Then the reality of it seemed overwhelming or not possible? I am here to let you know that you are capable! If you want to grow beautiful cut flowers for your own landscape or you aspire to be a cut flower farmer, I can assure you that if I can do it, you can, too!
My name is Lindsey and together with my mom, Doris - we started Willow Tree Flower Market, a cut flower farm in Goodrich, Michigan in 2021. Both of us have backgrounds in the medical field as nurses and never anticipated a career in farming. In spite of that, we both have a huge passion for being outdoors. We love growing flowers and sharing the benefits of fresh flowers, which led us down this path of flower farming together!
Why did we decide to start flower farming?
Well, I didn’t really know what cut flowers were until 2017. We were living in a busy subdivision, with a very small backyard, and I started reading Cut Flower Garden by Erin Benzakein. My mom has always loved working outside, especially in her landscaping and has always had beautiful perennials. So, needless to say annuals were new to the both of us and I became infatuated!
While sitting at our kitchen table, reading, learning, taking notes, and planning out a small raised bed of cut flowers, little did I know that life had bigger plans. We sold our house shortly after this and moved out to the country on 30 acres.
Before we had finished unpacking in our new house, I was planting flower seeds for the first time in my life, in the eight existing raised beds that we acquired with this new property. It felt so meant to be and I was excited to learn more about cut flowers.
It wasn’t until the pandemic and being home 24/7 with our four kids that I felt that push to say a big, scary dream out loud. I wanted to pursue an actual flower farm on our property.
My husband said yes and I cried because I was just so overwhelmed with the possibility. I then asked my mom and she immediately said, “YES!” and the rest is history.
She was still working as a nurse full-time and I was homeschooling our four children. We both have a passion for working outside but have never started a business like this or taken any agricultural courses. There is something so beautiful about creating art, digging deep and working hard outside that allows you to find yourself, push yourself, and inspire yourself every day.
Growing flowers gives us a chance to slow down and appreciate the divine beauty in nature. It had become a passion of mine but I truly did not anticipate turning growing flowers into a business. I am so glad that we are on this adventure together.
How do you plan for your cut flower season?
Oh, the planning part is very fun for us! Depending on your desire for cut flowers, there are so many to choose from. We started out wanting ALL of the flowers and ALL of the varieties!
Whether you are growing for your own landscape area to create a beautiful setting or if you are growing as a flower farmer, your ultimate decision on what you grow will vary. As a flower farmer, you could potentially be growing cut flowers to sell to a wholesaler, or in a bouquet at your local market. You could even begin growing for customers to come to your farm to cut their own flowers as a U-Pick experience.
Here at Willow Tree Flower Market, we grow flowers specifically for our local customers to have a farm fresh bouquet. They can choose to purchase a ready made bunch from our farm stand or pick their own from our fields. Once we decided how we wanted to sell our flowers, we broke down our seeds into three different categories.
The Three Types of Flowers to Grow for a Fresh Cut Farm Bouquet
Focal flowers: these are your main attraction, your show stopper blooms!
Foliage/greenery: these small flowers, stems and leaves will fill your bouquet up beautifully.
Accent flowers: are unique in their shapes or colors, and offer a lot of visual interest while giving your bouquet the finishing touches
Here are some flowers that we grow for these different categories:
Basil, the scented varieties like cinnamon and lemon are wonderful
Dara, also known as Daucus Carota or flowering carrot
Zinnias, the Oklahoma Series are great accents
Planning for Flower Planting
We draw out our entire growing area by pencil and paper. We have 44 raised beds on our farm that we transplant our seedlings into after our last frost. When growing cut flowers, the optimum space is that which receives the most sunlight.
Next in our planning process is breaking down the following:
What do we want to grow? (We try to grow something new every year!)
What percentage will be focal, foliage, or accent?
How many varieties of each?
Recommended spacing for each flower? Spacing your annual flowers is different when growing as a cut flower farmer. If recommended spacing is 12”, we typically grow at 9” to ensure longer stems and encourage vertical growth for better stem length and support of the growing plant. In our standard 4’ x 16’ raised bed, we can plan on growing 105 plants spaced 9” apart.
When should we start our seeds? We start some seeds as early as 12 weeks before our last frost. We simply google our last frost date and work backwards!
How many seeds to purchase? When we start our seeds, we use 2-3 seeds per cell and use 72-cell trays for all of our annual cut flowers. A good example would be wanting a raised bed full of zinnias. We space them at 9” which means 105 plants/bed. This means we would need 315 seeds to start!
When do you Purchase Your Cut Flower Seeds?
Now that we have a plan in place and we know how many different flowers we need and how many seeds for each we can order. A great rule of thumb is to order your seeds as your flowers are blooming for the following season.
However, if this is your first season - we highly recommend ordering in the winter and starting with these cut flowers!
These are great cut flowers for a beginner and thrive on being direct seeded right into the soil! Choose an area that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day and lightly cover with soil and water daily! The more you cut, the more they will bloom - all summer long!
What factors should you consider when starting cut flowers?
You will want to consider your growing area, direct sunlight, where the sun sets, and lastly - where you can start your seeds if you are seedlings to transplant. For us, this looks like a room in my basement. We simply use a metal 5-shelf tiered rack for our greenhouse! Anywhere you can safely place a tray and provide grow lights directly over your growing seedlings is the best option.
Here is a list of everything that you will need to get started!
Lastly, focus on your why. It is a lot of work to grow cut flowers every season. Remembering the reason behind your passion will help push through during those planning days when it is just pencil and paper, during the long, hot, harvesting days and especially during the “off” months of the long, cold winter days.
What are the benefits of flower farming?
Where do we begin? For us, it gives us a chance to be together almost daily which means so much to us as a family. On a personal level, it creates a deeper connection with nature and we have found that it is so healing to get outside and ground ourselves with the outdoors.
Getting our hands in the dirt, tending to a little seedling and watching it bloom provides an opportunity for so much hope, pride, and joy. It allows us to slow down and appreciate the beauty in the simple, intricate details within each and every flower.
It has also taught us so much about hard work,being flexible with Mother Nature, and being grateful that we are in a profession where we get to learn something new every day. We also make so many mistakes and it is very humbling while also so inspiring to keep going.
On a professional level, we get the glory of sharing fresh cut flowers with others. We know firsthand the power of fresh flowers within your home and their ability to bring joy, decrease depression, and brighten any room they are in. There is so much joy in growing flowers but sharing flowers is also so beneficial for the grower and the receiver.
Flowers have a sentimental value and can attach a core memory via their scent or visual appeal to every event that they are associated with. We love playing a small role in this within our community.
Our goal with our cut flower farm is to create an experience, an escape from the real world amongst the beauty of flowers. So, whether you are growing flowers, cutting flowers, or simply walking amongst them - there is so much joy to be had and it is out there and attainable for everyone!
Written by: Lindsey Gilbert, Willow Tree Flower Market
We had the opportunity to sit down with Stephanie Chow of Poppies and Petals Farm, a cut your own flower farm in Santa Rosa, CA. She offered us a chance to see what running a farm designed from the soil up to have customers on site looks like.