Desdemona Freeman is the founder of Petals of the Valley, which makes rosewater from her home in Monmouthshire
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; petalsofthevalley.co.uk.
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