Erika Jensen farms and writes. Hear more stories at

This article applies to:



Slow Down and Smell the Flowers
by Erika Jensen       #Flowers   #Misc   #Sustainability and Self-Sufficiency










Carol Larsen of Sunborn Gardens in Wisconsin grows delphinium and other flowers in a hoop house to extend the season.

It’s a fragrant, fresh bunch of sweet peas, harvested at the peak of perfection and purchased at the farmers market early on a Saturday morning. It’s meeting your flower farmer face to face and saying thanks. It’s the pleasure of creating a unique arrangement with flowers from your own back yard, which stimulates your creativity and challenges you to look at your garden with fresh eyes. It’s locally grown flowers.

During the past few years, the Slow Flower movement has been generating a lot of buzz in the media. Following the success of the Slow Food movement, Debra Prinzing, author of The 50 Mile Bouquet, coined the term “Slow Flowers” in an attempt to talk about some of the reasons for supporting local flower growers as well as appreciating in-season blooms.

“Slow Flowers can be defined a couple of different ways,” said Prinzing, former president of Garden Writers Association. “First, it’s a conscious choice of sourcing flowers locally or domestically, which might include purchasing from local farmers, or from a reputable florist who sources locally. Secondly, for home gardeners, it’s about getting into the seasons and appreciating what each season has to offer. You can have your flowers integrated into the whole landscape, and bringing in flowers and arranging them is a part of establishing a relationship with your garden.”


Clockwise: Emily Watson harvests snapdragons in her hoop house. Emily operates Stems Cut Flowers, a farm in East Troy, Wisconsin, as well as Wood Violet, a floral design studio in Milwaukee. Farmers market customer Kat Lundberg enjoys a bouquet designed by Beth Kemp of Elizabella Flower Farm in Ames, Iowa. The arrangement features zinnias, blue vervain (Verbena hastata), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and yarrow (Achillea spp.). Bouquets created by Phyllis Wells of Wells Family Farm in Michigan are sold at the Elk Rapids Farmers Market.

Use What You’ve Got
To that end, Prinzing started the Slow Flower Challenge in 2011 and invites others to take part. The challenge involves creating one flower arrangement each week with flowers from your own garden, or locally sourced materials. Since Prinzing lives in Seattle, admittedly this is a little easier for her than for those in some other parts of the country. But even northern gardeners can take the challenge for part of the year.

There are a number of ways that consumers can source locally grown flowers. A great way to get started is purchasing at the farmers market or from a Community Supported Farm (CSA). There are also a number of resources available on the Internet to connect you with local flower growers. The Slow Flowers website ( has a map with a searchable database of growers.

Although a trade group, the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers has a number of resources on its website (, which might be useful to consumers and gardeners. These include an interactive map, which can connect you with a flower farmer in your area, a list of reasons to buy local flowers, and growing information.

Prinzing is pleased with the development of more of locally grown flowers. “These are baby steps, but it will ultimately shift the thinking from imported flowers available through grocery stores and wire services to a more sustainable solution,” said Prinzing, who has worked with others to develop the recently formed Congressional Cut Flower Caucus to help focus attention on local flowers and growers.


Clockwise: September Dykema of September’s Herbs and Produce in Montague, Michigan, harvests lavender (Lavandula spp.) before a thunderstorm. • Katie and Micah Thorson chose locally grown flowers for their outdoor wedding. The flowers were grown by Renee Arcand of Stillwater, Minnesota. • Renee Arcand, a grower and designer from Stillwater, Minnesota, shows off her zinnias and black-eyed Susans in her cut flower garden.

Flower Farmers at Farmers Markets
Carol Larsen of Sunborn Gardens, based in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, has also seen a lot of changes since she started selling at the Dane County Farmers Market in 1975. There’s been an explosion of interest in farmers markets since the early days, and a corresponding expansion in the number of flower farmers. That translates into a tantalizing array of choices for the consumer, because when it comes to flowers, local farmers can deliver diversity.

Although not long lasting, the writer finds that the lacy blooms of ‘Double Click’ are hard to resist with their double and semi-double flowers. Deadhead through the summer to keep your plants productive.

“You can purchase a lot of unusual things that people have never heard of, such as amaranth (Amaranthus spp.) and grasses that you can’t get as a commercial product,” Larsen said. “Lisianthus, Alstroemeria, snaps (Antirrhinum majus), Ranunculus, Delphinium, stocks (Matthiola incana), peonies (Paeonia spp.) – these are some of the things that local growers can do better.”

People who buy flowers at the farmers’ market seem to me, self-selected for local flowers, Larsen said. “For sustainable flowers, I think that our retail farmers market customers assume that they are sustainable. We have a sign that notes that is our growing practice. I am sure I could count on one hand the number of questions or comments I have had about that. Just the last three to four years, I have had an uptick in brides asking me for sustainable and local flowers.”

Larsen said a lot of people don’t know that most of the flowers flown into the U.S. are dipped or sprayed with fungicides and pesticides, so that no diseases or pests are brought in. “Most of our florists appreciate the fact that they can get flowers without deleterious chemicals on them but, (some) florists don’t want to dwell on that because, unfortunately, the vast majority of the flowers that they handle are sprayed, dipped or grown in chemicals that are quite toxic.”

Finding high quality flowers with a long vase life at a farmers market is a skill that develops over time. The biggest mistake people make is to buy the flowers too open, Larsen said. She advises shoppers to get their flowers in bud or half open. Additionally, it’s useful to build a relationship with a good flower farmer who you can talk to, and who can show you the best flowers. They’re the vendors who will carefully wrap your flowers so you can get them home in one piece, and who have clean buckets and vases.

For Larsen, being a flower grower is tough financially, but the rewards she is able to harvest sustain her.

“You want to support your local flower farmer just like you support your vegetable farmer. This is definitely my passion. I’m not getting rich, but I love what I’m doing. It feeds my soul, every time I put my hands in the dirt.”


A version of this article appeared in a July/August 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Renee Arcand, Phyllis Wells, Elizabella Flower Farm, Joe Hang Photography, Simon Dykema, National Garden Bureau, and Metcalf’s Market.


Posted: 07/31/17   RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Other People Are Reading