Research that involves field trials is a fairly cut and dried process: grow the product, measure relevant data, harvest it but, then what?  Oftentimes, the research product is thrown away, given to staff or composted.  Perhaps there is a better solution. As part of my work for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, I am involved in research comparing the productivity and quality of cut flowers when grown in high tunnels versus field conditions.  One hundred twenty plants of twelve different flowers are grown indoors and out.  Data on stem length, number of days harvested and total stems harvested are collected.  The total harvest for the 2006 season was about 14,300 marketable stems.  The question quickly becomes “What to do with all the flowers?                                                                

Rather than compost buckets of beautiful flowers, it was decided to fill vases with bouquets and leave them at public areas (libraries, town halls, hospitals, etc.) to promote locally-grown flowers and educate consumers on the advantage local flowers have in terms of variety and vase life.  A total of 13 locations received a vase weekly for 12 weeks.  Each vase carried the label “Compliments of Oxford County Cooperative Extension” and came with an information card that identified the flowers in the vase.        

At the end of the season a questionnaire was placed next to the vase to gauge public knowledge and appreciation of local flowers.  A total of 175 people filled out the survey.  The questionnaire was not administered in any manner; those who were interested took the time and filled out a form.

Here is what we learned:
Question 2   
Are you aware that the flowers were grown in South Paris?  Yes 102   No 73

Despite the “Compliments of Oxford County Cooperative Extension” label on every vase, 73 respondents, or 42% of the sample population did not realize the flowers were grown locally.  So, if your business donates vases of flowers for community events, perhaps the better notice to put on the container is “Grown By Your Business Name”.

Question 2   
Pictures were shown of the 11 flowers trialed throughout the season.  
People were asked to rank their top 5.  The flowers were: zinnia ‘Zowie Yellow Flame’, rudbeckia ‘Prairie Sun’, craspedia ‘Golden Drumstick’, trachelium ‘Devotion Purple’, lisianthus ‘Grand White’, snapdragon ‘Attraction Yellow’, gomphrena QIS Mix, sunflower ‘Strawberry Blonde’, agrostemma ‘Purple Queen’, dianthus ‘Amazon Duo’, and godetia ‘Grace Pink’.        

Not surprisingly, the lisianthus was by far the favorite first choice with the sunflower coming in a distant second (Table 1).  However, when the total number of votes each flower received is considered, the differences between the top three – lisianthus, zinnia and godetia – basically disappears. So, a bouquet containing those three is certain to be a hit.  What is interesting is that even the “filler” flowers craspedia and trachelium were popular with 26 and 18 people respectively.

 Zinnia 25 28 34 11 22 120
 Rudbeckia 14 22 23 23 17 99
 Craspedia 2 1 10 6 7 26
 Trachelium 2 1 1 9 5 18
 Snapdragon 5 14 18 12 8 57
 Gomphrena 7 10 9 21 16 63
 Lisianthus 61 23 15 12 11 122
 Sunflower 28 29 15 24 15 111
 Agrostemma 8 13 17 21 19 78
 Dianthus 4 7 8 20 19 58
 Godetia 19 27 25 16 32 119
 No Answer     4 4
 Total 175175175175175875

Question 3   
A picture of a standard bouquet (approximately 20 stems) is shown right.  What would you expect to pay for these flowers?

Monetary Value# of Responses
$5.00 – $7.008
$7.50 – $10.0034
$10.00 – $15.0059
$15.00 – $20.0049
More Than $20.0021
No Answer2

An amazing 40% of respondents (70 people) expected to pay at least $15.00 for the bouquet.  This is good news considering that many of the bouquet components were minor, less expensive flowers.

Question 4
Have you purchased flowers in the last 6 months?
Yes 119   No 55   No Answer 1
Question 5
As a result of seeing the flower vases this summer, are you more likely to purchase local flowers in the future?  
Yes 157 No 16 No Answer 2

Some interesting findings from the data.

•    Of the 119 people who did purchase flowers within the last 6 months, 110 of them responded that they would be more likely to purchase local flowers in the future.
•    Of the 55 who hadn’t purchased flowers in the last 6 months, 46 of them would look locally for flowers in the future.
•    All of the people who indicated they would be willing to pay more than $20 for flowers also indicated they are more likely to purchase local flowers in the future.
The interest and enthusiasm from the public for the cut flower project is very encouraging. General comments indicated amazement at the variety of flowers that could be grown here in Maine and surprise that the flowers lasted so long without any additional care.  It is hoped that this interest will translate into purchases for the 2007 season.

Barbara Murpy

Extension Educator

Barbara Murpy is Extension Educator, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, South Paris. Contact her at [email protected]