Illinois flowers

From anticipation to anticipation

Frost is coming. That is certain; what is uncertain is when it will arrive. When do I want the frost to arrive?

I don’t know.

Photo credit: Jordan Favero Photography

Photo credit: Jordan Favero Photography

It changes, by the hour. October is a glorious, and gloriously difficult, month. The flowers are stunning. In my opinion, every other month pales in comparison to October in this regard. Two weekends ago, I overheard one of my close friends tell someone, ‘October flowers are the best - or that’s what Katie says’. And that is what I say. (Get married in early October! That is my unsolicited advice to all you future brides out there.)

What is so hard about October, then?

Everything. This summer, in May, I printed out 6 months of the calendar from a free online calendar template. And then I taped them to the garage door. It felt slightly overwhelming, to be honest, that first weekend of the farmers’ market when I realized we’d be doing this (Chris, I and the kiddo) like 2 dozen more times before the end. Since then, I have been writing every special order, event, or flower engagement we have on those printed pages. Every time I enter or leave the house, I see the calendar and am reminded of what’s ahead (or what I need to be doing that day). Nothing exists for me if it’s not on that calendar. Every morning, I cross the previous day off of the calendar, watching the days of the season tick off, the way I counted down to my due date with our firstborn. There’s not much left to cross off on the calendar. I didn’t print November. I didn’t tape it up, and I don’t anticipate crossing any days off it, because I don’t think we’ll still have flowers in the field at that point.

All of that is to say, this is the sixth month of flowers in the field. Of course, I am insanely grateful for that. I am also tired, and I think I have carpal tunnel in one of fingers on my right hand from cutting and designing flowers, and I haven’t slept until 6 am on a Saturday in 6 months, and so on. I find myself ticking off the mental list of ‘last’ things for the season on the regular - ‘this may be the last time I wash buckets this season’ (helpful hint: do NOT become a flower farmer if you hate doing dishes; like a full 25% of what I do is wash and rinse things), ‘this may be the last farmers’ market with flowers’, ‘this may be the last weekly deliveries’, etc.

We are living in the uncertainty of the season right now.

Seasonal businesses cause you to live in anticipation, for both the very good (the first flowers!) and the not as very good (the first frost). In the liturgical calendar, we are in Ordinary Time. In the flower farm calendar, this is Advent. I’m not lighting candles, but I’m awaiting the arrival of something that changes everything and is always not what I anticipate or imagine.

Photo credit: Jordan Favero Photography

Photo credit: Jordan Favero Photography

We have been blessed (a word I mostly hate, but it applies here) with the solace and refuge of hard work, good customers, pleasant special events, and gorgeous flowers. It has truly been a haven in the storm of everything that has happened this year (the weather; politics - which I teach, so it’s always present; the grind of daily work and parenting and such; humanitarian crises), the kind of things that throw me off kilter and out of sync. I saw a post on Instragram about intermittent fasting (take it or leave it), and the one thing really made sense to me was the idea of getting outside and syncing up your circadian rhythms in the morning. That sounds like the kind of stuff (read: s**t) I would normally hate, but I don’t know - I’m a better, nicer person when I’m out in the field in the morning. We’re saying goodbye to that soon. Not the better, nicer Katie (but…maybe?), but the refuge of being in a place of beauty with purpose to do. My garage just isn’t that beautiful. But, like in Advent, you endure the waiting for the arrival of hope embodied again. It’s new and changeless every time.

From anticipation (frost) to anticipation (spring). That’s what we do. So, we’ll keep on anticipating until we can set our eyes on green again.

Sprinting

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From those of you whom do athletics, I have gathered there is a concept that is essentially you try really hard before the end of the game/race/match/meet/what have you. Now, obviously my great sporting experience bears this out to be true (which is why I was crowned queen of the 10 minute mile in middle school).

But, seriously, these last few and next few weeks are the sprint before the approaching end of the season.

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We are waiting on the next large flush of sunflowers to come in. When they do, I would estimate we are at peak production for the season. After that, if prior years are a good indicator, production will level off, then start declining as the days get shorter and the nights get cooler. (We have had flowers in November, so I keep reminding myself not to consider October the killer of all flowers.)

The flowers really save the best for last. We are about to get another flush of snapdragons, and I was thrilled to harvest more of my favorite variety of snaps for the first time in awhile last week. The dahlias are hard to keep up with. I actually need to go to the field tomorrow for the second time in two days just to cut everything that’s blooming and hasn’t been used, to encourage production. Too many dahlias - what a bad problem to have (ha). There are other varieties that have only gotten better as the season has gone on: statice (the purples coming out of the field right now are truly divine!), sweet annie (a new all-time favorite), scabiosa (so great), and so on.

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Like the flowers, we are saving the best for last. We’ve retilled our new beds, and are going to get them prepped for winter. We are starting to discuss new ways of laying out the field, bee-friendly approaches, and more. We are culling the growing list for next year already, which is a much better way of doing it than trying to remember in January why I said I’d never grow that variety again.

Finally, we have some great events coming up. On Tuesday, the 17th, from 6-8 pm, I’m leading a floral design workshop at the Wilmington Wine Cafe .Yes, there will be wine. And appetizers. And our locally grown flowers. I’m really looking forward to this event! (Side note: There is a physical limit to the amount of space/people in the room, so the Wine Cafe really needs guests to call ahead to reserve their spot.)

Photo credit: Jordan Favero Photography

Photo credit: Jordan Favero Photography

On Wednesday, September 25th from 5-6:30 pm we are hosting our second you-pick party in the field, and we’re celebrating fall! Chris is leading a production tour of the field, so you can have the inside scoop on the growing side. I’ll lead a tour about dried flowers - which varieties work well, how to do it, how to cut them. Of course, we’ll have the scissors and vases you need to cut your own flowers, and you should have about 1,000 sunflowers to choose from. The amazingly talented photographer Jordan Favero is booking mini sessions in the field. We just go our family photos that we took in the field back, and they are stunning. You should must certainly schedule a mini session with her!

We’re also looking forward to more weddings, more farmers’ markets, and more special deliveries.

We can’t wait to share it all with you in these last glorious weeks of the season!

Yours in flowers,

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Katie and Chris Francis

Falling for you

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Welcome, September! If you are like me, you are both equally shocked and relieved that it is (finally) September. August always seems like a whirl-wind with school starting, the flowers cranking out blooms, and the weather unpredictable (will it be scorching hot? humid? dry? temperate?)

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So, what have we been up to in the last few weeks? Here’s a quick list:

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  • Special orders. We have been busy! And we like it that way. Our weekly subscribers have the benefit of me getting to learn their preferences, and I really love hearing/seeing/reading about when a bouquet makes someone’s day (or week).

  • Gladiolus. Our glads had some spectacular colors this year, and they are just about done for the season. Towards the end of their run, I was increasingly drawn to the soft pinks, which usually isn’t my color of choice. But these were irresistible!

  • A field photo shoot. Have you looked around at the website and noticed anything different? That’s because the amazing Rachel Wassink, a wonderful photographer and human from the Aurora area, worked her magic. I have spent my fair share of time just admiring the way she captured the field at sunset.

  • Two farmers’ markets in one day. There’s a first for everything, and we have survived our first foray into both Chris and I attending separate markets with flowers. They both turned out to be nice markets, but it was tiring! Probably in part because I got sunburned (eek).

  • Dahlias. Let the people say, hooray! The dahlias arrived really early this year, but in the last week the production has sky-rocketed. The excessive rain in May and June slowed their bloom time down, and - for a while - I was worried it wouldn’t pick up. I’m not so worried anymore, and I’m thrilled that - for whatever reason (knock on wood) - the pest populations seem to be lower this year, too. The only bad part is that I can’t keep all of the dahlias for myself!

  • Fall! Now, we know that fall hasn’t officially started yet, but we’re ready. We brought our new fall display/photo booth to the farmers’ market this weekend, along with the beginning of our fall products. Thankfully, the weather cooperated and it was cool and temperate on Saturday. It was so much fun to see you all stop and take pictures in the photo booth!

  • We’re expanding (no, I’m not pregnant! haha). We’ve ripped up a new section of beds for 2020, expanding our growing space by approximately 33%. In doing so, we’ve now taken over 2 former sheep pastures, and I very much appreciate the in-laws willingness to tolerate and support more flowers next year. And, more flowers there will be! I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say there will be some awesome photo opportunities growing next year!

Sunny days.

Sunny days.

September is going to be a crazy busy/awesome month for us, with multiple weddings (including our first out of town wedding), a wine tasting and flower arranging event (September 17th, Wine Cafe in Wilmington), a fun fall-themed field event (September 25th, 5-6:30 pm, fall, photos, kids’ activities, the works!), and the regular slate of special orders, deliveries, and farmers’ markets.

We hope we get to see you at one or more of those events!

Sunshine on a rainy day.

Sunshine on a rainy day.

Yours in flowers,

Katie and Chris

At last

The bouquet I picked at our you-pick event.

The bouquet I picked at our you-pick event.

Ah. So I knew this day would come. The period of the season where it was intensely busy and I didn’t get this update posted on time. The good news is that the stuff that has been keeping us busy has been good stuff.

The Saturday farmer’s market on the 3rd was our best selling market ever. That was pretty exciting to experience. I credit the perfect weather, the gorgeous sunflowers, and the really fun rainbow bouquets I made. My dad was in town visiting, too, and it was nice to share a great market experience with him.

On Friday, the 9th of August, we hosted our first big party in the flower field. It was a ‘back to school’ theme, and everyone was welcome to pick their own flowers. We were thrilled with the event overall, and really enjoyed the approximately 100 people (it was hard to keep exact count) that came out. Some of my highlights of the event were watching little ones run around, observing how intently people considered their options before cutting, and the weather. All of this makes me extra excited for our fall themed you-pick party at the end of September (September 25th, 5-7 pm).

Queen lime with orange zinnias doing their thing.

Queen lime with orange zinnias doing their thing.

Then, on the 10th we flew out of state to visit my family, and enjoyed a lot of ice cream, swimming, and playing with cousins. I love family time, but it was nice to be back to the field. We actually drove straight from the airport to the flower field, and I walked around in the clothes I had traveled in just taking it all in. The asters started blooming in our absence, and I was pleasantly surprised by the growth the sunflowers put on while we were gone, too. There was a new variety of statice blooming (such a pretty purple, with small white blooms on top), and the zinnias I had planted on the 4th of July just because (well, because I’d rather plant ALL of the seed we have) started blooming as well.

After that, it was ‘off to the races’ in terms of special orders, deliveries, and prepping for the farmers’ market on Saturday. I went ‘full summer’ on the bouquets for the farmers’ market this week and used the most vibrant, bright, summery colors the field had to offer. With the buckets and buckets of gorgeous sunflowers we brought in from the field and some sweet gladiolus and perfect weather, it was another great market.

Asters are such a sweet flower.

Asters are such a sweet flower.

We’re picking up more orders for our weekly deliveries, and preparing to sell at two farmers’ markets this coming Saturday the 24th. (Ask me at 2 pm on Saturday if I thought that was a good idea after trying to corral a squirmy toddler for 6 hours. Eek.) With some fun special events coming up (fall party, sunflower photo wall, wine and design class, weddings, etc.), fall is looking like it will be a great season for us!

Of course, all of this is on top of watering, weeding, seeding, tilling, solarizing, and planning for the future. Chris is set to finish the sunflower plantings for the year soon. More tillage crops should go in this weekend, and we’re expanding production space for next year this fall. We’ll solarize the beds over the fall to help to prepare the soil for production next year. I can summarize the motivating idea in just one word: SUNFLOWERS. It’s going to be good, friends.

I know people love fall (and for some good reasons), but this period of the year is such an exciting one. I won’t miss the humidity though. That can just go away for good, if you ask me.

Here’s some of what’s been happening over here. As always, contact us to order any special orders, event flowers, or gifts that you want. Flowers make the best presents - easy on the eyes, and good on the waistline!

Yours in flowers,

Katie and Chris Francis

A field of color

While the stars of the show here every week are the flowers, there are some show-stopping flowers that came out of the field this week. Colors, textures, sizes, smells, the whole gambit. What a beautiful week in flowers it has been. (I’m going to attempt to stay positive instead of complain endlessly about the excessive and annoying heat.)

You can see our flower field from the state route, and I must admit that I always try to look at it while driving by. (Other people must, too, because I hear a lot of vehicles hit the rumble strips. Maybe they’re just distracted by the excessively pale ghost, me, they see stalking the field. ha) The sunflowers feel like such happy sentinels. Chris decided to plant the 110 foot vertical bed that slopes up the hill in successions of sunflowers, and it’s quite picturesque. I especially like watching them track the movement of the sun throughout the day. I deeply love sunflowers, so my life improved a degree now that they are out in the field in full force.

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There are other relative newcomers to the field, including massive zinnias, dahlias, cosmos, snapdragons, salvia, statice, dara, scabiosa, and amaranth tassels. I harvested for the farmers’ market on Friday morning, and I went back out on Saturday morning and either I forgot to harvest certain rows of zinnias, or they are opening overnight. In other words, it’s like a scavenger hunt every time I’m in the field now - ‘what’s blooming today?’

Multiple times this week I got to do one of my favorite activities - take a bucket of water and a pair of clippers, and walk the field for flowers that I’m going to arrange that day. It is so fun to see what the field has for me, and which color/variety combinations draw my eye. Sometimes I go out to harvest with a clear idea of what I or the customer wants, but sometimes I just go with the flow, and those times are especially fun.

On the production side, we did get the beds solarized and the crop crop in on other beds. We’re waiting for less hot, dry days to till up our newest section of beds. They will go into production in 2020, resulting in a 100% plus increase in bed space in 4 years. I have probably already earmarked every inch of space in those beds with varieties I’m in love with right now, like statice and snapdragons and dahlias. We’ll see how I change my mind as the season progresses.

Until then, we’ll keep admiring what we have, while dreaming about the future.

Here’s what I can’t get over this week:

This cheerful rudbeckia bed.

This cheerful rudbeckia bed.

Yours in flowers,

Katie and Chris Francis

This pink wall and just how many submissions we got for our first sunflower giveaway (one of the prizes pictured here.)

This pink wall and just how many submissions we got for our first sunflower giveaway (one of the prizes pictured here.)