My desk is covered and piled with in-the-works projects and projections. Notes on the previous year are littered everywhere as I re-evaluate successes and failures, and try not to forget to do the things I told myself I would do in the coming year. What follows is a peek at my desk, things I have discovered, crops I am predicting to be better sellers, crops that are such good sellers I need to grow more, my “to do” list of winter projects, and a couple of my favorite things that are shaping who and what I want to become as a flower grower.
Crops to Get Serious About
Foxglove. I’m predicting it will become way more popular, and am planning to grow a lot more. I’m optimistic that this crop will be in demand for event design as long as I stay in the muted colors. If I’m wrong? I won’t be. There is one thing I have gotten really good at, selling what I have tons of.
Scabiosa. I am going to grow a TON more ‘Fama’ scabiosa! “Love” is not a strong enough word to express my feelings about this exceptional beauty. And to make sure it happens I’m ordering plugs—lots of plugs. I am not going to miss out this year. My florists are going to love me.
Bupleurum. This must be planted in serious amounts, regularly. This is a standard money-maker and I have been a fool not to have been more diligent about its propagation. This is an item that sells to each and every florist each and every week. I learned the trick to propagating this tricky guy from Erin Benzakein. Thank you, Erin. Seed it, cover it with a black plastic bag, and set it on the cool floor. You should witness fabulous germination rates within the week. It works amazingly well.
Carthamnus. I actually do not really care for the bloom of this but its foliage is awesome. I sell it as soon as it has any height and before the blooming stage (green). The florists really went for the texture it provided and when used in a bridal bouquet it pulls off the look of a mini succulent, and we all know they are the rage right now. I was sold out before any of it had a chance to bloom. This must be planted in serious amounts, regularly!Raspberry foliage. I’m just throwing this in here because you need to have some on your farm. It’s like a cut-and-come again foliage. Diane Szukovathy and I have been growing raspberry for years I have planted 15 rows of raspberries solely for the foliage. It sells great, makes awesome, long lasting filler, is elegant and beautiful, and is super easy.
It provides cuts all summer and into the fall. I expect this to be an industry standard one day. Things you need to know: Get a thornless, suckering variety. Then mow between the rows to keep it from becoming a nightmare. Chas Gill came up with the idea of mowing the whole thing down in the fall so that he didn’t have to deal with the second-year canes. That would eliminate a lot of work in the spring because those second-year canes would have to be staked and the old canes pulled out. I haven’t done it, but I thought it was brilliant.
The Winter To Do List
Redo the website. I put a lot of effort into my website several years ago and it is definitely time for a serious overhaul and update. I’ve changed, and so has the business. We’ve gotten better and it’s time to make sure that that image is coming across to our customers. We need to reword our offerings to reflect the direction we want to go. We’ve got better photos under our belt and a better idea of why people have come to the website in the first place. Things could be streamlined even more to make it easy for our customers.
Upload flower photos of what we grow. Many brides like to know what we have blooming around a certain time. Rather than send a list of flower names (about which they likely know little) via email, I would like to direct them to a photo collection of pictures each month. Not that we will necessarily create an order from that, but to give them a visual, concrete, assurance that, yes, indeed we do actually have flowers, and they can rest easy that a unique and fun variety will be available. It will help “seal the deal.” Same with having photos of our work in a gallery.
Create “real-time” availability for my florists. Historically, I have pretty much sold straight off the van, with only a couple of designers having me build their orders from color ranges. What I didn’t sell in an order went in the van for the route, a “What I have is what I have.” type of thing. I’ve steered away from ever promising anyone anything specific.
Suddenly I have quite a few designers who trust me and want me to build their orders based on a certain amount of bunches and color ranges. And to top that off, they want to treat me like a wholesaler—you know, with standing orders. That creates a lot more stress, as I jumble several weddings in my head and try to manage pre-booked orders. I don’t deny the adrenaline rush and excitement it takes to make it all come together, but the stress is not good and really that’s their job. The ideal would be for florists to make orders online based on an availability I post on Monday, and the quantity would automatically decrease every time an order, without my involvement. I don’t want to be on the phone going down a list from florist to florist. This is my hope to keep sales up and sanity stable. I will write about what I come up with and how it goes. Will I miss out on “impulse buying” that the van offered? Will I make more money or less money? We’ll see.
Create a wedding design contract. This won’t be too bad. I’ve been collecting bits of ideas for a few years now and it should come together pretty well.
Rework my farmers’ market stand. I’ve clipped inspirations, ideas, and pictures. Now I just need to draw it out.
Rework my spring seeding schedule. After hearing Lisa Zeigler speak, visiting with her at the 2014 Conference, and reading her book, Cool Flowers, I definitely am not torturing my cool flowers enough. I’m going to push the limits and see what happens.
Finally, for some time now I have been collecting and reading vintage floral design books. It started out that I wanted to rediscover flowers traditionally used in floral design “back in the day”. But while I was researching, and being charmed by their frank and curt writing styles, I began to learn a lot about the basics of floral design. Because the designs in this era (America 1920s–1970s) are mostly simple line and not mass arrangements, I was able to see and understand what these basic techniques meant. I started to get it. I think learning these basic principles and incorporating them into your designs takes it to the next level.
Don’t get me wrong: the designs in these books were perfectly dreadful. (I think I’ve adopted their “curt frankness”.) Looking at their rigid perfection put knots in my stomach. I could not enjoy anything so obviously and symmetrically spaced. However, if you take that skeleton of a design, those basic, important ideas of how to lead the eye and create harmony, and add in all the flair that the modern world has to offer—wow, vintage floral design takes on a whole new look. I feel inspired to coin a new word here but it won’t come to me.
That is a very long introduction to my new favorites that I hope would inspire many of you, both farmer and designer. They are a couple of charming and inspiring modern floral books written by Vic Brotherson: Vintage Flowers (2011) and Vintage Wedding Flowers (2014). The author is based in London and where he runs Scarlet & Violet florist. Each time I open these books, the images stir something very deep in my spirit and make me think—yes, that is simple and so, so beautiful. She has blended perfectly, the vintage with the new in a most pleasing and uplifting way. I love both books, but if you must choose, let me help. Between the two, Vintage Wedding Flowers is awe-inspiring and would be my first recommendation to see if you even like the style. Then, if you dig old, vintage, shabby chic, rustic, bold, timeless and just happen to be a manic yard-saler or treasure hunter, try Vintage Flowers. A lot of what is in these treasures will give you ideas for staging simple ideas for your customers to see.
Whew! My desk will not be cleared off overnight. But one thing is more than no-thing, so keep pecking away at those projects, and enjoy the encouragement and inspiration these cold winter days offer.