In 2005 I attended my first Regional Meeting at J. Foss Garden Flowers in Chehalis, Washington. By that time Janet Foss had already been in the flower farming business for 24 years and had a well-earned reputation around the Puget Sound area for fabulous quality cuts and an adventuresome array of offerings. This past summer she celebrated thirty years in business, a fitting time to shine the spotlight on this grower who has contributed so much to the confidence and skills of other flower farmers, myself included.

Janet got married in August of 1981 and started her first farm near Everett, Washington, three days later with a borrowed shovel. “How else do you start?” she says, with a laugh. Those who know Janet will tell you she works hard, doesn’t like a lot of hoopla and you won’t catch her tooting her own horn. But others do and over the years I collected tidbits from here and there, gained more than a few earfuls of wisdom sitting next to her on ASCFG tour bus trips, worked with her to help establish the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market and came to realize that she is nothing short of a treasure to our industry.

Janet has been a leader in setting a spirit of cooperation at our new market. Once I asked her about her remarkable generosity and she credited her grandmother who was never afraid to teach other people what she knew about flower growing. “If anyone wanted to grow flowers she’d give them plants and help them get started, saying ‘If they can grow flowers better than me, so be it’.” 

Her grandmother, Katie Flock Larson, lived in a big white farmhouse just a few miles from where Janet grew up, near Chehalis. “Every flower bed was perfect and filled with flowers. People used to drive by just to see it because it was so gorgeous.” Like many farmers in those days, Janet’s grandparents did a little bit of everything—raised timber and cattle, sold milk, raised and sold vegetables, had a nursery, kept greenhouses and raised and sold flowers. 

“She loved pretty things, but she also enjoyed making some money,” Janet remembers about her grandmother. “She had a florist shop at her house with carnations and everything and she did weddings. She would source some from the wholesalers but mostly used what she had in her garden.”

Gardening was a business as well as a pastime in Janet’s family. “When you got out of the car and went to any family gathering, the first thing you did was walk around the whole garden and admire it.” For her tenth birthday, Janet asked for her own flower bed and her parents gave it to her, “front and center in the yard.”

Janet was the first of her immediate family to graduate from college, with a degree in home economics. When she wanted to start her own flower farm her grandmother encouraged her, helped her decide what to grow and gave her plant starts. “My mom did the same thing.” she says. Janet’s business took off and she quickly earned a reputation for being one of the best local growers around.

“I loved being the first person in Seattle to bring pollen-free sunflowers to the Pike Place Market,” she remembers. Janet sold for thirteen years at that market and was often a trend setter. “She always stood out down there,” says her friend and long time florist Beverly Burrows, describing Janet’s fabulous array of vines, berries, annuals and perennials.

“When she gets an idea in her head, she just goes for it,” Bev told me, thinking of the time she begged Janet to grow bittersweet for her. “There’s so much of it in the Midwest but we couldn’t get it around here. Janet was out there in the field with her magnifying glass hand pollinating it. Lo and behold we had bittersweet!”

Janet also sold to various wholesale houses in Seattle over the years, delivering several times a week during the growing season. About eight years ago she relocated from Everett back to the Chehalis area where she grew up. For the past few years she sold her flowers at a roadside stand and at local farmers’ markets in that area.

During all of her flower farming years, Janet has been an active and vibrant member of the ASCFG, reflecting her grandmother’s spirit of generously sharing her knowledge. She joined the Association March 4, 1991 and has shared her plant wisdom since then. I’m pretty sure she has attended every National Conference, speaking at several of them. Her sessions are always standing room only. Besides hosting the 2005 Regional Meeting at her farm, she has been a presence at each Northwest meeting for years. She has served as ASCFG Secretary.  We are particularly lucky that she has again started writing for The Cut Flower Quarterly, highlighting unique cut flower genera and cultivars.

This summer at the wholesale growers market, we put a spread out for Janet, celebrating “Thirty Bloomin’ Years” for J. Foss Garden Flowers. When I asked her what she sees in the future, she laughed and said, “I was never taught to retire. I can’t imagine not growing flowers. I’d like to train a couple of other people to grow cut flowers because I think it’s a good way to make a living and we need things like this for people to do especially in hard economic times.”

“It’s good for everyone to work hard, because it gives them a clue about life,” she says.

Diane Szukovathy

Jello Mold Farm

Diane Szukovathy Jello Mold Farm Contact at [email protected]