Cathy Rogers, Bloomin' Joy
Cathy Rogers considers herself a little spoiled, or perhaps incredibly lucky. Her foray into the cut flower industry wasn’t exactly planned, but the pieces have fallen nicely into place over the years as she’s built a business that supplements the family income, and allows her to share a passion for flowers through community development projects.
Cathy is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. Her first career included working at a bakeshop, serving as chef for a Cornell sorority, private cooking and catering, including weddings. It was her experience with weddings that helped her establish early on that she did not want to work weekends in the flower trade.
Grazing in the Grass
It was nearly 20 years ago when Cathy took a job with a retail perennial farm across the street from her home when her youngest son started kindergarten. She was particularly drawn to the ornamental grasses and early on established that as her niche. She developed a slide show for garden clubs and became the self-appointed local expert on ornamental grasses. While performing the regular maintenance of cutting the grasses down, she wondered if florists would be interested in using grasses. They were, but she also decided to add more color by growing and offering perennials and annuals as well and her business, Bloomin’ Joy, was born.
Here’s where the good fortune comes into play. Years ago, she was reading a magazine article about a plantsman at Yale University who said that when The Cut Flower Quarterly arrived, he sat right down and read it cover to cover. She had never heard of the Association, but looked it up online. As it happened, there was going to be a 2-day workshop at the 4-H center only a couple miles from her home, which she describes as being in the “middle of nowhere.” The line-up of speakers included Bob Wollam, MaryLee Johnson and Mimo Davis. Cathy recalls, “They shared what they knew on the topic, which was a lot. It was fascinating and I was amazed at how generous they were with their knowledge. I thought ‘these are my people,’ and I joined the Association.” She says she often finds herself at conferences, on the bus, trying to listen to two conversations at once to glean as much as she can from fellow growers.
She also acknowledges her location has contributed to her success. Burnt Hills is 15 miles south of Saratoga Springs, “a huge economic engine in the summer because of the racetracks, performing arts center, and the college.” She is able to sell nearly every stem she cuts to two florists, one in Saratoga Springs and one local. In the event they beome backlogged with grasses, she takes the bunches home, hangs them in the attic, and sells them as dried stems in the fall to those same florists. She cuts and delivers just twice a week in a Honda Odyssey. Cathy explains that the Odyssey’s third seat folds down into a well in the floorboard. By leaving the seat up, she can accommodate 4-foot stems in the well of the Odyssey.
Her season starts in mid-March, when she begins sowing seeds, and lasts through first frost in early October. Her hoophouse, used for season extension, is connected to her home. In fact, for the most part, her landscape beds serve as her flower fields. With less than an acre in production, it’s a manageable size for her to handle with minimal assistance. She says, “Grasses aren’t fussy. They can be used as groundcovers or in difficult spots.” During the New York winter, she enjoys watching the dry grass sway in the wind and bring life to a frozen landscape. She cuts the grasses back or burns them. Burning, she explains, takes only a few minutes and leaves no clean-up tasks.
While the drought doubled her water bill this past year, Mother Nature’s critters were the real nuisance—woodchucks to be exact. Quite the trapper, Cathy caught nine woodchucks this year.
Cathy grows some potted perennials and grasses for an annual plant sale and will grow plant material specifically for the florist in Saratoga Springs in 2013. While she’s not looking to expand, she does tweak her offerings and find different ways to utilize her growing space. She plans to add herb bouquets next year for her florists and a local restaurant. The idea was inspired by watching television cooking shows where they grab a bunch of fresh herbs to chop for their recipe.
Her best-selling specialty cuts include: hydrangea ‘Limelight’, peonies, dianthus (Neon series), goldenrod ‘Golden Fleece’ (before they bloom), campanula ‘Freya’, Rudbeckia triloba, Baptisia australis, Chasmanthium latifolium, Calamagrostis brachytricha, Panicum ‘Shenandoah’ and Achillea ‘Moonshine’.
Despite the fact that she doesn’t provide floral services for weddings, she did make an exception for her son. She says his wedding, held in her backyard among the flower beds, was one of the highlights of her career. It was a culmination of sorts for her business venture. Flower farming was a business she developed because it allowed her to stay at home with her boys, Justin and Lucas, while also contributing to the family income. As her son stepped out to build his own family, he quite literally walked among the flower beds that played an integral role in raising two fine young men.
Community Service Important
Another highlight was participating in a teen agriculture program called Roots and Wisdom in nearby Schenectady. The urban youth grew flowers for a flower bouquet CSA they named Soul Bloomz. She reflects, “When you show these children that they too can take flowers from seed to harvest, it’s rewarding. When you see the spark of pride and accomplishment wash across their face when they then create a gorgeous bouquet—especially the boys—it becomes a spiritual experience.”
Building community through horticulture has been an important part of Cathy’s life since 2002, when, in the aftermath of 9/11 she started a local beautification project, “Town in Bloom.” With support from the Rotary Club, she just celebrated 10 years of helping make the town of Burnt Hills a little brighter with public plantings of flowers.
What does Cathy do in the off season? She heads South for warmer weather, but she’s already looking forward to the return trip in March. She’s planning a stop in Raleigh, North Carolina, for the “Knowledge is Flower Power” ASCFG event. What a great way to start the season!
Megan Bame is a freelance writer in Salisbury, North Carolina. Contact her at [email protected]