On Summer, Ceramics, & The Dahlia King

We are in the thick of summer now. The fields at the farm have all been sown in cover crops of Sunn Hemp, Buckwheat, and Iron and Clay Peas. Last season’s crew has departed, leaving the barn feeling quiet and still. The pace is slower, more relaxed, allowing more time for reflecting and dreaming. There are no flowers in our fields now. Only seed orders being compiled, new varieties being researched, planting schedules being drafted.

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Having no flowers in our fields during the height of summer is part of the natural rhythm of our farming cycle. The land needs time to rest. We need time to rest. But during these months I do miss growing plants and watching them bloom. So much so I have found myself calling flower friends nearby and inviting myself to their fields for some flower therapy. Last week I called Jon at Cottage Gardens , Gainesville’s Dahlia King.  He’s been trailing over 300 varieties in his gardens over the past ten years and has some amazing flowers to show for it. Florida is not exactly the most hospitable climate for Dahlias. It can be done, but is most certainly a labor of love.

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It was a great joy to pair Jon’s flowers with locally crafted vessels that ceramic artist Bianca Williams made for us. It’s my goal to have these beauties filled with flowers from our farm available to order in our new online shop (stay tuned).

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This partnership between florist and ceramicist is one I’ve seen forming across the country and beyond lately. Check out Saipua and Pistil and Stamen among others. I’m so thankful for the slower pace of the summer months that allowed time for this dream to come to fruition.

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Little Pond Farm Field Trip

Wow! I let an entire season of flowery goodness come and go since I last wrote here. And it was perhaps our most flowery season to date. Last year we grew more flowers, booked more weddings, and distributed flowers to more locations than we ever have! I was too busy growing and harvesting to make time for writing. But a recent visit to an awesome farm has inspired me to share again.

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Last week we took our crew on a field trip to Little Pond Farm about an hour south of Gainesville in the small town of Bushnell. Little Pond was founded by Cole Turner in 2013 on a 26 acre parcel of land. It has grown to an impressive operation now co-managed by Ellen Trimarco and Willie Bonner. Together with their crew of apprentices, they make for an amazing team of farmers producing incredibly high quality organically grown fruits, veggies, herbs, and flowers.

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Ellen, who worked as a conservation biologist before becoming a farmer, was gracious to give us a tour of the farm during a busy harvest day. She showed us their impressive new high-tunnel greenhouse where they are growing beautiful, early tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. Her Masters in Conservation Biology has proven helpful in the management of pest and disease issues and informs her approach to managing them in the high-tunnel.

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Next stop was the flower field which was, of course, my personal favorite part of the tour. Ellen told us that Cole is the flower guru of the farm—and it shows. Alongside beautiful cherry caramel phlox, delphinium, larkspur, calendula, and scabiosa, they have a gorgeous crop of tulips coming in right now. I’ve only tried to grow tulips twice with very limited success.  It’s encouraging to see them being produced by fellow growers in our Florida climate. Ellen mentioned they are growing in Zone 9a; we’re 8b here in Gainesville.

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The other blooms that caught my eye were the poppies just starting to show their faces. I have never attempted to grow poppies here, but after seeing these I’m inspired to try next season!

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Flowers are harvested Friday morning and brought to the barn to be made into bouquets for Saturday Morning Market in St. Petersburg. The market is about an hour and a half south of the farm, and the crew begins their market day at 3:30 am to have enough time to travel and set up their stand. I had the pleasure of attending the market to see all of the farmers hard work on display. If you’re ever in the area I highly recommend checking it out. It’s incredible!

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I’m so thankful for the long distance farm friendship we’ve been able to cultivate with the Little Ponders. I constantly ask questions, share stories, ask advice, and generally check in with Ellen about how things are growing. There is a lack of cultural information regarding farming in Florida; having a network of small farmers to consult with is an invaluable resource. It’s clear Cole & Ellen are extremely dedicated to their craft and are pushing the boundaries of what is supposed to be possible in our area. It’s impressive to see what they’ve accomplished and it inspires me to be a better grower!

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Floret

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When I first started farming, a friend turned me on to the publication Growing For Market, a fantastic resource full of great advice for growers.  I was immediately drawn to to the flower articles written by Erin Benzakein of Floret in Washington State.  They were bursting with information about new varieties, wedding design work and growing tips–you name it. But most of all, they gushed beauty and conveyed an utter love for growing flowers.  Erin’s enthusiasm and passion for her work was contagious. The stunning photos of beautiful blooms she included in each article were breathtaking. What an amazing job!!! I pretty much wanted to be her when I grew up. For years, I read her column, gobbling up every bit of knowledge I could, experimenting and expanding the varieties in our own flower fields.
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A few years ago, Floret started offering workshops at their farm.  The thought of traveling to that mystical land seemed like an epic flowery pilgrimage too good to be true. It also seemed lavish and out of reach.  What right did I, an amateur flower geek from Gainesville, have to sit amongst flower goddesses?   But my husband said, “why not?!” He encouraged me to follow my dreams and make it happen. He convinced me. Plus, it was a great excuse for a delayed honeymoon!   So just like that, last September, we found ourselves on a plane to Washington.
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The workshop began in a beautifully restored barn on a historic homestead down the road from Floret in the Skagit Valley.  About 30 women from around the country gathered in a circle and awaited Erin’s arrival.  I was about to meet an epically inspirational figure in my life and was doing my best to play it cool. Erin arrived and introduced her team for the weekend, which was an all-star cast from the flower world including Mandy O’Shea of Moonflower Design in Georgia, Susan McLeary from Passion Flower, Erika Stephens of Junes Blooms, and Stephanie of Sassafrass Fork Farm in North Carolina.
From the very beginning Erin made it clear that she and her team were there to do everything they could to give us the tools necessary to make our flower business dreams a reality.
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On the second day, we caravanned to Floret.  We talked about nitty-gritty flower farming work, building soil health, efficient harvesting techniques, farm planning, variety selection, propagation, and season extension.   Hearing Erin talk about efficiency made my heart swoon.  I like to work FAST and love seeing systems that make sense.  She demonstrated how they fly through their grocery bouquet assembly line with a quickness–a woman after my own heart.
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In the afternoon, the whole group was turned loose in the fields to cut whatever our hearts desired for the design portion of the workshop.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?! Erin’s farm is only about 2 acres, but she packs a tremendous amount of blooms into that space!  We cut foxglove, feverfew, lisianthus, celosia, rudbeckia, ornamental grasses, and zinnias to name a few. It was interesting to see so many of the same varieties that we grow in Florida in bloom in the Pacific Northwest.  The belles of the ball were definitely the Dahlias. So. Many. Dahlias.  I could have stayed there snipping stems until the end of time.

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Everything we cut was trucked to the barn and added to the sea of flowers that had already been harvested.  It was a sight to behold.

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The third day was all about design.  Sue of Passion Flower taught us her technique for floral crowns and living corsages and then guided us through creating our own. She is such an incredibly talented designer and sweet and personable woman!  It was a real treat to see a master of her craft so effortlessly in action.

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I have so little experience with this type of design work. I felt like an ogre attempting such dainty, delicate, detail work, but somehow managed to somewhat successfully create a demi-crown.

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Next, Erin demonstrated her technique for  formal centerpiece design and a hand tied bridal bouquet. It was awesome to see how she selected her color palate, established the shape of the arrangement and incorporated each element seamlessly into the design.

IMG_1658After we watched Erin work her magic, we were set free in the sea of flowers to make our own creations.  It was a bit overwhelming to choose what to work with from such a bountiful selection.  As we worked, the team gave us suggestions, tips, and guidance.  I was so inspired by the generosity and support of everyone there.  It was amazing to be surrounded by so many badass successful women in my field.

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I left Floret feeling so pumped for our upcoming flower season! I learned so much, most of all that I still have so much to learn! Regardless, I and can’t wait to put it to use.  It was wonderful to realize that even the wildly successful Floret was born of humble beginnings. You have to start somewhere.
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Top Ten Fall-Sown Flowers For Spring Blooms

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It has been a long hot summer.  During the scorching humid months of July and August we take time to let ourselves, and our fields rest.  Covercrops of buckwheat, sorghum, cowpeas, and millet are broadcast across our fields to help suppress weeds, prevent erosion, and create biomass that will be turned back into the soil before we prepare our beds for fall planting.  There isn’t much going on in terms of production, but all of our planning is taking place for the upcoming season.  It’s hard to believe we’ll be sowing seeds for spring shortly! Right now I’m making sure I have all my seeds stocked to ensure we have an early flush of spring blooms.

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Here’s my list of must have fall-sown favorites:

Stock: This is one of my absolute favorites.  The clove-like scent of these little blooms is to die for.  They come in a lovely range of colors, including white, cream, apricot, pink, and purple.  We sow successive rounds every 2-3 weeks beginning in September and October. Transplants are spaced out about 2 inches apart, promoting nice long stems, and helping them out-compete weeds.  It’s one of our earliest flowers to bloom, and always brings a smile to my face.  Some of my favorite varieties are the Katz and the Cheerful series, both available from Gloeckner seeds.

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Snapdragons: What’s not to love about these cheerful, bright beauties?! The seeds are extremely tiny and require patience to sow, but are well worth the effort.  We start ours in 128 count flats, but I’m considering trying 288s this season. To extend the bloom window you can  select varieties from each of the flowering groups. Group 1 is the earliest and Group 4 is the latest.  We’ve had great success with the Animation (Group 2) series.  We harvest spikes when the bottom 3 to 4 blooms have opened and consistently get 7 to 10 days vase life.

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Ammi:  Ammi visagna, ‘Green Mist,’ and Ammi majus, ‘Casablanca,’ are early season bouquet staples for us. This season I fell in love with ‘Daucus Black Knight’, a purple flowering False Queen Anne’s Lace.  This phenomenal plant was a vigorous producer yielding 7-15 stems per plant.  I love the delicate lacy texture they add to mixed bouquets.

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Bupleurum: This was our first successful season with this knockout, and I wish I would have planted more!  The shimmery golden stems add so much volume and movement to bouquets. It is a phenomenal must-have filler.

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Statice: This classic is a workhorse in the garden.  We start our first plants in the greenhouse in September and October for beautiful long stemmed early spring blooms.  It comes in a range of colors and is great for fresh or dried arrangements.

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Nigella: Love-in-a-mist is a charming addition to early spring bouquets.  We direct seeded these for the first time this year with much greater success than we’ve had with our transplants in the past.  My favorite part about these jewels is the fantastic seed pod they produce once the petals have shattered. The variety pictured above was sources from Johnny’s seeds.  Next season I am going to try  some new varieties, including ‘Delft Blue’ and ‘African Bride’.

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Calendula: These guys were not a favorite of mine until this season.  In the past, varieties were tried flowered on short stems that were difficult to include in bouquet work.  This year we found an incredible variety from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds called ‘Orange King’ and they are fantastic!  These gems produced huge blooms on long stems and kept on giving. I highly recommend giving them a try.

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Agrostemma:  While not my favorite to harvest, Ocean Pearls Agrostemma was great to have blooming in early March for wedding design work.  They are simple, elegant, 1-2″ blooms on willowy-gray stems that really dance in bouquets!

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Bells of Ireland:  These majestic blooms add interest and a unique fragrance (they belong to the mint family!) to early spring bouquets.  We had great success with seed from Baker Creek this season.

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Larkspur: These are one of the easiest to grow early spring bloomers.  We direct sow them about every 3 weeks beginning in October for a steady stream of tall colorful spikes. We grow the Giant Imperial Series for standard tall spikes, but I’ve also enjoyed growing the Cloud Series from Gloeckner.   These produced delightful small blue or white single blooms on 40 inch stems, perfect for bouquet filler.  I put my seeds in the freezer for 2 weeks before sowing to increase germination.

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Even though spring may feel like a distant dream right now, timing your plantings early will reward you with a garden of bountiful blooms!

This Week on the Farm: Week 11

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I spent some time foraging for unique elements this week.  We had two small weddings booked for the weekend and I wanted to incorporate some extra special stems in the mix.  Walking the property I was able to gather some awesome foliage, a few springs of a pink spray rose, river oats, and blueberry branches with fruit to include in a bridal bouquet.  I love, love, love selecting special details for bridal work!  They give such a sense of connection to the season and place where the wedding took place.

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A post for this week would not be complete without recognition of my dear friend Amber who will be moving on, along with Ryan, her partner in crime,  to pursue other agricultural endeavors next week.  She started at Swallowtail 3 seasons ago when we were all just babies (ok we’re still babies) and has been a constant source of goodness, encouragement, understanding, and support throughout the seasons.  It’s strange to think of what the farm will be like without her presence.  Over the coming weeks as the season continues to wind down,  other apprentices from this season will be moving on as well.  It can be bitter sweet this time of year to say farewell to a group of people with whom such strong bonds have been built.  But, I know they are all bada$$ and are going to do amazing things!!!

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This Week {off} the Farm: Week 10 Angel Gardens

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I was enchanted the moment I stepped onto the homestead of Pam Greenewald. The air was rich with the scent of magnolias and gardenias and everywhere you looked there were stunning roses in bloom.  My friend Lane told me a few weeks ago that I absolutely must visit this place.  He was right.

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I first met Pam last year at a workshop we hosted on the farm.  I gave a small seminar on flowers and I remember she sat in the front row and shared lots of information with the group. I was so thrilled when she graciously invited us to her place for an afternoon stroll through the gardens.  Pam has been growing roses for 30 years and is a tremendous wealth of information.  I was astounded to learn that she propagates nearly 2,000 different types of roses on her property.  YAY! More cool things you can grown in Florida!!  You can check out all of the varieties here.

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It’s always amazing  to spend time with people who have been perfecting their craft for so long.  As we walked, Pam casually pulled her pruners from her belt and tended to plants by snipping dead growth off.   She showed us so many awesome plants, each one with a story.  A particular favorite of the group was a rose named Tipsy Imperial Concubine.

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I’m super stoked to try my hand at growing a few roses that Pam selected for me!  If I’m lucky I’ll get a few blooms to use in some special wedding work.  She even snipped a few cuttings from her Dahlia for me to try. Sweetness!  We also dug up a few coral vine plants for me to take home. I used to love this plant when my mom grew it in her garden.

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I left Pam’s place feeling inspired and like I need to step up my perennial plant collection.  So many plants, so little time!

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This Week on the Farm: Week 9

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This time of year can be challenging.  As the days grow hotter and we approach the end of our season, part of me is relieved to have a break to look forward to and part of me wants to keep going– to keep growing.

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The volume of blooms coming out of the field is decreasing and the overall workload is lessening.  I’ve been joking with Chelsea lately saying “What are we going to do with ourselves now that we won’t be making bouquets until 10:00 on Friday nights?!”

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I’m looking forward to planning and to dreaming this summer.  And to growing a bit too.  I can’t help myself!  We’ve sown a little of this and that for a small summer cutting garden.  We’ll see how it does.

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I’m also looking forward to visiting some farms locally and abroad this summer.  I just came across the website for Jubilee Flower Farm this week.  It’s located just outside of Tallahassee and looks super rad! Definitely need to check them out.

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We’re scheduled to visit a local rose farm later this week.  Can’t wait to share it with you!

This Week on The Farm: Week 8 Floral Design Workshop

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Yesterday, my good friend Robyn Moore of Small World Greenery and I teamed up to host a summer centerpiece design class at the farm.   Robyn does amazing design work for weddings and special events and often sources stems and greenery that we grow at the farm.  The two of us were stoked to greet a lovely group of women who are as enchanted by flowers as we are.

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Robyn started the class describing how she begins to design a centerpiece by building her overall shape with a variety of greenery to add texture and interest.  She created a darling centerpiece showing off lilies from the farm as well as some foraged spray roses, zinnias, nigella, privet and wild carrot.

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It was so interesting to see how everyone chose to approach their design differently depending on the vessel they chose  and which blooms spoke to them.  It was a privilege to be able to provide buckets full of blooms grown right on our farm for people to create beautiful arrangements with.

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It was a real change of pace for me to have a few hours to be able to focus on one design rather cranking out loads of bouquets for the farmer’s market.

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I can’t wait to host another workshop!  Robyn and I are already conspiring on different goodies we can create together.  Flower crowns, hand tied bouquets, boutonnières, what else?!  What would you like to learn to make?  I’d love to know!

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This Week on the Farm: Week 7 Mother’s Day Madness

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The week of Mother’s Day is our peak week for flowers.  All season long I’ve been planning and planting to have the highest volume of flowers blooming for all the mammas out there!  We sent buckets and buckets of bouquets to the Union Street Farmer’s Market  Wednesday.  I’m so glad we took a moment to snap a photo of  them with the crew.

The first of the marigolds began blooming in earnest this week.  These flowers take me back to my mom’s garden growing up.  She always had them planted around the edges of her tomato beds and I would stroll through them enjoying their distinct scent.  I  took the luxury of collecting some for petals this week and we had a blast scattering them.  There’s nothing quite like being showered with petals falling from the sky.

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Friday I prepared bouquets for the Haile Village Farmer’s Market Mother’s Day Event until midnight and still couldn’t finish all the arrangements!  I spent the first two hours of market making bouquets until every last stem was gone!

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This weekend I was so tickled to receive phone calls from California,  New York, and France from sons and daughters wanting to send their moms in Gainesville locally grown flowers!  This is a new service we are offering for the first time this season and it was a treat for me to be able to deliver a special little bouquet of love on their behalf.  Across the country, business like Farm Girl Flowers in San Francisco and Local Color Flowers in Baltimore are offering people a way to send beautiful locally grown flowers.  We’re tickled folks are interested in supporting this growing part of our local flower business right here in Gainesville.

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I am so thrilled to be teaming up with Robyn Moore of Small World Greenery to lead our first collaborative Summer Floral Design Workshop next Saturday May 16th at the farm!  This is sure to be an enchanted evening as we provide limitless buckets of stems and a unique vessel to create a stunning centerpiece to take home.  More details can be found here. Hope you can join us!

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