Meet the family behind Hayling Island's sunflower farm

Pictured is, from left: Sam Wilson, 33, with his stepson George Kennard, 6, sister and co-manager Nette Petley, 32, niece Tilly Petley, 8, stepdaughter Isabel Kennard, 9, nephew Max Petley, 3, and wife Annabel Wilson, 36. Picture: Sarah Standing.
Pictured is, from left: Sam Wilson, 33, with his stepson George Kennard, 6, sister and co-manager Nette Petley, 32, niece Tilly Petley, 8, stepdaughter Isabel Kennard, 9, nephew Max Petley, 3, and wife Annabel Wilson, 36. Picture: Sarah Standing.
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There is something about sunflowers that seems to bring out the best in people.  Perhaps it’s their radiant colour, how they are a reminder of British summertime or maybe it’s the way they worship the sun. 

And for thousands of people who have flocked to Hayling Island this summer, their day has been significantly brightened by Sam’s Sunflowers – the pick-your-own flower farm. 

An aerial view of Sam's Sunflowers in Hayling Island. Picture: Daryl Cornelius.

An aerial view of Sam's Sunflowers in Hayling Island. Picture: Daryl Cornelius.

Farmer Sam Wilson first sowed sunflowers six years ago on Stoke Fruit Farm, Hayling, for bird seed to sell in his family-run farm shop.

But now Sam, his wife Annabel, his sister Nette, his step-children, nieces, nephews, cousins and various other relatives and friends have transformed several acres of the island into a blooming business. 

Sam, 33, says: ‘We used to grow sunflowers for combining with the bird seed. Then we started cutting them for our Stoke Fruit Farm Shop. 

‘But it’s not really commercially viable to sell them.’ 

Sam Wilson, 33, with his wife Annabel, 36, and her children George Kennard, six, and Isabel Kennard, nine. Picture: Sarah Standing.

Sam Wilson, 33, with his wife Annabel, 36, and her children George Kennard, six, and Isabel Kennard, nine. Picture: Sarah Standing.

The turning point came last year when Sam grew sunflowers for his wedding to Annabel. 

‘I grew them for my wedding by St Peter’s Church but they didn’t bloom in time. 

‘We went away on our honeymoon and when we came back, they had bloomed,’ he explains. 

‘My sister Nette suggested we put an honesty box outside for people to come and pick their own flowers. 

Nette Petley, 32, co-manager of Sam's Sunflowers, with her children Tilly Petley, eight, and Max Petley, three. Picture: Sarah Standing (050819-2595)

Nette Petley, 32, co-manager of Sam's Sunflowers, with her children Tilly Petley, eight, and Max Petley, three. Picture: Sarah Standing (050819-2595)

‘I thought no one would want to come. But it suddenly got on social media and loads of people came to pick their own sunflowers.’ 

For generations, the Wilson family has run Stoke Fruit Farm.

Although Sam spends a lot of his time at the sunflower fields, he also tends to his daily farming duties – and this is where his family step in. 

‘Me and my sister manage the farm. We’re always looking to diversify,’ smiles Sam. 

‘I split my time between running this and we’re also combine harvesting at the moment.’ 

Nearly everyday, Sam's wife Annabel is up at the field serving refreshments and ice cream from Sam’s cousin at Northney Farm, while his sister Nette welcomes people through the gate.

Sam’s step-children Isabel and George, as well as Nette’s children Tilly and Max, help their parents and visitors find the best sunflowers. 

‘Since the sunflowers bloomed, we have worked here everyday,' explains Annabel, 36. 

‘We’re working from 9am-9pm but then juggle the kids between us. 

‘It’s going amazingly well. The word of Facebook has really helped. 

‘It’s lovely seeing all the visitors come in and be so happy. Everyone is smiling and there isn’t a single grumpy person.

‘It brings a different aspect that we’re completely family run. All the kids have got involved with the car parking or helping people with their flowers. 

‘It’s all like a big team and lots of our friends have helped out too.' 

With more than 8,000 likes on Facebook, the family has been astounded by the number of people who have visited the farm. 

Throughout the summer, they have also been booked by a number of photographers. 

Sam says: ‘We get a lot of photographers come along and take pictures but don’t want to take the flowers home with them. 

‘But because we’re a pick-your-own farm, if you don’t want to take them home we will donate them to people who like them. 

‘We have taken them to rest homes across the island and Bedhampton – they love them. 

‘We have also had Havant Day Services and disability groups come along and enjoy the flowers.’ 

The farm is also making a difference to local communities too. 

‘If people don’t bring their own secateurs, they can borrow ours. We ask for a small donation which goes to different local charities and groups we’re involved in. 

‘Everyday or every other day we change the charity.

‘We raised £384 for Havant Rugby Football Club because they need a new kit for the girls’ team. 

For this Hayling family, this unprecedented successful summer has been one filled with smiles and sunflowers. 

‘It’s just massive the amount of people who are coming,’ says Sam, watching flocks of more people come through the gate. 

His step-daughter Isabel Kennard, nine, says: ‘I have picked so many sunflowers I can’t even count. It’s lovely seeing everyone’s smiles on their faces and being happy.’