Way out west it was a much warmer summer than the last couple of years and despite the persistence of our June Gloom coastal fog all the way through August, it was a good season for flowers. At the UCSC Farm and Garden, we have had very good quality production of some standards such as the Rocket, Chantilly, and Opus snapdragons. Euphorbia, bupleurum, Salvia farinacea, stock and marigolds have all been steady, sturdy and disease free. Constant experimentation with varieties, planting density, fertility inputs, irrigation delivery and placement across our various microclimates continues to bear results in terms of improving crop quality, consistency and abundance. The beauty of this is that there is always more to learn, new methods to experiment with and new varieties to trial in an effort to discover what grows best and what you are best able to market to your audience.

This season, we have been getting rave reviews from our customers on some of the simple and easy to grow grasses we have in rotation. ‘Utrecht Blue’ wheat, with its long, stout stems, and lengthy, dark awns contrasting with its light blue seedheads has been a crowd favorite. Easy to harvest, long standing in the field and relatively easy to blend into mixed bouquets, we will definitely be saving as much of our own seed as possible to grow more successions next year. Similarly, the standard ‘Silver Tip’ and ‘Black Tip’ wheats have been very reliable, fairly drought tolerant and disease free even as nearby wheats and barleys grown for grain are succumbing to rust. Earlier in the season, we also grew a couple of nice successions of ‘Red Jewel’ millet, with the hope of finding a cheaper alternative to the hybrid ‘Purple Majesty’ millet. ‘Red Jewel’ is by no means a substitute, but it has proven to be easy to grow, incredibly abundant, quick to harvest and strip, and it provides a nice dark color contrast to the brighter zinnias, snaps and dahlias which it often accompanies. As for the ‘Purple Majesty’, we will likely continue to save and grow out seed from previously purchased F1 hybrids. As in the past, we see some inconsistency in the F2 and F3 generations, but not enough to warrant spending too much money on this remarkably expensive seed. Our F2 and F3 generations of ‘Purple Majesty’ are slightly more variable in the size and depth of color in the flower heads, and they are somewhat erratic in their cropping time, but the crop quality from our own saved seed. Apologies in advance to the breeders and seed companies that sell this beautiful millet.

As an update to our previous woes with dahlia mosiac virus, our new crop of just-purchased tubers is producing crazy quantities of flowers, despite the fact that we planted only two to three tubers per hole. Most plants look incredibly healthy and are sure winners, but even among our new planting stock, there is evidence of some DMV. I have stopped harvesting the couple of seemingly infected plants, have sent tissue samples to our local cooperative extension pathology lab, and am hoping that what I am seeing is just some random abiotic disorder that will magically disappear. Wishful thinking, I know, but it is hard to dig up and discard plants you just paid perfectly good money for. On the other hand, sacrificing a few plants now for the good of the entire 600 row feet is really the wisest long-term move.

Of our dahlias, customers and friends have commented most on two varieties that I really love, ‘Maarn’ and ‘Patricia Ann’s Sunset’. ‘Maarn’ is a very attractive, dusky orange decorative type flower, with good productivity and stem length, five to seven days of vase life and a bright personality that will enliven just about any summer bouquet. ‘Patricia Ann’s Sunset’ produces an abundance of very refined, red-orange, water lily type flowers on long, slender stems. They blend fluidly with the bold colors of summer, but also have such a refined appearance that they stand alone quite beautifully, encouraging flower lovers to pause, look closely and to wonder how such stunning color can come from a crop so easy to grow.

Finally, I want to put in a plug for Rudbeckia ‘Henry Eilers.’ We have been growing this plant since first seeing it on the Terra Nova tour at the 2008 ASCFG National Conference in Portland. While I realize that some growers think it is over-rated or else too understated, we have found that it has a very delicate, subtle and architectural presence in mixed bouquets that always attracts customers’ attention, not to mention that it has a two-plus week vase life that our customers consistently thank us for. In addition, ‘Henry Eilers’ has thrived in the same location where I have lost hundreds of eryngiums and all of my Echinacea purpurea cultivars from the ASCFG Perennial Trials to the dreaded western pocket gopher. Go figure: sweet roots, in the ground year round and unprotected, but not a plant lost to the voracious and unforgiving gophers.

Last but not least, I want to highlight what I am hoping is a revitalization, of sorts, of the ‘bucket shop’ style of setup and marketing at our area farmers’ markets. The ladies from Everett Family Farm: Zoe, Kara, Sky and Molly, are growing an incredible array of flowers, displaying them beautifully at market, and attracting hordes of attention as they compose made-to-order bouquets in the midst of busy market mornings. Customers are lining up for their beautiful flowers, their grace and style under pressure and the stunning arrangements they produce while working in front of a crowd. Perhaps I have been missing out on what is going on elsewhere in the country, but the bucket shop display and live theatre of made-to-order bouquets seems to have been somewhat of a dying art form in these parts. However, the ladies of Everett Family Farm in Soquel, California, are generating tremendous interest with their gorgeous flowers, elegant presentation, and the drama of seeing art in the making. Perhaps this is just the sort of attention getting that local flowers need to thrive alongside the abundance of bright, nutritious, and delicious vegetable and fruits also sold at farmers’ markets.

Christof Bernau

UCSC Center for Agroecology

Christof Bernau UCSC Center for Agroecology Contact at [email protected]