We rely heav­ily on word of mouth. The big­gest in­flu­ence on sales is from our cus­tomers. Peo­ple buy our prod­ucts as presents for their friends and then their friends be­come cus­tomers and then their friends. It’s or­ganic and that’s a lovely thing to have in a busi­ness. Last year, Great Bri­tish Bake

Off win­ner Nadiya Hus­sain came to film us for her BBC se­ries Bri­tish Food Ad­ven­ture. It was a fan­tas­tic day and we had a huge num­ber of sales as a re­sult, but the big mo­ment for us came after. Those who or­dered are now buy­ing again and again. It’s that re­peat pur­chase that makes you know what you’ve got is re­ally worth­while.

Things are bet­ter in twos The big­gest sur­prise has been the joy of work­ing with an­other per­son. When you’re down, they’re up, and you have some­one to bounce ideas off. I ac­tu­ally poached Denise, my busi­ness part­ner, from my hus­band. She’s slightly bonkers and, after we got chat­ting, she sent me an email about three pages long with amaz­ing busi­ness ideas. I knew how great it would be to have that meld­ing of ideas. There’s fo­cused – then there’s fa­nat­i­cal The key to my busi­ness be­ing fun and in­ter­est­ing is keep­ing it bal­anced. Petals of the Val­ley was my burn­ing pri­or­ity when I started it four years ago. I don’t re­gret that, you need to do it early on, but I have more bal­ance now and that makes ev­ery­thing more en­joy­able. Once you’ve got it right, you have to stick with it. You lose the en­ergy if you don’t stay fo­cused. We learnt that sev­eral times. The best way to man­age it all is to di­vide ev­ery­thing into bite-sized pieces, so you don’t get over­whelmed. Don’t be afraid to cre­ate some­thing new Bio­di­ver­sity is re­ally im­por­tant to us and we’ve just launched room and pil­low mists, us­ing the laven­der, camel­lia and lemon balm that we grow along­side the roses to help en­cour­age wildlife and in­sects. We’re also pro­duc­ing a rose­wa­ter cook­book, which will give you recipes from break­fast right through to after-din­ner drinks. The Petals of the Val­ley open gar­den takes place on 16 and 17 June; petal­soft­he­val­

Des­de­mona (left) and her busi­ness part­ner, Denise, on one of their pick­ing days, which start be­fore the sun rises, and when the roses are in bud

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