“…curiosity, vulnerability, and tenacity. Those are three things that have allowed me to grow.”
-Susan McLeary | Passionflower
Today we’re sitting down with Susan McLeary (pictured above left) of Passionflower to discuss:
Links mentioned in Episode Two:
Images courtesy of Amanda Dumouchelle Photography
Landon McGee | Podcast Sound Engineer
To reach Amy & Maria, please send email to: email@example.com
Do you have a favorite flower farm in your area? What makes them special? My husband and I are dreaming of starting a small flower farm and would love to know what florists are looking for and find most valuable in a farmer/florist relationship.
Oh gosh, I’m in the utopia of flower farms here in Washington State. We are fortunate to have the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market which is a co-op of 15+ flower farms! One of the many beauties of our flower farmers is their ability to fill special orders. Maybe a florist needs branches 5 1/2′ tall, so the farmers will cut to the specific needs of those orders – that’s pretty cool!
What I’d highly suggest to new flower farmers is to look at adding lots of foliage options to your repertoire – add them to the perimeter of your growing area. Florists seem to always be on the lookout for new foliages!
As a farmer florist, and someone who has both sold to florists and bought from other growers, I love this question. It can be a very rewarding and successful relationship if approached wisely. In my Garden to Vase digital course I have a lengthy lesson for growers on how to sell to florists. It’s important to really get in the mind of a florist and think about what’s valuable to them. You want to be able to provide colours and types of flowers that they can’t easily get elsewhere, and with decent stem length. You want to be super reliable and communicative. And you don’t want to show up having not given any thought to how to price or package or condition your flowers. The more you can make the relationship simple, easy and clear – as well as having great product – the more success you will have.
Clare Day (Clare Day Flowers)
I am lucky to have several local farms that I work with during the busy wedding season. A few qualities I love about working with my local flower farmers: they are up on what is popular in the sophisticated wedding flowers and grow interesting varieties that you can’t get at the flower market; also being able to tell them my color palette and they can share with me everything they have that might work in that color scheme as well as they can pull together a mix of flowers in my budget of what’s looking best–often times including little gems I never would have thought to include in my designs; quick response to emails/texts is vital so I can juggle all my ordering from wholesalers/farmers in an organized way; and some of the farms even offer to deliver the flowers to my studio which is a huge plus and the flipside to that is some of the farms let me cut my own flowers which is also a luxury especially when working with a specific color palette. Good luck to you on your new flower farming experience!
Beth Zemetis (Blush Floral Design)
Well, this is an easy question for me: my own farm is my favorite! But to answer your question more constructively, I’ve heard time and again, the reason a florist buys from a farm regularly is because the farmer makes it EASY. You need to answer emails/calls/texts promptly. You need to have an easy-to-understand availability list with pictures that arrives in their inbox every week at the same time so they can rely on you. They strongly prefer delivery to them as they don’t have time to drive around from farm to farm. Simple online ordering can be a critical make-or-break reason a florist buys from you (the ASCFG has an awesome pre-built tool via Shopify that members can use). You can grow all the amazing flowers you want. But if you make it hard to buy them in any way, most florists are going to just go to the wholesaler when push comes to shove.
Jennie Love (Love ‘n Fresh Flowers)
Yes, there are flower farms nearby Paris and I do buy a lot of my material from them. I love that they are able to supply over the top seasonal flowers and that I can buy directly from them. What I like with them is that they are not producing main stream flowers, they are always searching for new varieties and new textures. They also sell flowers at all of their stages (for example: poppies in bloom, then poppies pods, then dried poppies pods…) I also love the fact that they both sell at the flower market twice a week where I can find them among others farmers and wholesalers AND that it is possible for me to pop on their field if I need something on the other days. That flexibility is just great!
Laetitia Mayor (Floresie)
I have many flower farms that I love and buy from, but one, Michigan Flower Farm, stands out. Renee has created a really helpful website, that lists everything she grows, and the timeframe of when she expects it to bloom. This is so important, because as a wedding designer, I am often crafting design plans in the dead of winter for summer and fall events. I often hop onto her website to remind myself of what will be available, and when.
Susan McLeary (Passionflower)
One of the many reasons our designs are special is the fact that we work with local growers and we also grow. I have been growing flowers for my designs for 25 years. Years before the dahlia became highly used in wedding work, I started working with Don’s Dahlias, Etc. Don is the president of the American Dahlia Society. My experience with dahlias prior to working with a local grower was extremely unsuccessful. Dahlias in particular really need to come from a local grower. As social media took off, everyone started craving the dahlias because florists were broadcasting on social media. As a result, even the wholesalers started seeking out the local growers for dahlias. Flowers from local growers or farms really can elevate a design because they are unique and special which provides the designer a better chance for publication. It allows designers the chance to create trend by bringing unique elements to the forefront. To this day I love working with Don and also Barbara of Greenstone Fields.
Here is the challenge. Some of the blooms provided by local growers (including our farm, Hope Flower Farm) may not fit into certain design styles. For example, when I am designing for a DC ballroom doing a luxury wedding it is unlikely that zinnias, yarrow, or vines will be requested by my bride. As a flower farmer, all of this has become a real challenge. I love growing and want those blooms for styling, teaching, atmosphere (because we are also a bed and breakfast), and my personal designs. But the painful truth is we don’t really have a home for all of the beautiful stems we are growing. As a result, we have started a delivery service of local flowers hoping this will give our pretty stems a home.
Growing flowers and being a flower farmer is not an easy task. It is really hard to make a living at growing unless you have strong industry relationships and a strong client base. The only reason we considered this endeavor was because I had a strong brand, was teaching, and hopefully had brides who would need our stems. We offer a ‘From the Garden’ package for our clients. On a bigger scale, the issue I have with working with my local flower farmers is knowing if the order is confirmed. When I give an order to my local wholesaler for procurement they work with many wholesalers to make my buy come to life. They make it happen. When I work with a local grower, I often get “I will let you know” or “we will see”. That type of buying does not work for my busy wedding business, so that is a huge challenge for me.
Things I recommend growing on a mass scale: dahlia, peony, limelight, hellebore, iris, hydrangea, poppy, sweet pea, larkspur, foliages and vines.
Flowers we grow that are not always highly sought after: zinnia, cosmos, gomphrena, ageratum, sunflower, straw flower.
Holly Chapple (Holly Heider Chapple Flowers)