If Flower Camp were described only as an old farm “way out in the boondocks,” where guests must stake claim on their bunk bed, take nature walks, eat in the dining hall and sing around a campfire, well, that would actually be accurate. But it leaves out a few important details.
    
What is Flower Camp? For Nancy Ross Hugo, director of Flower Camp, it is a way for her to enjoy her passion for gardening and flower arranging by empowering others to be creative and appreciative of all that nature offers. She started out 15 years ago offering workshops to a few small groups of women who simply enjoyed flower arranging. As interest grew, the once or twice a year event became a well-orchestrated camp experience for up to 10 weekends a year, not to mention the day-long group workshops currently growing in popularity.

A Total Floral Experience

Located in remote Howardsville, Virginia, Flower Camp is a 50-acre rustic retreat. In addition to flower beds and naturalized areas, the restored property includes two cabins, a dining pavilion, a large barn and “the big house.” Lodging accommodations are bunk beds, claimed upon arrival, and shared bathrooms. Since there is no air conditioning, weekend workshops are limited to spring and fall when the weather is most accommodating in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Meals are prepared onsite by a chef and are included in the camp tuition, which ranges from $350-$450, depending on the workshop.
    
Lisa Zeigler, an ASCFG member and Flower Camp alumna, easily recalled the warm mango cobbler with ice cream that she enjoyed sitting in an Adirondack chair near the campfire  last September. She testifies, “The food is exquisite.”
    
Though some might return for the scrumptious food and rustic escape, most come for the programming—the flowers, of course!
    
As former educational manager for Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Nancy knows how to develop engaging, enjoyable horticultural experiences. While she began Flower Camp focused on composition and teaching design elements, the programs have bloomed to include nature journaling, Japanese brush painting and bonsai. Through various endeavors she met talented individuals who were willing to serve as instructors for these workshops, providing informal lessons, expert advice and encouragement. The instructors promote experimentation and freely offer suggestions, but relish the “ah-ha” moment when a camper pulls it all together.
    
Flower arranging remains the primary focus, but is more than just trying your hand at a few designs in a couple days. While Nancy grows flowers at camp and at her home in Ashland,  she also buys some flowers from a local florist, and campers contribute by bringing a bucket of flowers and a bucket of greenery. The participants also gather materials from the camp grounds.
    
Nancy admits, “Not having a cooler is a big issue; we use the shady part of the barn and hope for the best.” The maximum camp length is three days, so most everything can be used. Depending on the size of workshop, they may use 50 to 100 buckets of flowers over the weekend.        

Nancy’s husband John helps with the property maintenance and the garden. He estimates they have 3,000 to 5,000 square feet of cultivated area, though it’s not all planted at the same time. The flowers grown at Flower Camp must be staunch and critter resistant since John and Nancy make weekend visits only for watering and care. They use sprinklers to irrigate and rely on heavy mulching for water retention and weed control. A 4-foot fence around the garden is in place to deter deer, but portable fences are also used to protect particular deer delicacies.
    
For years Nancy has advertised in garden club newsletters, art and culture newspapers in the Richmond area and by distributing brochures. She feels that word of mouth, though, has been her best marketing tool. Flower Camp was recently featured in Country Gardens, a Better Homes and Gardens publication. The article has generated interest from around the country, and resulted in a fall schedule that might be fully booked.
    
Nancy does have some repeat campers and the site often becomes a “girls’ weekend” destination for sisters, mother and daughters, and girlfriends. Despite the apparent estrogen attraction, Nancy welcomes men at Flower Camp, but admits that given the potential for fully booking a workshop, she would hope that men would come in groups of four so they could fill a room.

Nancy was thrilled when several commercial flower growers came to camp. She credits one of them with showing her the correct way to cut a zinnia after years of errant cutting. She particularly enjoyed watching the growers become aware of the breadth of arranging. While they all had made their share of bouquets, she felt that they each walked away with an understanding of design elements that would further enhance the bouquet approach they previously used.
    
ASCFG members Amy Hicks and Lisa Ziegler attended Flower Camp last year. Both admit to looking forward to the experience but being skeptical about what they could take away from Flower Camp. For Amy, owner of Amy’s Garden in Quinton, Virginia, it was not only an opportunity to learn about the depth of arranging, but also a chance to gather ideas from various activities at Flower Camp that might be incorporated into her own destination farm. For example, they made jewelry out of flower petals—what a great on-farm activity!
    
Over the weekend, Amy spent a lot of time looking at arrangements made by the others to see what they liked—these other campers were, after all, regular flower consumers. She recalled one activity where she was paired with a stranger to create a design. Despite their sometimes-conflicting creative ideas, the end result was lovely—not what she alone would have created, but still beautiful.
    
Amy also gained an appreciation for unique plant material. She recalls, “Nancy would pull out these gleaming stems that I would never have thought to use.” One example was the red pokeweed stalk stripped of its leaves. Amy started paying closer attention to what’s in the woods or the hedgerow that might add interest to her bouquets. She attests, “Just last week I was cutting pods off mimosa.”
    
Lisa Ziegler, whose severe bee allergy now keeps her from growing full-time, had just started a new business, The Gardener’s Workshop, when she attended Flower Camp. She admits to not participating in many of the arranging activities, preferring to unwind on the porch in a comfortable rocking chair.

She remembers one of the first activities and her initial resistance to it. The assignment was to make a bouquet, introduce yourself and tell what your bouquet means. Lisa’s first thought was, “This is not up my alley.” She gathered a few zinnias and stuck them in a mason jar. That evening after introductions, the bouquets were placed in holes drilled in a 12-foot long piece of cedar and launched into the James River. “As we stood there watching the bouquets float down the river,” Lisa recalls, “I got tears in my eyes.”
    
She had an interesting observation about flower camp from a grower’s perspective: “Flower Camp is what the public thinks flower farming is like.” And why shouldn’t it have a romantic flair?  At the end of a long hot day in the field, most cut flower growers would attest to having a great job and loving what they do. Certainly Nancy, through Flower Camp is an ambassador for the cut flower industry, teaching ladies to not only enjoy their flowers, but to enjoy the design process and expressive possibilities nature offers.

For more information www.flowercamp.org