Seasonal 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

Hola, August!

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And then July was done. How did that happen?

It happened with a lot of blooms and seeds, a lot of weeds, a lot of event planning, and a lot of designing, that’s how it happened.

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Let’s start with the blooms. The sunflowers and dahlias have been gorgeous, the zinnias are showing some great stem length and beautiful colors, I’m loving the new colors of statice that are coming in, the snapdragons are heavenly, the eucalyptus and dusty miller are stunning, the cerinthe is a new favorite, the calendua is colorful, the celosia is popping, the salvia and scabiosa and strawflower are starting, and so on and so on. I’m missing a lot in that little round up, which goes to show how much is going on in the field right now (also known as, Katie has begun to consider whether she should quit worrying about whether things will ever bloom). In the last two weeks, we have planted more sunflowers, calendua, stock, zinnias, amaranth, and cerinthe. And that’s in addition to the blooming stock, dara, cress, amaranth, rudbeckia, cosmos, peas, bells of Ireland, and others that I didn’t mention above - I was walking the field in my head, and I got distracted thinking about the second item mentioned above - the weeds.

I wonder what the bloom to weed ratio is. I’m guessing if we mapped that relationship over the course of the season we would see a decline over time. At some point, there will be fewer weeds. I wonder on a regular basis when that will be. I have been thankful for some extra assistance with weeding this last week, to the point where the field has been looking very nice. We had our first private event in the flower field this past Tuesday, and I was very proud to walk people around the flower field a give a little tour. While some people tell me the idea that flower farming is so romantic (which is often true), flower farming is actually a lot of one-on-one alone time with the dirt and weeds and mosquitoes. In other words, it is nice to share the field with other humans for a change.

“Don’t worry, Mom, I just want to touch them, I won’t hurt them.”

“Don’t worry, Mom, I just want to touch them, I won’t hurt them.”

Which brings me to my third update - the ongoing event planning. We are planning a back to school you-pick party in the flower field, and I’m really excited for it. It is Friday, August 9th from 5-8 pm. There is a $5/car entrance fee (with registration, $10/car otherwise), and then flowers that people cut will be priced per stem. The best part is that we are having kids activities, and people can take pictures in the field at our school themed photo station and browse the adorable creations of Kellie from The Paper Arrow Co., whom is styling the event for us. It’s going to be a great time. (You can register for free to let us know you are coming on our Facebook page by using the Events tab, or on Eventbrite by searching “Proclamation Flowers”.) The trick will be to reign myself in so that I’m not trying to do ALL of the things at the same time, because I really want to do ALL of the things for this party!

When I’m not dreaming up what extra things we could do at the back to school party, I’ve been designing special orders and arrangements as often as I can. The flowers are stunning right now, and have lent themselves to all sorts of designs, color schemes, and themes. I’ve included some of my favorites here, so you can get a sense of what’s been going out the door recently.

We’ve been burning the midnight oil recently (quite literally, it’s 11:54 pm at the moment) with the field work, harvesting, designing, selling, and planning. It’s 10000% worth it and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, just in case you were curious.

Come see it in person yourself at our event on the 9th!

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.)

Welcome, summer

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It is officially summer now, and we are welcoming this new season with open arms. This year, we started attending the farmers’ market 6 weeks earlier than any previous year. There were a number of reasons for that decision, which aren’t overly interesting. What is more interesting is what we learned from showing up to the markets that much earlier.

First, I learned to appreciate peonies in a whole new way this year. It’s not just that they are beautiful flowers (which they are), it’s that they bloom in a time of year when I’m practically desperate for fresh flowers. Other people at the farmers’ markets seemed to feel the same way, as the peony arrangements didn’t stick around for long each week.

Second, I learned how much interest there is in opportunities to visit the flower farm. That was very gratifying to see, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered making everyone pull one weed as price of entry. We’ll be rolling out more details about the first field event of the season soon (sans weed pulling requirements).

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Third, I learned to appreciate the bounty of summer more. (I feel practically obligated to say this.) Production is not a steady, increasing line for us - there are ebbs and flows in the season depending on growing time, weather, and other field conditions. When you only sell at the farmers’ markets during the period where production is high and increasing, it just seems natural to have a big volume of product to sell. There were some hard weeks this spring - gap weeks between varieties blooming, or weeks when the 10+ inches of rain in May was felt very strongly. I have worried that these low production weeks would communicate the wrong message to customers, but a quick peek at our booth in the next few weeks will dispel any concerns about production, volume, or quantity.

Fourth, and finally, I learned how much I prefer the saturated and deep colors of summer to the pastels of spring. Pastels certainly have their place, but I don’t think that they will ever have my heart in the same way as bold, rich, vibrant colors will. The colors these last two weeks have been incredible.

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Okay, enough reflections. So, what have we been up to?

In the last two weeks, we have seen the first sunflowers bloom (hooray!!!), dahlia buds about to burst (that’s never happened this early in July!), and an epic storm rip through this previous Sunday. Thankfully, the storm damage was minimal. One zinnia and a few volunteer sunflowers are the worse for it, but everyone else will pull through fine. We have ended in what we are told is our permanent home at the farmers’ market (across from the gazebo, by the aisle to the parking lot). We have dealt with some nasty heat and humidity (the ‘the sweat is dripping off my face so much I can’t see out of my sunglasses’ kind). We are on pace with planting and managing the weeds for the moment (that is subject to change on a whim, if we’re unlucky). We likely won’t take time off on the 4th (in fact, I’m going to take advantage of the fact that Chris is off for extra weeding time). And, we’ll celebrate my birthday on Sunday (if anyone remembers - ha!)

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

In a word - COLOR.

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Yours in flowers,

Katie and Chris Francis

Back to normal

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This is an apt title for two reasons. First, with a break in May’s relentless pace of rain, we have settled back into a (more) normal farm routine. This is certainly something for which we are thankful (well, Katie is - Chris spends late into evening in the field and I don’t know exactly if he would use the word ‘thankful’ to describe how he feels about working after dark.) Second, I, personally, am back to normal after a unpleasant run-in with a migraine this week. (This is why this update, normally posted on Wednesday, is tardy this week.)

At some point this week, when I wasn’t comatose from the migraine, I realized that I must be a little superstitious, because every time I want to tell someone ‘the field is looking good’, I find myself turning around to find the nearest piece of wood to knock on. That said (with a pause as I knock on wood), I do think the field looks good right now compared to previous years. Last fall, we decided to solarize some beds where weeds were particularly problematic. (Solarizing is when you lay plastic across the bed and let the heat that accumulates over time essentially bake the soil to kill weed seeds and pathogens.) As we have uncovered some of these beds and gotten them in use this year, I am pleased with the results so far. We will keep solarizing the other beds as long as possible, which means until we need them for production.

One other fun step forward this week was that we now have ranunculus growing in our house. Quite a few of them, in fact. Ranunculus is a beautiful complicated bloom, reminiscent of a rose in its form, but more symmetrical, papery, and less overdone (that last descriptor is my opinion, of course). We decided to do a trial of them this year to see how they grow, hold up, and arrange. They are popular in design work, so I’m curious to see how well they grow. In the corm (tuber) stage, they look remarkably like little octopuses. I did not enjoy that fact as I helped to get them pre-sprouted, for your information.

We also have been joined on the farm this week by dozens upon dozens (perhaps into hundreds) of fall gourds, pumpkins, and what not. These are obviously still in the 1-2 true leaf stage, but boy howdy do they grow. Because I am the one who starts the small, finicky seeds indoors in the middle of winter, I am always a little scandalized by just how quickly these giant seeds emerge in the field. They are little monsters, and they grow like it, too.

Finally, the last remarkable thing that happened this week is that I watered the field. Save the best for last, right? While that sounds extremely mundane, it is notable in that I was desperate for the water to STOP last month, to the extent that I don’t believe I intentionally watered a single day in May. (This was only the second time I watered the field this year; I’m fuzzy on the exact date of the first watering, but I believe it was the end of April.) We’ve have 2 inches of rain this month so far, which is workable. I even let my seedlings that haven’t been transplanted yet enjoy the rain a couple of times this week. (My father-in-law tells me that rain water is better because it has nitrogen in it.)

We would be happy with another normal week for the one ahead, personally.

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

Gorgeous larkspur joined the party this week.

Gorgeous larkspur joined the party this week.

Have a good one!

Bloomfully yours,

Katie (and Chris) Francis