When people think of “farm-to-table” they usually think of food…locally and organically-grown, harvested, cooked and served fresh. “Farm-to-table” can be applied to cut flowers as well! There is a budding renaissance in flower farms—the commercial production of locally-grown, seasonal, long-lasting, cut flowers (using non-toxic organic pesticides sparingly as needed) that arrive fresh to your home for a stunning centerpiece. Also known as the “slow flower movement,” more and more U.S. farmers are getting back into the business of planting and harvesting flowers for local distribution.
Before the 1990s, the majority of cut flowers grown for bouquets and arrangements in the United States were grown here. Then, in 1991, the U.S. enacted the Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA) as part of the war on drugs. In an attempt to encourage narcotics–trafficking countries in South America to focus on exporting legal products instead of drugs, the act eliminated stiff tariffs and made it more monetarily feasible for these nations to export their products, including cut flowers. Before long, U.S. flower farmers could not compete, and the market shifted to almost 80 percent of cut flowers purchased in the U.S. coming from overseas. The Act expired in 2013, but by then, most U.S. farmers were out of this market. But now, many are returning and new farmers are joining the slow flower movement.
Debra Prinzing, who coined the phrase, “slow flower movement,” and wrote the definitive book on the subject, Slow Flowers: Four Seasons of Locally-Grown Bouquets from the Garden, Meadow and Farm, defines “slow flowers” as those grown locally, in season, and not mass-produced or brought in from other parts of the world. Ms. Prinzing writes, “Slow Flowers reflects life lived in the slower lane.” Slow flowers are not shipped from afar where workers are exposed to unhealthy pesticides and spraying practices. Slow flowers are planted with respect to the environment, are picked in season, near peak bloom and last longer in the vase.
Sharpsburg flower farmers, Carroll and Richard Candler are part of the slow flower movement. They met at Ahmic Lake, Ontario, Canada where both their families own lake houses. Carroll, from Pennsylvania, graduated with a degree in anthropology from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina, and Richard received his business degree from Belmont University in Nashville. Both Richard and Carroll are children of avid gardeners who developed in them a sense of connection to the land. Before moving to Sharpsburg, they worked in plant nurseries, on a dairy, and managed a vegetable farm. Carroll even worked in the garden at the Biltmore Estate!
Four years ago, Carroll and Richard moved to five acres they purchased adjacent to land Richard’s family owns (and where Richard grew up) and started Wildcraft Flowers—growing flowers for florists, shops, weddings and farmers markets on one acre of their land. They plan to expand to two acres of flowers in the coming year. Their farm has received the “Certified, Naturally Grown” designation, and they are members of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers.
Carroll and Richard are committed to the slow flower movement. Carroll says, “The slow-flower farmer focuses on soil health, land-stewardship, preservation of ecosystems, energy and water efficiency, and lowering the carbon footprint by focusing on local distribution. It’s about making ethical choices as a business and also about providing a product that fits consumers demand for more ethical and environmentally-friendly products.”
Richard and Carroll are both content to be back where Richard grew up, and to be doing something outside everyday that is creative and connects them to nature. Both are quick to point out that flower farming, while satisfying, is hard, tough work! They had a big learning curve when they started but are excited about their business and eager to expand. Their horticulture “Bible” for in-depth information on everything about growing cut flowers commercially is: Specialty Cut Flowers by Allan Armitage and Judy Lauschman. If you are a homeowner who would like to try your hand at planting a small cutting garden, I recommend reading: The Cutting Garden: Growing and Arranging Flowers by Sarah Raven and Pia Tryde, or Martha’s Flowers: A Practical Guide for Growing, Gathering and Enjoying.
Adding a bed of flowers for cutting and arranging is a great way to bring your garden inside in all seasons of the year. And, what could be a nicer gift than a bouquet of your own, freshly-picked flowers! If you would like to get started, Carroll and Richard share their tips for planning a cutting garden. You can also get inspiration by checking out their website at: wildcraftflowers.com, or following them on Instagram @wildcraftflowers.
Tips on Starting a Cutting Garden
- Start with a small flower bed, amend the soil, and experiment to see what you like.
- Most cut flowers need full sun. Check planting and growing instructions on all plants.
- As a general rule, plant spring-blooming annual flowers in the summer and fall, and fall-blooming annual flowers in the spring.
- Plant a combination of annuals and perennials. Perennials come back each year, so are a good investment. Select two perennials that bloom in spring, two that bloom in the summer and two for the fall. Don’t forget native plants that are acclimated to our climate.
- Plant more than flowers. Select some plants for their foliage, texture or shape to add interest to your arrangements.
- Before cutting your flowers, clean your pruners and containers with soap and water or a spritz of alcohol so you don’t spread any disease.
- Cut flowers in the morning and select those with buds that are just starting to open.
- After placing your flowers in a container, change the water frequently and snip the stems so the arrangement lasts longer.
THE PERFECT PLANTS FOR A CUTTING GARDEN
Carroll and Richard Candler of Wildcraft Flowers Share Their Favorites
ANEMONE A perennial with nodding white to pink blooms that spreads to give you more plants. Varieties can bloom in spring, summer and fall.
CONEFLOWERS (Echinacea) Cheerful, long-lasting, daisy-like flowers that come in a variety of colors and attract pollinators.
COSMOS Easy to grow from seed, this annual daisy-like, old-fashioned flower blooms abundantly.
DAHLIA A tropical flower, sold as a tuber, it takes center stage in a bouquet and comes in all colors and sizes. Plant them in spring after last frost.
FALSE INDIGO (Baptisia) A native perennial known for its deep indigo blue flowers and decorative seed pods. The Decadence series includes a bicolor selection called ‘Pink Lemonade.’
FOXGLOVE (Digitalis) An old-fashioned, tall plant with bell-shaped flower
HYDRANGEA ‘Limelight’ (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’) Large, long-lasting, cone-shaped blooms that start out a celadon green and fade to shades of pink.
JOE PYE WEED ‘LITTLE JOE’ (Eutrochium) This native perennial needs a large space, but will reward you with clusters of fragrant blooms, with the added benefit of attracting pollinators to your garden. The ripened flowers puff up to add more interest to an arrangement.
LAVENDER Stunning color and fragrance
MOUNTAIN MINT (Pycnanthemum virginianum) With a long bloom time in late summer, these white to purple blooms are attractive in an arrangement, and the leaves, when crushed, have a minty scent.
NIGELLA Finely textured, fern-like foliage adds to the interest of the flowers, usually in shades of blue, with seed pods that are also used in arrangements.
NINEBARK (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’) Native shrub with deep purple to amber foliage and exfoliating bark for added interest in an arrangement.
OAKLEAF HYDRANGEA (Hydrangea quercifolia) Large, native shrub with stunning white, long-lasting cone blooms for spring and summer interest, vibrant fall color with leaves that turn shades of red and burgundy, and winter interest with cinnamon-colored, peeling bark.
OKRA Dried okra pods look great in arrangements, adding texture and interest.
PENSTEMON A favorite, tall, spiky perennial that has a spectacular tubular bloom, burgundy seed pod and beautiful evergreen foliage.
PEONY ‘Coral Charm’ and ‘Sara Bernhardt’ are heat tolerant and perfect for Georgia.
RIVER OATS (Chasmanthium latifolium) An ornamental grass with drooping stems, adds interest to an arrangement.
STRAWFLOWER (Xerochrysum bracteatum) Coarse, straw-like petals (bracts) in a variety of colors that bloom in late summer and fall. Makes a great dried flower.
SUNFLOWER (Helianthus) Large, cheerful yellow or orange blooms, sunflowers attract pollinators. Smaller varieties work well in arrangements.
SWEET PEA (Lathyrus odoratus) An old-fashioned, fragile flower in a variety of colors that gives your bouquet a “cottage” feel. Petals can be damaged by a hard rain.
SWEET WILLIAM (Dianthus barbutus) A biennial that has showy, disk-like blooms, fringed along the edges, and a heady fragrance.
TUBEROSE (Polianthes tuberosa) A bulb planted in the spring after danger of frost has passed, and has clusters of tall white flowers, with a tantalizing scent that can take the heat in Georgia. Can overwinter in the ground if heavily mulched.
ZINNIA (Zinnia elegans) Easy to grow annuals with profuse blooms, in an amazing array of colors that last throughout the growing season, make zinnias a favorite in floral arrangements. Cut them often to avoid powdery mildew.