Posts Tagged “flower farm”
We couldn’t be more thrilled with all of the rich educational resources that are becoming such an important focus within the flower industry. From in-person workshops to online tutorials, there are so many different ways for florists to continue learning & growing, and Erin Benzakein’s new book, Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden, is a welcome addition to this growing collection of educational tools.
Lucky for us, Erin was able to take a little time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions about her book, and we wouldn’t be surprised if you hightailed it out the door to your nearest Barnes & Noble to pick one up after you finish reading! Enjoy!
Above photo by Michele M. Waite
So let’s go back to the very beginning. With everything already going on in the Floret world – growing & selling flowers, educational workshops, and selling seeds just to name a few – adding a book to the mix seems a little bit crazy! What made you want to write a book in the first place?
I have a habit of taking on multiple massive projects at the same time; and you are right, it can be a little crazy! In this case, I have the book to thank, and to blame, for Floret Seeds. For years, I had dreamed of writing a book and having my own line of seeds, but the latter was always something I envisioned for sometime much further down the road. Well, that timeline got bumped up when I realized that many of my favorite cut flowers, the very ones I was writing about in the book, are not widely available unless you’re willing to wade through obscure catalogs without photos organized by scientific names, or spend a lot of money buying seeds in bulk. Most gardeners, florists and small scale growers only need 50 to 100 seeds of a particular variety, not 1,000! My editors at Chronicle Books emphasized the importance of making the book accessible and approachable to home gardeners, so rather than substitute some of the flowers I featured, I decided to source the seeds myself. It was then that Floret Seeds was born!
You’ve mentioned that you wish this book existed when you first began growing flowers – what do you hope readers will gain from it? Is it geared more towards the everyday gardener, or those wishing to start their own flower farm?
It is definitely geared towards the home gardener and floral designers wanting to start their own cut flower garden to supplement their design work. I wanted to show flower lovers that they don’t need massive estates or expansive farm fields to grow great flowers. Even in the smallest spaces, you can create cutting gardens that are both pretty and super productive.
Some of my most popular posts online are ones that feature big buckets overflowing with freshly-cut flowers. But harvesting these big, beautiful blooms is just one small part of the longer process of growing great cut flowers. The book fills in all of those blanks by taking readers through the entire progression starting with planning your space and prepping the soil all the way through post-harvest care and providing design ideas for what you can do with your floral abundance.
Whether you plant flowers in honor or in memory of a loved one, to provide food for bees or other pollinators, for a business or exclusively for your own personal pleasure, flowers are a beautiful balm for the soul. There are so many reasons to grow, share and enjoy seasonal flowers. My hope is that my book will help others discover this joy and grow the garden of their dreams.
Photo by Joy Prouty
I’m sure throughout the writing process, there were so many little things you wanted to cover. What was the most challenging part about writing this book, and editing it down to the essentials?
It is so true. There was much, much more I wanted to include in the book, but simply could not because of space constraints. Even after successfully lobbying to have the number of pages increased, I still struggled. For example, it was hard to pick just four peony varieties to feature in the book, when I really wanted to feature 14! I also wanted to go into even more detail about how to grow certain types of flowers, but had to narrow the focus on some of the easier to grow varieties that appeal to a broader audience.
How about the most rewarding part?
The most rewarding part was finally holding the finished book in my hands. I’m not going to lie, the book was a lot of work and challenged me in so many ways. After working on it for so long, finally seeing the finished book felt a little unreal! Reading the heartfelt notes and sweet reviews from folks who have been inspired to grow more or new flowers because of the book makes it all totally worth it.
Being from the Pacific Northwest, our seasons are very different from other regions – hello, rain! Will the seasonal format of the book speak to gardeners in varying climates?
Absolutely. I worked with my phenomenal editor, Julie Chai, to make the book as universally applicable as possible. Instead of referencing specific months or days of the year, for example, I discuss planting and harvest dates in relation to the number of weeks until your first or last frost. Plus, all the measurements include metric system references. This took a little extra work, but it was important to make it accessible, regardless of the growing zone, continent or even what hemisphere your garden is located.
One benefit to growing flowers is that you have an abundance of gorgeous blooms at your fingertips to play with! You are a great example of someone who has taken advantage of that and become a sought-after floral designer on top of growing. Tell us a little bit about the floral arranging aspect of the book.
For each of the four seasons, I include a few floral design projects. I loved being able to showcase the beauty of seasonal flowers by creating simple, elegant designs. Each project includes detailed instructions and photos illustrating each step in the design process. Several of the projects incorporate nontraditional foliage you may have in your landscape that I love tucking into your into designs for added texture and interest.
Photo by Joy Prouty
Lastly, if you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice when you were first starting out, what would that be?
In regards to writing, my advice would be: be patient. Just as it takes a lot of time, patience and a lot of love to take a tiny seed and nurture it into a fully grown flower in bloom, so too does it take time to take an idea for a book and nurture it into an actual book. In terms of gardening and flower farming, I’d remind myself about the phrase don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Thanks again for sitting down with us, Erin, and for sharing your invaluable knowledge with our community. For more gardening how-to’s and information, be sure to check out the Floret blog – it’s a treasure trove of growing tips & tricks!
So you may be thinking, we’re still talking about her trip to Colombia? To which I would respond, hello… Thanksgiving! I assumed most of you would be gorging on turkey, stuffing and football last week, and not necessarily paying attention to my awe-inspiring blogging skills. But now that we’re all back to reality, I thought I’d hit you with one more, and it’s a good one. Garden roses are one of my favorite flowers, especially those of the David Austin variety. While in Colombia, I was lucky enough to be included on one of Alexandra Farm’s tours, followed by a delicious brunch, followed by a bumpy bus ride back to Bogotá. But I won’t go into that bus ride, we’ll focus on the garden flowers here, but I might stick in a picture or two of the food, just to remind you of all the delicious food you got to eat last week. Here goes…
Alexandra Farms is located about an hour and a half outside of Bogotá, though locals would probably tell you it’s a half hour. But don’t believe them. Always assume your “twenty minute drive” is going to take at least an hour, traffic in Bogotá is crazy! But I digress. Alexandra Farms is home to a wide variety of garden flowers, currently offering thirty varieties from a handful of breeders and twelve David Austin varieties (swoon). Sidenote: They are one of the select few farms chosen by David Austin to help test and grow the varieties he has selected for the cut flower industry, while keeping the integrity and fragrance of Old Garden roses. Pretty awesome. Anyway, so how did they come up with these forty-two varieties, you ask? By testing the breeds, that’s how.
The process of testing different varieties is a very slow process, taking up to three years to achieve the first commercial launch of a new variety. Once they have selected their favorites, they move into the production phase. Each flower is different, so the farm has to adapt to each variety, and create technological innovations to commercially cultivate them. Something I found interesting was how they split up the work. They specialize workers by variety, giving each worker responsibility over a particular set of beds. Each worker knows the ins and outs of their variety, and works hard to grow the highest quality flowers possible. The final step of production is postharvest. Once they have been cut, they are put in hydration buckets until it is their turn to go through classification. Their foliage is removed and they are then sorted into categories based on length and cut point. Garden roses are more delicate than all other roses, so they must be handled very carefully during this process, as well as packing, storing, and shipping.
Our tour was pretty spectacular, and smelled damn good too! We started with a tour of the variety testing areas, then saw production, and finished with the postharvest and classification processes. Here are some pictures of the tour:
Thanks again to Alexandra Farms for a great tour, and a special shout out to Maria for being a fabulous tour guide and dinner host the night we arrived in Bogotá! I hope you have enjoyed following my first big trip in the business, and hope to have more to share with you in the future!
Oh good, you’re back! If you’re reading this, it must mean my attempt at recapping our visit to Liberty Blooms didn’t scare you off. But don’t worry too much, this summary is more pictures than anything so things should run smoothly. Pictures I can do.
Over the course of our trip, primarily in the Medellín area, we visited a number of other farms to learn how they operate, and see some of the flowers we get from them in their early stages, from the ground, to harvest, to the grading and then finally packing.
Stop One: Altagracía
Altagracía is one of the largest Calla growers in Colombia, covering almost 24 acres of production. They grow over fourteen varieties of callas in nine different colors, as well as some colored hydrangea and dusty miller. Not only did we have a great tour of their farm (other than what they swear was their first farm tour in the pouring rain – I must have brought it with me from Seattle, oops!) the girls we work with are so friendly, and we ended up having a fabulous dinner with them and the owner’s family when we made it to Bogotá, filled with delicious food, even better wine, and more than enough laughter. Check out some photos from their farm below!
Stop Two: Valley Springs
Valley Spring’s farm is nestled in hills of Antioquia, in a town called La Ceja. They grow beautiful white hydrangea, and I have to be honest, I had no clue they could position these fields on such a steep grade! It was, once again, raining, so we weren’t able to walk the entire farm due the mud and steepness, but it was such an unique and picturesque setting that I really enjoyed getting to see a farm set up like that. At Valley Springs we also spent time inside checking out the different processes they take the hydrangea through, like the grading system. Pat even took a shot at grading – how do you think he did?
Stop Three: Gutimilko
Before our flight out to Bogotà, Andres and Pablo picked us up for our final farm visit in Medellín. La Guadalupana Farm, the main supplier for Gutimilko, is located in La Unión, on a sprawling property. They grow hydrangea, callas and a small selection of other varieties, and also have a cattle business producing milk. Shockingly, we don’t get much milk from them, but we do buy lots of hydrangea! Andres and Pablo are brothers who have grown this farm into what it is today, and we had the privilege of visiting their country home at the start of the visit, which is located on the farm. I was promised a horse back ride next time I visit… Andres, if you’re reading this, I hope you know I was serious about that!
Stop Four: Aposentos
I unfortunately did not make it out to the Aposentos farm, but Pam braved the Bogotá traffic to visit one of our carnation farms. She had a great time and snapped some shots to share with you guys!
One of the coolest things about going to these farms before attending Proflora in Bogotá was that we were able to catch up with many of them at the show, as well as dance the night away at the big fiesta at the very end. Not only did I get to see the beautiful Colombian countryside and learn so much about the farm processes on these visits, but I also feel like we formed some great relationships that will continue to grow, and I’ll always have my Colombian family to visit when I inevitably return to their beautiful country.
Stay tuned for a couple more posts wrapping up the rest of our trip!
A couple of weeks ago, I had the unique opportunity to join my dad and Aunt Pam on a trip down south to Colombia. My dad has always wanted to take me on one of these trips, but that little thing called life always seemed to get in the way. However, now that I’m officially a part of the family biz, my schedule allowed for it and it was the perfect chance for me to finally tag along. And I had a purpose! I was put to work documenting, Instagramming, and blogging about our trip. Done and done.
The first half of our trip was spent in Medellín, or more specifically, a little town outside of the city called Rionegro. We were hosted by Juan Cock Londoño and his lovely wife Luz Elena at their 250-year-old country house on their farm, Liberty Blooms. We arrived on a Saturday in Rionegro, and spent the evening with their wonderful family eating a traditional Colombian meal on their patio. A little background: in Colombia it is very common for families to live in the city during the week, but spend weekends at their country homes outside of the city. Family gatherings are very important to them and the entire clan does their best to make it out every weekend to spend time together – it may sound crazy but it is actually a very lovely tradition that I wish was more common in the States! Juan and his family were so very welcoming, and we felt right at home. We spent the next day as tourists, visiting historic places like El Peñon in Guatapé, having lunch at a beautiful restaurant on the water in Penol, and taking a boat ride where we just happened to pass one of Pablo Escobar’s bombed out homes (any Narcos fans out there?) It was a nice and relaxing day, but that might be because we just looked at the rock rather than climbed the 600+ stairs… maybe next time?
(^^^ Pssst… that last photo is one of Escobar’s bombed houses!)
The next day was where the real “work” began, and I got a taste of what these trips are all about. Santiago, Juan’s son and the brains behind Liberty Blooms, took us on an elaborate and information packed tour of their two farms. Now, I’m pretty new to this business, and was later told that I learned more from Santiago in one day than I probably will in the next year. He truly is a flower guru, and his passion for growing shone through as he talked animatedly about everything from new pom pon varieties to his water treatment system. It would actually probably be a pretty amusing scene if you were watching from the outside: me hurriedly following behind him scribbling notes, snapping pictures and trying to soak in all his information, and at one point even being asked to do calculations in my head (note: math is not my strong suit). Now, I won’t bore you with all the gory details, but I thought I’d share a few interesting tidbits.
Liberty Blooms is split up into two farms, one on the property where we were staying, and one about ten minutes away. The first farm is four hectares (or about 9.8 acres), and in my opinion, is where the magic happens. All the trials take place at this farm, which is what I personally found most interesting. The trial process is complex and time consuming, and also where all those calculations came into play. Forgive me while I do my best to explain this process – things might get ugly. It all starts out with a seed (am I on the right track here, Santiago?) Once the plants have been germinated, two cuttings are taken from each plant. Cool fact: at that moment, only two individuals of that variety exist in the world, from those two cuttings. They are brand new and nobody has a clue exactly what they’ll look like. Pretty sweet. Those two cuttings are then planted, and once they have matured and begun to flower, the selection process begins. They select their favorites, and from there try to get stock from the selected variations. To give you a quick breakdown of the numbers and perspective on how crazy this process is, they start with 150,000 seeds, and after a few elimination rounds, only five to ten varieties make the cut. Let that sink in for a minute – that’s a LOT of work and a LOT of varieties to inspect just to get down to five or ten good ones! Once they’ve selected the chosen few, a whole new process begins to get these little babies into production. They are taken to the lab to be cloned, planted, and overtime they begin to grow. There is obviously more to the process, but I’m not going to lie, I was writing a mile a minute and I’ve had some trouble deciphering my own notes. Just trust me on this one: it’s intense, and involves math. A lot of math. Put simply, the goal of this farm is to produce cuttings that will then be transferred to the other farm where the mass growing and production begins. Oh, and another cool little tidbit: everything is picked by hand on the farm, and they average 16,000 cuttings per day PER WORKER. Mind blown.
We then visited farm number two, which is about eleven hectares of production (roughly 27 acres). Here we saw the next and final steps in their process, from growing those special selected varieties, to harvesting, to packaging them up nice and pretty to ship up to us! While it was a LOT of information to ingest at once, it was so cool for me to see everything firsthand and learn exactly how new plants come into production and make their way from South America into our hands. I mean, obviously I knew they don’t just appear out of thin air, but the whole process is not something you think about everyday, and learning from one of the best in the business was a pretty unique first experience.
The rest of our time in Rionegro was spent visiting other farms (which you can read about in another post, coming soon!) and while we didn’t get to spend much time in Medellín during the day, we did enjoy a lovely dinner in the city at a Peruvian restaurant, which also happened to be the home Juan grew up in before Medellín became a developed city. With the original Italian tiles on the floor and ceiling, it was a beautiful restaurant, and such a joy listening to Juan reminisce about his childhood and describe the restaurant in its original state. There is so much beauty and history in this city that I can’t wait to come back and experience it again, hopefully with more time to explore the city. And one last time, a HUGE thanks to our wonderful hosts for such a great kick off to our trip!
Long time no see! Well, I didn’t actually go anywhere, I’ve still been blogging and Instagramming and doing marketing-y things. What I mean to say is, #AliTheFlorist is back! You may or may not remember, but at the start of 2015 we started a little story on my journey into the world of flowers. A quick recap: I grew up in the flower biz, but decided to pursue my love of interior design and studied Interior Architecture in college. Fast forward a few years, and I’ve found myself in the family flower business with a desire to learn the ins and outs and possibly/hopefully find out how to transfer my interior design skills over to flower design. With 2015 coming to a close end (when did that happen?), and looking back on how far I’ve made it on this journey, the answer is… not far. But I keep reminding myself that sometimes journeys take awhile. Life happens, work gets crazy, and other opportunities show up on your doorstep. So while it may be a slower process than I imagined, I’m still truckin’ along and figuring it all out.
Anyways, back to the main point of this blog – FLORET. A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a farmer-florist workshop at Floret with Erin Benzakein, up in Washington’s Skagit Valley. Since I live in Seattle, it was just a short little jaunt out of the city and into the countryside. I’ve been to Erin’s farm once before (read about trip no. 1 here), but this time I was going for myself and to connect with other women from across the country – even world! – and to share an experience we’ll never forget. We spent part of the weekend on Erin’s farm, learning all about her farm equipment, growing practices and team. Even though I have zero growing experience, it was so cool to get the full spectrum of the flower industry from the ground up, literally. Hearing about it through others is helpful, but actually seeing it with my own eyes, and getting to try out the equipment, plant seeds, harvest dahlias and more, really made me appreciate all that goes into it from the start.
When we weren’t at the Floret farm, the rest of the time was spent on Nina Foster’s family farm, specifically inside a beautiful barn that her husband spent twenty years restoring. Here we had discussions about business, weddings, and farm life, as well as heard from Erin and her awesome team about their experiences in this business (shout out to Mandy, Sue, Stephanie and Erika!). Sue from Passionflower was one of the ladies on Team Floret for the weekend, and she held a little instructional workshop on living jewelry. So cool! (And awesome to meet her, she’s a special lady). And finally, on the last day, my *favorite* day, we were able to get our hands on the flowers and let our creative juices flow. I told myself that morning that if I didn’t enjoy myself that day, then flower design might not be for me. I mean, using gorgeous flowers in a fairytale barn surrounded by inspiring women from all over the country? Yeah, if this wasn’t fun, I was on the wrong path. Luckily, that was not the case, as I had one of the most inspiring days I’ve had in awhile. It had been some time since I’d really gotten to make something with my hands and be creative in that sense; I love graphic design and using my computer, but it’s just… different. So after Erin gave us some short demos on centerpieces and hand-tied bouquets, we were set loose and allowed to create our own magic. There were no “rules,” just helpful advice and supportive words from the team. Oh, and did I mention the beautiful flowers and foliage GALORE? Well there was that too.
For the first time in a long time, I felt that, excuse the corny line, fire in my belly, and had a smile on my face the rest of the day. I was surprised that I actually loved what I created, and didn’t want to hide from photos and throw it in the garbage right after. Thank you to Erin and your wonderful team, and to all the women there who were so welcoming, friendly and inspiring. I came into that weekend nervous and feeling like the inexperienced outsider, but left with friends and a rekindled passion for flowers and design. If any of you are considering attending one of Erin’s’ workshops, my only piece of advice is this: do it.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit the lovely farm of Erin Benzakein (pictured above), Floret Flower Farm, in Washington’s Skagit Valley. Many of you have probably heard of Floret, and may even follow along with her blog and Instagram. If you’re not, take a quick break from reading this and go change that, you won’t regret it! A few years back, Erin and her family decided to leave the bustling city of Seattle, and do a complete lifestyle 180. They originally had no intention of entering the flower farming business, but, like many people in the flower business claim, it just sort of happened. And thank goodness it did!
They are now operating a beautiful little farm, producing gorgeous flowers with a focus on old fashioned and traditional varieties, and holding educational workshops for fellow flower farmers, designers, or just plain old fanatics. Erin was recently named one of Martha Stewarts Top 62 Floral Designers to Book for your Wedding, and is in the process of writing her first book. In other words, things are good!
Anyways, back to the farm visit. We headed out on a dreary, Seattle morning, driving about an hour north of the city. After passing through the charming little town of Mount Vernon, we pulled up to a quaint farmhouse, and were welcomed by a small flock of wandering chickens. As I got out of the car, I quickly realized that my choice of suede oxfords was not the brightest idea for visiting a flower farm, in February, in Washington, on a rainy day. See what I’m getting at? Mud. Lots of mud. But as Erin and her husband Chris came around the corner, I quickly forgot about my shoe predicament and turned my focus towards them. They were warm and welcoming, and for reasons unknown to me, apologized for the weather and lack of blooms at the moment. We’re the ones who chose to come out in February, so this was exactly what we expected! They showed us around the farm, a series of small green houses and a long row of hoop houses, which housed a variety of flowers, including ranunculus, tulips, hellebores, poppies and more. There were also more wandering chickens, which I had fun chasing down to get the perfect Instagram shot, of course. Regardless of the weather, or the time of year, it was so cool to see a high end, small-scale farm, run by a humble family doing what they love and making this down-to-earth, simple lifestyle their reality. Growing up in Los Angeles, to now living in Seattle, I have always been intrigued by a slower lifestyle outside of the city. Less noise, less pollution, and more time to enjoy the little things life has to offer, and spend quality time with friends, family, and the land… It’s something I’ve always considered, and this short trip to Floret most definitely added a tally mark in the column for life outside the city.
Stay tuned for some potentially exciting news, having to do with me, Floret, and a pair of muddy rain boots. In the meantime, here are a couple more photos of some of the beautiful flowers coming out of this little Washington gem…
Starting last year, we brought in Japanese flowers and as you may know they were a pretty big hit! We are kicking off the start of the Japanese flower season by our purchasing department touring the flower farms. I’m totally jealous that I’m not there, but at least we can see a few pictures! The pictures below are what Pam, our Director of Purchasing, has sent me so far. Her new favorite? The variegated pink ranunculus called Charlotte!
The season is just starting, so quantities are limited.