Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee

“If I knew then what I know now…” Famous last words, right? We have all said this famous phrase at one time or another in our life, and since the ASCFG is here to educate you, maybe I can “school” some new growers here so this phrase does not become part of their flower history.I recall standing in line next to Dave Dowling at my very first ASCFG conference and asking him, “If there was one flower that you would recommend for a new grower, what would it be?” He said “Go buy some ‘Limelight’ hydrangeas.” I made a mental note of that, then sat through two awesome days of speakers, and was completely and totally overwhelmed.

To make a long story short, dare you ask if I went home and planted ‘Limelight’ hydrangeas? Well, ya know, um…sadly the answer is NO. So here is one of many woulda, coulda, shoulda moments: listen to me when I say “GO BUY SOME ‘LIMELIGHT’ HYDRANGEAS!” I did finally plant some two years later, and each year I add more, but had I done what I was told, I would have been harvesting, selling, and profiting from those hydrangeas years ago! No matter your market, there is always a use for ‘Limelight’, among other woody material.

Woody plants often take several years before you are able to harvest very many stems, so start NOW. Depending on your zone, there are so many options for this type of planting. After planting those ‘Limelights’, go search for this book for all the woody details, Woody Cut Stems for Growers and Florists, by Lane Greer and John Dole. All regions of the country have native species of woody cuts that may already be available to you on your own property. But if not, now is the time to start looking into these type of permanent plantings, don’t wait, there is no time like the present. Below is a list of some of my favorite woody cut stems and what I use them for, however there are so many possibilities:

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’—bouquets, straight bunches

Salix matsudana (curly willow)—bouquets, straight bunches, large events, winter outdoor containers

Salix discolor (pussy willow)—bouquets, straight bunches, large events, winter outdoor containers, wreaths

Elaeagnus pungens (silverberry)—large bouquets, events, large vertical and horizontal elements

Euonymus japonicus—shiny green filler for small bouquets, great flower cluster when cut in bud

Magnolia grandiflora—Christmas arrangements, wreaths, swags, garland

Dwarf Magnolia ‘Little Gem’—Christmas arrangements, wreaths, swags, garland

Boxwood (all varieties)—bouquet greenery, wreaths, swags, garland

So here is my next, shoulda, woulda, coulda epiphany: PLANT MORE GREENERY, and for lack of a better word, FILLER! This too took me a few years to realize. It is human nature to be drawn to big beautiful flowers, but when it comes to bouquets, without the supporting material and accessories, we would have a pretty boring composition. I was guilty of poring through the seed catalogs and picking out all of the beautiful flowers I wanted to grow, realizing too late that a bouquet needs more than just those beautiful shining faces. Don’t forget that ever-important supporting element and grow lots of it. Everyone has their favorites; here are a few of mine:

Hibiscus ‘Mahogany Splendor’—red foliage

Basil ‘Cinnamon’, ‘Aromatto’, ‘Lime’—fragrant foliage

Bupleurum—lime-green foliage

Eucalyptus—start early, great blue fragrant foliage

Rudbeckia triloba—little
black-eyed Susan cluster

Tagetes ‘Burning Embers’
—small branching marigold

Celosia spicata—love all
of them

Solidago—really fills the gaps

Another consideration when poring through those seed catalogs and selecting next season’s flowers is to keep it simple. Have some restraint. I know, you want it all. Every time I read about somebody’s favorite flower, or the next new thing, I of course want it. Truth is, it is the staple face flowers that carry all the load. I have had my share of 20-foot sections trying out all these different flowers only to be disappointed, wasting time, space, and patience much of the time. The advantages of mastering a few varieties over trying to manage a multitude is obvious. There are many true workhorses out there and these are mine:

• LA hybrid lilies
• Sunflowers
• Zinnias
• Celosia
• Marigold
• Mums

Lastly, I wish we could have figured out our market sooner. We are very fortunate to live in the quiet rolling hills of northern Mississippi; unfortunately we live nowhere near a decent-sized population base. If you do, count your marketing blessings. We did not relish driving two hours to a large city to sell our flowers so we thought we could provide flowers to our local and rural community, along with local florists. The only problem with trying to market flowers to ruralites (made that word up) is that most typically do not have a desire for flowers because they do not entertain much, most of their family lives nearby so they don’t have company, dinner parties are rare, plus everyone’s grandma grows zinnias so they see no value in flowers. On the other hand, urbanites do all of the above, plus they are surrounded by asphalt so there is definitely more of a market and desire for beautiful locally-grown flowers. Just with any business, the greater the population, the more varied and greater are the opportunities. Had we known then what we know now we would have approached grocers, wholesale florists, and upscale farmers markets in a large city sooner. Now we know, and that two-hour drive isn’t so bad after all.

There are so many components to managing a flower farm business it is my hope that some of these coulda, woulda, shoulda moments of mine can help you achieve your goals quicker and less painfully! Good luck this season, and don’t forget to plant your ‘Limelight’ hydrangeas!

Tanis Clifton

Happy Trails Flower Farm

Tanis Clifton Happy Trails Flower Farm Contact at [email protected]