By Gretel Adams
The pool of flower farmers is growing quickly it seems, leading to some changes in the industry. Most importantly, flower seeds, bulbs, and tubers are selling out fast, are in limited supply, or are not available altogether. Be sure to get your orders in on time, which is basically as soon as the season for that item is over (see table below).
When we first started, I would wait to order everything until winter or always last minute, which was too late! If that happens, you can sometimes still get something, just not the quantities and varieties you are looking for, because you’ll have to order off the overstock availability list. The same goes for plug producers- the earlier you can get orders in the better. Most crops take anywhere from six to twelve weeks from seed, so they need enough lead time to grow to order. That’s why plug producers like Raker give you an early order discount; it helps them better plan what their production is going to look like. So, if you are in hibernation mode right now and still haven’t ordered some of these things, jump on it!
Also, we have been trying to do some detective work to see why certain seeds are being dropped from production. If my seed broker tells me something is not available, I ask why not and who produces it so I can contact them directly. I want to know the ins and outs of this industry so we can make sure the varieties we want stay a part of the repertoire. I know breeders are looking for solid colors, but what my customers want are the weird, in-between colors for something unique. Breeders may see it as an irregularity and drop the variety. Varieties that got dropped this year from availability: Larkspur Sublime Azure Blue, Celosia Sunday Salmon, and Matthiola Japan series stock in purple and lavender. And there are others that just end up on backorder if they’ve sold a lot and won’t have any until the next round of seed production, for example: Redbor Kale (but Scarlet was a good sub), Marigold Babuda Gold, even Gomphrena QIS!
Let’s all work together to give the people what they want! I have even thought maybe we could form a group or utilize the ASCFG for some buying power to say if you produce it, we’ll buy it. We need to advocate for ourselves! In a perfect world, growers that are watching trends should help to ensure the suppliers will have those varieties available. If you are a farmer florist, you can have an eye on trends and know what weddings you are booking, but that’s also why this year we’ll be sitting down with some of our designers to figure out what they see coming up.
Last year when I was at a design class, we were talking about foliage that we could grow besides dusty and geraniums, something that held up more out of water, or was usable in garlands that are so popular. There weren’t many solutions, so that was our goal this year. Having interesting foliage is what sets our designs apart from those of typical florists because they only have the standard foliage options offered by the wholesaler.
Foliage is where it’s at, and this year we hit the jackpot with a field nearby us having a ton of Elaeagnus umbellata (aka autumn olive) growing. I originally had a florist who attended a workshop in the South ask me about Silverberry, which led me to the Elaeagnus family, and then I found a species that grew here in our zone. Now if only it wasn’t considered an invasive so I could buy some plants of it! I guess we’ll just have to dig some up from that field to bring home. Or find another lot to guerilla harvest from. Eucalyptus grown from plugs this year was amazing, and got up to six feet tall in the field. In 2018, we’ll grow twice as much, and we tried to overwinter some in the field this year, so we’ll see how that trial goes. It is under straw, but it’s been a very cold winter, so not sure they’ll make it this year.
Foliage and flowering branches that set the author’s design work apart: (left to right) fall blueberry and crabapple. All photos courtesy of the author.
Other gems we used for foliage: Prunus cistena (purpleleaf sandcherry, which works for its flowers or foliage), Ninebark of all kinds, thornless blackberry & blueberry foliage (both of which can be used throughout the season, with berries or not), filbert (hazelnut) foliage (which turns a beautiful auburn color in the fall), pear foliage, and all kinds of Viburnum (especially carlesii aka Korean Spice). (For more about ninebark, see the November 2016 GFM article Favorite perennials for flower growers.)
Just remember that anything woody is probably going to need special treatment to get it hydrated, especially if it has thick stems. We use hydrator (OVB from Chrysal) or QuickDip. Basically, we’ll try anything we see around the farm as a test, hoping for more viable options. Working in conjunction with an arborist is my dream so that we could have a source for lots of interesting foliage throughout the year.
To revisit some other winners from 2017: Roseanne Deep Brown and Arena Apricot lisianthus were for sure favorites, sweet peas from King’s Seeds, and all ranunculus flew off the shelves this year, which is why we are increasing these three crops in 2018. Dahlia sales were up by double from last year, see my article in the Nov/Dec 2017 GFM for more details about varieties and favorites. Artichokes were a fun addition to our offerings, we love food items we can use as cut flowers. Cynoglossum from Johnny’s had almost 100% germination, which in the past from other suppliers has only gotten about 40-60% germ. We ended up with a ton of cynoglossum this spring since our safety factor was so high. It needs to stay hydrated though, so be sure to pick it first thing in the morning into hydrator and put into the cooler right away. That way by the time you get to making bouquets, it is safe to set the whole bucket on the table without having to worry about it getting floppy. If the stem gets hydrated and firms up while it is flopped over, it will stay like that, leading customers to think that it is droopy when it’s not.
Two of the author’s favorite lisianthus varieties from 2017: Arena Apricot on the right and Roseanne Deep Brown on the left.
Flowering branches were another hit for us in 2017 with our quince and flowering almonds finally producing after being planted as tiny bare root seedlings eight years ago. We look forward to trialing other fruit trees to see what else we can come up with for foliage and flower options. We also loved crabapple branches, both flowering in the spring and with crabapples in the fall. We like woodies that can serve a double purpose, and we’ll even use willow branches with foliage on them through the summer too.
Herbaceous perennials are also something we got excited about this year, with the goal of turning the home farm into mainly perennials and greenhouses, and our rented land to be where most of our summer annual production is grown. We expanded production of Japanese anemones, yarrow, eryngium, phlox, sedum, sea oats, and baptisia- some of these crops we start from seed and others we buy in plugs. Other things we were excited about: more digitalis, finally getting nigella to produce for us, and adding some more garden roses, as well as oakleaf hydrangeas.
We tried some carnations this year (Chabaud series), and they accidentally got planted in the summer so were super short. They would need to be grown during the cooler months and probably in a greenhouse to get more stem length. We tried to get cuttings of standard cut varieties or heirloom cultivars, but apparently they aren’t available in the US anymore due to plant import restrictions.
And finally, what we are looking forward to trying in 2018: Voyage lisianthus, as well as Corelli Light Pink. We are running some trials of lisianthus during different times of the year, too. Just like snapdragons have a series associated with best growing conditions and time of season, so do Lisianthus. Supposedly there are ones that can handle winter growing, although so far it hasn’t been that successful, but we’ll see if they like spring growing better than winter. Other things that excite us about 2018: ranunculus outside to see if we can get it later, ranunculus earlier to see if we can hit Valentine’s Day, and saving more of our own ranunculus/anemone corms. The biggest news is that we got a soil steamer, so we will be steaming our greenhouse beds to help fight weed seeds and disease pressure. And we just put up a three bay gutter connect greenhouse that will be heated. Lots more to come about all these trials and our new space!
What are some new things that you are trying you are excited about? Direct message @sunnymeadowsflowerfarm on Instagram to let us know what you’ll be adding to the repertoire for 2018. We’re always looking for new ideas!
Gretel and Steve Adams operate Sunny Meadows Flower Farm in Columbus, OH. They will have dahlia tubers and tuberose for sale at their website: www.plantdahlias.com. They’ll provide tubers of only the finest varieties for cut flowers, check out the selection!