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Farm-to-vase flowers making a splash in Georgia this Mother's Day

By for CAES News

Harvesting cut flowers from your own garden can be a rewarding, cost-effective way to treat your mom for Mother’s Day. But don’t worry if you don’t have your own flowers to cut.

More and more Georgians can find locally grown flowers for their mothers without growing them in their own gardens.

Nationwide, Americans will spend about $2.6 billion on flowers this Mother’s Day, according to the National Retail Federation. That money helps fuel the nation’s $4.37 billion floriculture industry and Georgia’s $843 million ornamental horticulture industry.

While cut flowers are still a relatively small part of the state’s ornamental horticulture industry, more and more local farmers are adding cut flowers to their farmers market stalls and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) orders. Georgia Grown, the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s agricultural products marketing program, lists more than 90 Georgia businesses that grow or market Georgia-grown flowers to the public.

Flower farms dot the landscape from the mountains to the coast and supply flower lovers directly or through local boutiques or fresh markets.

“Cut flowers are a perfect fit for most sunny gardens, and they seem to be getting more popular. People seem to like them more than before because one generates their own fresh, beautiful flowers, and they make great, casual gifts for friends and family,” said Paul Thomas, a horticulture professor at the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

In Georgia, Mother’s Day and graduation season create the bulk of business for local flower farms.

Benefits of buying local

More consumers want to shrink their carbon footprints by buying what they need from local vendors and farmers.

Nearly 80 percent of cut flowers in the U.S. are imported and travel hundreds of miles in refrigerated planes, trains and trucks.

“It's good to know that purchasing something like that comes with a huge environmental footprint,” said Steve O’Shea, who owns Comer, Georgia’s 3 Porch Farm with his wife, Mandy.

Rita Williams, who owns Candler County, Georgia’s WilMor Farms with her husband, Mike, explained that people purchase flowers from their farm because they can ask them questions about the chemicals used in the growing process, and they have the answers.

“We know what they (the flowers) haven’t been exposed to,” Rita Williams said.

Purchasing local flowers also supports the local economy and communities.

“It’s how we survive,” she added.

Rita Williams knows that the local flower market in Georgia is still in its early stages, but the market share for local flowers and community of flower producers across the state is growing.

She and Mike Williams started WilMor Farms in 2015 after they were inspired by 3 Porch Farm. They felt they could provide the same types of local, sustainable blooms to south Georgia as the O’Sheas provide in northeast Georgia. The Williamses also thought it would also be a great way to teach their four children about hard work and give them a closer connection the land.

Flowers in Georgia?

Blame it on the heat, the humidity or the insects, but Georgia has long had a reputation as inhospitable to cut flower production.

But that depends on what blooms you’re growing, said Jenna Moon, who started Winterville, Georgia’s Seeds and Stems Farm with her partner, Tom Bagby, in 2017.

You won’t see tulips and fist-size roses when you shop for locally grown flowers in Georgia. Farmers here offer a mix of classic, Southern garden flowers and native flowers, or blooms acclimated to Georgia’s heat and humidity.

Ranunculus, anemones and poppies are some of the star flowers cultivated here.

Native flowers and wildflowers also steal the show from time to time, Moon said. She brings native plants into the arrangements she sells at the West Broad Farmers Market in Athens, Georgia.

Not only are native flowers already acclimated to Georgia weather and provide a habitat for wildlife, they also “have a unique beauty that isn't always found in cultivated varieties,” said Moon. In their Mother’s Day bouquets, they’ll use classic flowers, like daisies, interspersed with hellebores, black oats and nasturtium, which will also be in their salad mix.

Because they are operating on a farm-to-vase model, local flower farmers can only provide in-season blooms, but in Georgia, the season can stretch from late winter through the summer.

What do I look for now?

When it comes to trends, Rita Williams encouraged consumers to “use what they think is pretty” and not allow their creativity to be stifled or boxed in by trends seen on social media.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” she added.

3 Porch Farm uses “whatever is relevant and beautiful,” said Steve O’Shea. This Mother’s Day, their arrangements will include species like bachelor’s button, campanula, snapdragons, poppies and peonies mixed with seed pods, native grasses, vines and tendrils.

“An emerging trend has been to get away from customers requesting specific flowers and moving more toward color palettes utilizing local and seasonal flowers,” said Steve O’Shea.

To spruce up a basic bunch, Steve O’Shea suggested gathering wild materials with a few friends.

“It's a lot of fun to get a few friends together, buy a bunch of local flowers each, and then go forage for bits and tendrils and grasses, bring it all back to the house and create arrangements together,” he said.

More information about WilMor Farms, 3 Porch Farm, and Seeds and Stems Farm can be found on their Facebook pages. For more information about where to purchase local flowers in Georgia, visit www.georgiagrown.com/find/horticulture/cut-flowers.

 

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