When Andrea McDowell’s wedding video business ground to a halt in lockdown, she was inspired by her own garden to start a dahlia business. Having just launched her website www.dahliabeach.co.uk, she talks to us about her very clear vision for the brand, her coping strategies (a cup of tea watching the sun come up), and how she sees herself in six month’s time – on Dahlia Beach farm, in a pink shipping container surrounded by a riot of colourful blooms.
Tell us about your work
“I’m a former TV Director from London who escaped to the Cotswold borders with my family in 2013 in search of a better life. I’ve always had a huge passion for gardening and my stone courtyard in Brixton wasn’t cutting it.
I then ran a successful wedding video company which I absolutely loved. Our awesome team of 6 produced nearly 300 weddings a year and I was able to work part time to fit around the family. Life was pretty sweet. Then Covid19 struck.
2020 was going to be our busiest year yet, but when the couples began postponing (understandably) and cancelling, we could no longer afford to pay the bills. We were forced to make the heartbreaking decision to close.
Overnight I went from running a busy, thriving business to having no purpose, no income and worst of all, no idea what the future held. I needed something that would nourish my mental wellbeing and give me something positive to focus on and it became dahlias.
I scoured the internet searching for the right combinations of dahlia colour and varieties and watched countless videos on YouTube on how to grow them. I found that the nurturing and caring for the dahlias gave me a renewed sense of purpose and a reason to be hopeful and excited about the future.
I watched in antcipation as they grew bigger and stronger and when they eventually flowered I was overwhelmed with joy; my garden and my home was overflowing with the most beautiful flowers I had ever seen.
Within 4 months I had created a border that was way more impressive than the one I’d spent 4 years growing in my back garden. It has also cost a fraction of the price, which got me thinking….
2020 had seen a huge surge in new gardeners; picking up a trowel for the first time to give gardening a go.
What if I could inspire and educate these newbies and give them everything they needed to grow a thriving cut flower for themselves? What if I could create a brand that was accessible and relatable, reducing the overwhelming choice to make gardening accessible, mindful and fun?
And so Dahlia Beach was born!”
Where do you physically work currently?
“Currently from my 11 year old daughter’s bedroom but next spring, I’ll be in a pink shipping container on an acre of land plotting my Dahlia Beach Farm; a destination where people can pick flowers, attend workshops, drink lots of tea/coffee and be surrounded by colour and joy. Maybe even a festival one day?”
What is the best thing about your work?
“It’s a new industry, a new challenge and an opportunity to channel all of the transferrable skills I’ve learnt in growing my wedding video business into a huge passion of mine; gardening.”
What is the worst?
“Nothing yet but ask me again when I’m sat in a freezing cold shipping container, in a barren muddy field with no heating.”
What has been the most pivotal point of your career so far?
“COVID-19. It has changed the path of my future forever and following the collapse of my wedding video business, it’s allowed me the time, the head space and the opportunity to create a new direction for me. I believe that this has been my calling.”
What is the best advice you’ve ever had?
“Success is 20% skill and 80% psychology. You don’t have to be the smartest, the most knowledgeable or the person with the most experience – you just have to be the one who 110% believes in what you’re trying to create and who doesn’t give up. That’s me!”
What’s your context outside of work?
“I have three kids, a dog, 2 rabbits, a cat and a husband who works away Monday to Friday.
Before Covid struck I was training for a half ironman and had a coach and an 8 hour a week programme. I injured my knee whilst skiing in February which meant I had to take time out of training and so I threw myself into gardening. Obsessively. I have an addictive personality.
I have always loved horses and with my first big dividend from my wedding business I went out and bought a horse without telling my husband. I just rode it home and put it in the garden one day.”
What was your ‘normal' day to day life like pre COVID?
“Pre-COVID I worked in an office and employed 5 people full time and managed a team of 6 sales agents who attended wedding shows on our behalf. It was a busy office and we produced nearly 300 weddings a year.
I always finished at 3pm and had Fridays off to make time for the family. It’s one of my core values and flexible working hours for mums is something I feel passionate about.”
What is your day-to day life like now?
“Well now I don’t have an office or a wedding video business. I work from home on my website and my social media and I’m now on a mission to find a farm that’ll lease me an acre to grow and sell my dahlias. Things couldn’t be more different.”
How has the Corona crisis impacted you personally and professionally?
“Professionally I have pivoted and I’m really enjoying the change. I love change and I thrive in new challenges and opportunities.
Personally I was heart broken at the time but I have done a fair bit of soul searching and trying to find the meaning in things and actually I am happier now than before. I have a much greater sense of gratitude and appreciation for the small things, I’m more confident because I have proven that I can be resilient and resourceful and I’m enjoying the gardening community I have found on Instagram.”
What are you now finding challenging right now?
“I don’t indulge negative thoughts very much, its not even so much a conscious thing, they just subconsciously don’t register. I miss my family and friends and having people round to the house but we’re living through a global pandemic which will be talked about for the rest of our lives and long after we’re gone. I’m determined to make it a positive memory and not a negative one for me and my family.”
What has got you through? What have been your coping strategies?
“Gosh. How long have you got? I’m lucky that I have a loving family and a husband who I find both fit and funny (two of the key ingredients I think for a successful marriage!) Finding new ways of killing time together has been fun (home schooling was a BIT challenging) but we didn’t put too much pressure on ourselves and chose to focus on the things they don’t teach at school – how to navigate a dingy through the rapids in the river at the end of our road, mountain biking up a big hill (VERY challenging for mummy with a fear of heights but a competitive streak which meant I did it eventually but cried in the process.)
Gardening has brought so much happiness to me personally this year – the mindfulness of sowing seeds, potting them on and planting them out and watching them bloom is pure joy. Literally its like drugs. Picking them and arranging them and filling your house with them – even more joyous. Also addictive.
Coping strategies – I have a few. Don’t listen to the news; it’s opinion and they rely on it being bad otherwise they are out of a job. Watch funny movies. Drink tea in the garden as the sun comes up (this is a daily ritual) Watch the bees and butterflies – a LOT! Swim in the lake, walk the dog, phone a friend, eat a brownie, go to bed early and savour the small things.
Daily gratitude is a big one for me.”
Do you feel that Lockdown has changed your outlook and if so how?
“DEFINITELY! It think it’s proven that we’re made of strong stuff. That we can make the best of any situation and perhaps we don’t need to fill our lives with as much outside influence as we first thought. Jonny and I gave up alcohol at the end of June – Jonny was a big drinker and it was getting worse and I stopped to support him. We’re BIG socialisers and our house was a great party house but giving up the booze has improved our relationship and whilst I still find it hard sometimes, I’m proud that I am dealing with the good and the bad emotions myself and not by suppressing it. I’m untamed!”
Personally how have you managed your mind and wellbeing throughout Lockdown? And of your family?
“I’m actually doing a Positive LIVE on Instagram every weekday during this lockdown and it’s been so interesting. I have always been aware of my mental health and the things I need to do to manage it (a bit like managing your weight or your fitness) I’m not happy all the time but when I feel myself spiral down, I know what to do to bring myself up and it’s different for everyone.
I’ve realised that I get a lot of joy from making other people smile and maybe inspiring them to try some ‘positive’ wellbeing exercises. Did you know that gratitude is one of the biggest contributors to happiness (I didn’t know that until I read The How of Happiness) and I find it all so interesting.
I’ve thought that maybe I’d like to do some coaching training because I like getting the best from people and seeing others thrive."
What are your thoughts on travel right now?
“Just booked flights to Portugal for Easter!”
What are your current handbag essentials?
“A pair of secateurs – I carry them around in a bright red Mulberry bag and a trip to Waitrose will inevitably result in a bag full of berried holly, eucalyptus and pine cones! I have this thing for wreaths what can I say?”
What gets you through Working from Home?
“A morning cuppa in the garden. We also bought the kids a couple of rabbits that look like baby koala bears so when I’m feeling a bit moochy, I’ll go and sit with them in the garden and they make me laugh.”
What is your work wardrobe like now from what it used to be?
“I must admit that I am definitely not as ‘on point’ as I was before COVID. I generally wear mum jeans, tucked in jumper and Converse every day but I DO have to make an effort for the daily week day Live videos so I generally slap on some pink or red lipstick and that makes me feel better!”
What are your current 5 essential items of clothing?
“Mum jeans, knitted jumper, Converse, wooly hat (for the garden) and a parka”
What is your vision for the future of your business?
“Oooh this is easy. I could see my vision as clear as day, from the moment I came up with the idea and that same week I found a photographer and drove 2 hours to my nearest dahlia farm and asked her to take a load of photos of me there.
This was now what I had to work towards. I printed them out and stuck them on the fridge, saved them as my screen saver and started to tell people that’s what I was doing. No idea how yet but I’ll work it out.
I launched the site 7 days ago and I’ve taken 49 orders already so I must be doing something right! Some days I take bigger steps than others but each day was a step closer and the small wins eventually add up.
Next summer I’ll have a dahlia farm where I’ll host workshops in gardening, flower picking and arranging and also sell my dahlia collections as plants (not just tubers) I’m going to create lots of ‘dahlia beaches’ where people can hang out, drink coffee, meet friends and pick flowers.
I’ll also have sold 500 boxes of my dahlia collections as tubers and taught my customers how to grow them all. Their feeds will be overflowing with gorgeous photos of the flowers they have grown and everyone will want a Dahlia Beach of their own!
Then In three years time I’ll have my own specialist dahlia nursery and I’ll also supply all my local florists, farm shops, cafes and wedding venues with my flowers.
I want it to be sustainable. I want to promote mental wellbeing and encourage community involvement through local colleges and charities. I want to make gardening and flowers accessible, relatable and fun. I’m convinced that you can grow yourself happy and I’m confident that I can show you how.”
www.dahliabeach.co.uk and follow Andrea on Instagram here
If you loved this inspiring article then you will love hearing about another incredible flower business, FLOWERBX and it’s founder Whitney Bromberg here