A number of years ago, with our kids in college and beyond, I set my sights on the unlikely endeavor of creating a flower farm in the middle of the suburbs. Call me crazy, but my belief, then and now, is that people truly appreciate fresh flowers, and that people, our environment and our economy all benefit from locally grown blooms.
At the time, the backyard of our home was typically-suburban: extensive lawn, which often doubled as a soccer field, surrounded by show-stopping perennial gardens. I took out the shovel and started digging. By fall, rows of perennials lined both the back and front of our home and several thousand tulips were tucked into the soil for the winter. What a great start for the little flower farm!
The next spring brought seemingly just reward for autumn’s hard work, as daffodils, tulips, and early-blooming perennials burst into color and marched to market. Quite fortuitously, an additional acre became part of Butternut Gardens, providing more space for summer’s magnificent annuals, including a bounty of eye-popping zinnias and hundreds of lilies, sunflowers, and more, which created a summer-long succession of bloom. Several hundred dahlias and chrysanthemums also moved in, an apt return to land which, I am told, once laid claim to rows of dahlias.
From the start, customers opened their arms to the Slow Flower movement by participating in our flower subscription service and taking home fresh bouquets from local farmers markets. It wasn't long, either, before Butternut Gardens flowers gracefully danced into their first bridal bouquets and weddings.
From the start, as well, I followed the same philosophy that I followed for nearly a lifetime as a gardener and a naturalist - tread lightly and with as minimal impact as possible. Respect, protect, and work with what is already in place - soil, plants and animals alike. Spending my childhood on thirty acres of land with everything from dry oak woodland to field and "native lawn," to lowland, maple swamp, river and waterfall, as well as my family's gardens, I came to watch and enjoy a myriad of interesting and beautiful critters, plants and systems. Growing up with a well for water, and living near a river, I came to respect the essential value and power of our water resources. Having the luxury to watch clouds passing overhead squirrels climbing trees, and garden and native plants growing along side me, I came to feel part of the system rather than a force meant to be in charge of it all.
So, as I cultivate nearly 45,000 stems of flowers, greens, and fruits a year, I take note of specific microclimates on my 2 1/2 acres and place specific plants where they will grow best. Pussy willow and winterberry enjoy more moist locations. Yarrow, Echinacea and Rudbeckia (Black eyed Susan) have sun and more lean soil that would be more similar to their native preferences. Small groups of plants are mixed into a single row and a single species is often planted in several locations to more closely mimic nature. In addition, Butternut Gardens flowers receive no synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. Organic pesticides are also eschewed in favor of "hands off" chemical pest management since some organic products are non-selective and I would rather tolerate crop loss than kill off so-called good bugs, along with the ones harming the plants.
Today, Butternut Gardens is a Bee Friendly Farm, and I am proud to be participating in the Million Garden Pollinator Challenge. While I do not raise honey bees on site, I gladly watch as many honey bees visit from neighborhood apiaries. I take care to leave stems of many perennial plants standing over winter so our native pollinators can find refuge in their stems and birds can find sustenance in dried seeds. Ground nesting sites and water are also made available for native bees and others, and milkweed is left standing amid the flower rows for the benefit of our earth's incredible Monarch butterflies. It is the Monarch population from our region and others in our general climate range- likely the 5th generation of each year - which changes from egg to caterpillar and then butterfly and flies nearly 2100 miles to Mexico for the winter and following spring's initial leg back north.
Being able to turn my life-long passion for gardening into “the little flower farm that could" has proven most rewarding. I am proud to bring agriculture back to Southport and to share the unsurpassed beauty and fragrance of local flowers with my community. I am also proud to be a part of the rapidly growing Slow Flowers movement and to be an Accredited Organic Land Care Professional, who wants as much as anything else to guide others to care for their suburban landscapes in a way that leaves a positive legacy.
I have always been a gardener, have my Masters degree from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, earned a Certificate of Gardening from The New York Botanical Garden, was trained as a Master Gardener in Connecticut, studied floral design in several locations including FlowerSchool New York in Manhattan, and previously worked at a local florist and at Oliver Nurseries in Fairfield, Connecticut. Most recently, I became a NOFA Accredited Organic Land Care Professional. In so doing I both solidified my horticultural and ecological goals as one and came to believe my future will require me to share both my flowers and my gardening and conservation wisdom. For this reason, workshops, speaking engagements, and increased educational writing will form a vital part of my Butternut Gardens future. In this area of the country - Metropolitan New York - so much of our power to impact our environment, either for better or worse, rests in the hands of our suburban landowners. As the steward of a suburban farm, I feel uniquely positioned to educate and encourage others to make a positive impact. Earth-friendly management must be a priority. Period.
Behind every good farmer is an ever better spouse. My husband is a source of constant support, who time and time again intuitively offers just the right helping hand when I need it most. The kids? They're right behind us both!
As I look forward to many exciting gardening and design days ahead, I hope you will enjoy the farm and flowers as much as I do, and will join me in this venture as we continue to grow...