Flower farming. Sounds like a dream job right? Who doesn’t love locally grown flowers? Frolicking in fields of flowers, harvesting armloads of gorgeous blooms, nighttime dreams filled with what will be growing next season. But what’s it really like?
I love working with local flower farmers as much as I can to get the absolute best quality for my brides and events. With the farm-to-table movement, we are lucky in the Pennsylvania and Delaware area to have a good supply of blooms to choose from. So, I asked one of my favorite flower farmers, Mara Tyler of The Farm at Oxford, to give us the nuts and bolts of what she does on her Chester County, PA farm. You might be surprised!
“I’m a 20-year veteran grower of blooms. Growing up in California where I spent 4/5 of my life, I got used to growing flowers on tiny plots of land, no more than 2,000 square feet of plants. That’s a plot about 100 feet by 20 feet. Seems like a lot, right? But it’s not really, when you consider that here at The Farm at Oxford, I grow in a field about six times that size (and have access to many more acres)! Back in California, I’d often squeeze plants into every available spot I could find and I’d get rid of grass, just in order to keep growing the flowers I loved.
When my husband and I moved to Pennsylvania, we didn’t expect to buy a farm. But we fell in love with our vintage brick house and the large fields. My husband turned to me and said, ‘You have to grow something!’ At the time, I’d been volunteering on a local flower farm in Philly (the talented Love ‘n Fresh Flowers urban farm), so, I said, ‘Yes! Let’s start a flower farm!’ And just like that, I was off and running.
Just like the local food movement, the local flower movement has been picking up steam the last few years. I was pleasantly surprised to see how many people here love the idea of fresh, locally grown flowers cut from the field.
Did you know that many grocery store or wholesale florist flowers are flown in from other countries? And that by the time they make it into your eager little hands, they’ve been off the plant for almost two weeks? And they’ve usually spent many of those hours out of water and cut dry in boxes as they traveled from country to country, receiver to wholesaler, wholesaler to customer. Is it any wonder that by the time they make it to you, they often last only a few days?
Locally grown flowers are often cut from their host plant and delivered to a designer or customer all in one morning. If you can’t buy local flowers, at least try to find American-Grown flowers that support our national economy versus another country’s. Check out our Why Buy Local article to become fully educated on why local flowers do it better.
As for the difference between gardening for pleasure and doing this for a living, you need to consider many more variables: What does your market want, what can your market afford, how large is your market, when does the market need what you supply? I’ve learned it’s helpful to use schedules and ‘days to bloom’ calendar markings to help figure out when I need to seed or buy trays of plugs, and I make commitments to give my designers flowers for their specific events on certain dates. One thing I have to always remember is that bulbs planted in the Fall can have a range of a few weeks’ time to start blooming—so those flowers might not work for one of my designers if they have a wedding just outside that window.
As a flower farmer, you learn tips, tricks, and cheats to try to maximize your time and skip around Mother Nature as best you can. If I need those tulips earlier, for example, I’ll erect a low caterpillar tunnel in January or February to help warm the space and buy myself a week or two of earlier blooms. Growing in a low tunnel or a small greenhouse enables me to put plants out earlier, even before our last frost date and have flowers blooming past our last frost date—sometimes even into December. Season extension can be very important in areas like ours here in the Pennsylvania and Delaware area, and I’m always calculating how I can eke out a few more weeks here and there.
A fun part of the business (besides frolicking in the flower fields, but seriously, that rarely happens) is when I get to work with event designers who are thrilled to get their hands on fresh local blooms. Not everyone has embraced the idea of going local—it is tempting to get tulips in November or ranunculus in September for events or to pay less for flowers that were grown cheaply in another country. But there are so many wonderful blooms to be had at almost any time of the year, so I really love my local florists and designers who try to buy local whenever they can. I’m always thrilled to see pictures of bouquets or centerpieces at weddings that feature my flowers—talk about gratifying! To see the end result from that tiny little seed that started in our sunroom so many months ago.
I’m a lover of flowers at heart; to me, there is nothing more amazing than freshly-cut bunch of flowers, they lift people up and bring happiness like nothing else. I’m grateful that we’ve been able to start this farm and begin to realize a dream I never knew I had. Even though we are only in our second year of production, I can’t wait to see what the future holds for us as the love of local continues to expand and grow in our community.”
Find out more about The Farm at Oxford at www.thefarmatoxford.com. Check out one of my styled shoots with gorgeous locally grown flowers from The Farm at Oxford: click here. If you are considering a wedding or party in the Chester County or surrounding area, talk to me about how I can help you use 100% locally grown flowers in your events! Make your wedding a farm-to-table celebration.
About the Author: Mara Tyler is a local farmer florist with a penchant for growing a wide selection of unique flowers and foliage, many items not typically available in the floral trade. An avid lover of dahlias and roses, her dream flower farm, The Farm at Oxford, is located in southern Chester County. Mara‘s floral background includes design sessions at Longwood Gardens, with Kiana Underwood of Tulipina, and at Floret Flower with Erin Benzakien. She enjoys supplying fresh from the field flowers to local designers and creating seasonally-inspired arrangements for special events. Find out more at www.thefarmatoxford.com.
P.S. Some of the pictures used in this post are from the talented Leave It To Me Photography.