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Wild Rose Flower Farm

Danielle Smith at her Wild Rose Flower Farm both at the Farmers Market

Danielle Smith at her Wild Rose Flower Farm booth at the Farmers Market

While shopping at the Greenfield Farmers Market last year I met Danielle Smith at her Wild Rose Flower Farm booth. I found the name of her farm, Wild Rose, irresistible, of course, and she was always surrounded by a bounty of lovely spring bulbs, and later an array of dahlias, zinnias, sunflowers, delphiniums and all manner of other annuals. At the Winter Market I bought a wonderful wreath to hang on our new front door.

All this summer we tried to set a date to talk about her gardens, but we never pulled it off until the fresh flowers were pretty well frosted and she was concentrating on her dried flowers which are equally a delight. We finally got to meet in her studio where she puts together bouquets and arrangements for weddings and other events, as well as for farmer’s markets and other outlets like food coops.

Wild Rose Flower Farm studio

Wild Rose Flower Farm studio

Looking at the bright sunny room with dried flowers hanging from racks and the floor covered with containers of dried flower bouquets waiting for the final Farmers Market of the year, it was hard to imagine that she had ever turned her face away from the color and excitement of the floral world, but she said she came late to flowers.

After graduating with an environmental degree from the New College of Florida in Sarasota, Smith began her career on organic vegetable farms. “I really thought it was not okay to love flowers. I disdained all frivolity,” she said. Even after a stint working on a flower farm Smith had to fight what she came to call her internalized misogyny and kept “my attraction to all things bright and soft and frilly to myself like a shameful secret.”  It took years to acquiesce to her delight in flowers.

That acknowledgement led her to the founding of Wild Rose Flower Farm. She rents land in Florence, not far from the Art and IndustryBuilding where she has her studio. Although she was ready to give up her total devotion to organic vegetables and embrace “the magical and miraculous, sensual and seasonal, riotously colorful and abundant world of flowers,” she was not willing to give up her principles about growing plants organically and healthily.

Like any farmer Smith works in her field, weeding and pruning, and then harvesting on early summer mornings. She then brings her harvest to her studio where she has a cooler. On a really hot morning she may have to make more than one trip so that the blossoms don’t have time to wilt. Once the flowers have cooled and drunk their fill she can put them together into arrangements.

Danielle Smith of Wild Rose Flower farm

Danielle Smith of Wild Rose Flower Farm

Smith is an organic flower gardener because she is thinking about the larger need to grow all plants, not only edibles, without poisons. She is thinking about protecting bees and other pollinators, about protecting the water systems, and about protecting workers from the effects of dangerous chemicals on flower farms operating on a much larger scale than acre of land she rents near her studio.

I first became aware of the threats Smith works against when I read Amy Stewart’s book Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful in the Flower Business. Many flowers on florists’s shelves come from half way around the world where they may have affected pollinator colonies and water sources. They have also used immense amounts of energy to fly to our shores and around the world.

My Peace Corps daughter Betsy Reilley served in Kenya (1987-89) and was stationed near LakeNaivasha, a large freshwater lake that now provides water to 127 flower farms around its shores. These farms produce 35% of all flowers shipped to the EU, plus they ship flowers to Russia, Japan and the U.S. Our Valentine roses probably come from Kenya. Just think of all the watering those roses and other plants require. These farms take an enormous toll on the environment.

All of which is to say it is as important to buy local flowers as it is to buy local vegetables and meat. Local organic flower farms like Wild Rose are protecting our local environment and the world environment as well. Wild Rose Flower Farm is a part of the nationwide Slow Flowers movement.

Slow Flowers is the name of a new movement that promotes flowers grown in the United States and sold locally. The flowers will reflect the seasons, although through the magic of greenhouses there can be blossoms even in December. December also means evergreens and colorful natural ornaments like winterberries, red and gold.

Right now Smith is preparing garlic and flower braids, small terrariums she planted with succulents that she has been raising since the spring, more dried flower bouquets, and starting to think about the wreaths she will make like the one I bought last year.

Wild Rose Flower Farm studio

Wild Rose Flower Farm studio

She is also preparing to show off and sell her work at the 20th Art and Industry Open Studios Holiday Sale in Florence on November 12 and 13. Smith and 49 other artists and fine crafters will be showing and selling their work, paintings, sculpture and all manner of crafts. There will be music too. From the hours of 10 am to 5 pm you can tour and shop and enjoy the creative buzz. For more information logon to the website

Between  the Rows   November 6, 2016

Bountiful Bouquet of Roadside Weeds

Bouquet of Roadside Weeds

Bouquet of Roadside Weeds

A bouquet of roadside weeds. My roadside. Quite lovely, don’t you think. Two kinds of aster, blackeyed susans, lots of goldenrod, tansy and a bit of a cheat – red highbush cranberry (Viburnam) berries and some rugosa rose hips. Mother Nature must love us a lot to give us these beauties in such abundance.

Slow Flowers by Debra Prinzing

Slow Flowers by Debra Prinzing

Slow Flowers by Debra Prinzing is the perfect book to be browsing through on this frigid day. The temperature is only 20 degrees, but the sun is brilliant and the ground sparkles with frozen snow crystals. As I turn the pages of the sumptuously illustrated book, my own summer garden exists in my imagination as it never has before.  Debra’s 52 weeks of bouquets from local flowers from ‘garden, meadow and farm’ are full of surprises and inspiration for those of us who are fearful and reluctant flower arrangers.

Debra always put herself in that class of fearful and reluctant flower arrangers, but the work she did visiting flower farms and farmers for her previous book, The 50 Mile Bouquet written  with photographer David Perry, gave her arranging lessons by osmosis and more confidence in her own skills.  Each two page spread in  the  book includes a photo and description of a seasonal arrangement with a list of ‘ingredients’ like 5 stems of heuchera foliage, 7 stems of Sweet William and 5 stems of mock orange and a 6 inch tall vase with a 7″x3″ opening. There is also always a tip of one sort or another. The Eco-technique note for this handsome arrangement is to arrange the foliage in the vase first to supply the support for the flowers. I never realized that florist’s foam contains formaldehyde which makes it undesirable. I’ll never use it again! No great loss because I never managed it very well, anyway.

Other tips have to do with the latest thinking about preparing and managing cut flowers and shrub branches for the most long lasting life in the vase. Other tips have to do with design like having complimentary colors in the arrangement and with the container. Debra has her 52 arrangements in some beautiful vases and other containers.

Going through the lists of flowers and foliage that go with each arrangement I have come up  with some surprises, and made some additions to my wish list for new plants this spring.  Curly willow! Grape vines. Sedums. Plants with graceful seed heads like northern sea oats and millet. Clusters of cherry tomatoes. Fruiting crabapple branches in fall, not only in spring bloom. Evergreen branches with pine cones.

There seems no end to Prinzing’s creativity as she looks at flowers and creates arrangements with brilliant  spring and summer colors,  the rich colors of fall, and the elegant colors of winter. Of  course, my winter bouquets would never look like her Seattle bouquets, but they inspire nonetheless. My similar white arrangement of pussy willows, Dusty Miller and artemesias, might simply come at a different time of year.

Slow Flowers is an encouraging book. I felt as enpowered after spending my afternoon within  its pages as I did after my session with Gloria Pacosa who gave me a lesson is flower arranging at her studio.

Slow Flowers autumnal arrangement

I would hardly have to add anything to my garden to make an arrangement similar to this. I already have scented geranium foliage, boltonia, and artemesias, I’d just have to add the celosia cristata (crested cockscomb) and apricot cactus zinnias. Debra points out that the different types of  green foliage “are woven together as a textured and verdant tapestry.”

Slow Flowers spring arrangment

I can’t wait to make an arrangement like this. I’ve got everything I need: daffodils, ferns and pussy willows.


Flowers for Cutting

Salvia and pink cosmos

One of the joys of having a garden is being able to give away plants. Last  weekend a number of gardeners gave away divisions of their plants to the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale, helping the Bridge and a lot of other gardeners.  That is one way.

Another way is to give plants to friends or acquaintances who are starting a garden and might not be able to tell a bean from a bachelor’s button

Still another is to make up a bouquet of whatever is blooming and give it to a friend or acquaintance who is celebrating or struggling or recuperating. Of course, you might give away a bouquet just because you like giving away bouquets, even if, like me, you belong to the stuff a handful in a jam jar school of flower arranging.

If you like giving away bouquets think about the best flowers to include. This will depend on your own taste and the season, but some flowers will last longer than others in a vase.

The point of a cutting garden is to grow the healthiest flowers possible, without worrying about ‘design.’  Cutting gardens, straight rows of brilliant or delicate flowers, can be beautiful but it is the beauty of bright abundance, not the beauty of carefully thought out schemes of color and texture.  A cutting garden planted in rows can allow for sufficient space between plants to give them good air circulation and room to grow their best.

It’s easy to direct seed a variety of familiar sun loving annuals like cosmos, marigolds, sweet peas, nigella, annual salvias, pollen-free sunflowers, and zinnias in the ground. Annuals usually begin blooming at the beginning of summer and continue into the fall.  These are not exotic flowers but even this short list includes a variety of color, form and texture and they never fail to give pleasure.

I’ve bought seedlings of less familiar annuals like gomphrena or globe amaranth. The globe shaped blossoms on sturdy stems come in a variety of shades of pink and red. I also buy snapdragonseedlings because they take such a long time to get to transplanting size.

Some people dislike raiding the perennial plantings for bouquets, but removing a few carefully chosen stems doesn’t have to make the ornamental garden suffer. Delphiniums, in various heights and shades of blue, are a great addition to any early summer bouquet.

Astilbes have the benefit of tolerating some shade and moist sites.  Most blooming plants need a lot of sun. These plants with plumy spikes, white, shades of pink and red or peach, grow into big clumps in the garden, ready to donate a few stems to an arrangement. The airy, almost fern-like foliage is also useful in an arrangement.

Two plants that always attract my attention in the garden are astrantia, which is related to scabiosa and has a similar pincushion flower in shades of pink or white.  The other is knautia which also has a similar flower – to me.  I particularly like the deep wine red shade. Both of these perennials attract butterflies.

The columbine, a delicate spring bloomer with starry outer petals and long spurs, is beautiful in a bouquet. I have a deep purple native variety that grows vigorously and makes a good cut flower if only because I try to cut as many of these as I can before they scatter seed all over the flower bed. Other hybrids will self sow, but usually not with such vigor. The columbine comes in many colors, pale shades of white, yellow and pink, and bi-color forms like “Tequila Sunrise” a stunning yellow and coral, or the red and white “Songbird Cardinal.”

Lady’s mantle, achemilla, is useful in a flower arrangement because the airy sprays of yellow green flowers are unusual and neutral, and the round scalloped leaves can form a decorative collar surrounding the bouquet, or the edge of the vase.

Like lady’s mantle, coral bells have useful flowers and foliage. The delicate little blossoms on wiry stems usually come in an array of pink and white. There are many hybrids now where the interest is mainly on the foliage. Heuchera “Caramel”  has foliage with an orange blush, “Frosted Violet” has broad pinky purple leaves dusted with a silver shimmer. The low growing ”Citronelle” is a bright chartreuse and “Peach Flambe” has bright peach foliage that becomes darker and richer as the season progresses.

Dahlias are a mainstay of the autumnal cutting garden. There are hundreds of varieties from small button types to large dinner plate blooms in shades pale or dramatic. They begin blooming in mid-summer and continue into the fall. The more you cut, the more they will bloom. They last handsomely for a week or more in a vase.

A flower arranger might also raid the vegetable garden for some interesting foliage. The famous British flower arranger Constance Spry may have been the first to put kale in her “decorations” but she certainly isn’t the last. A very different sort of foliage is provided by the ferny bronze fennel.

Some gardeners will like the simplicity of a cutting garden planted in rows. Others may simply prefer  to plant a variety of cutting flowers in mixed garden beds. Either way, including a selection of flowers that can last well for a few days in a vase is a beautiful way gardeners can express their generosity.

Between the Rows    May 21, 2011

April Fool!

Still Snowing April 1

We left sunny Houston yesterday at noon, and got into sunny Nashville, but by the time we arrived in Hartford at 6:30 the rain was falling. Our son drove us to Greenfield where our car waited for us at his house. Quick! A few groceries! Quick up the hill. The snow is falling. And still falling this morning. My plan was to plant spinach today, but I guess that will not happen.

photo by Kirsten Luce for the New York Times

The only flowers in my view this morning come from the New York Times (3-31) with Christopher Petkana’s story about Emily Thompson “who has  become New York’s surprise floral designer du jour,” and the “fantasy tabletop woodland” arrangement”, which includes a tree stump, she created f or an event at La Grenouille  for Kenneth Jay Lane.  She is being compared to Constance Spry, who has been celebrated (several times)  right here on the commonweeder.  Ms. Thompson gives full credit to Spry’s  inspiration. “She loved things that were unpopular or considered without class – weeds, pods, edibles – and is responsible for those distinctions ” she said. Once again we are being reminded that we can go wild with our palette of flowers, plants in all their stages, and containers. I’d say I’ll keep my eyes open for a suitable stump, but that is not the point.  Have you used an unusual container for an arrangement, or ‘decoration’ as Constrance Spry would say?

Constance Spry in the 21st Century

Recently I was able to find a used copy of Constance Spry’s book Flower Decoration which includes a few black and white photos of her arrangements. Actually, she did not use the word arrangements, but decorations.

If you look really closely at the decoration on the cover of this book you can see that it includes fruits, seed heads, and grasses in an almost invisible vase. I suspect this is not one of her own arrangements by a  painting by an artist the publisher has not chosen to identify, however Mrs. Spry was influenced by the painters of this sort of still life.

When she came to the US in January of 1938 on a speaking tour the press had a field day with headlines like “Decorator for the Windsors Uses Vegetables or Weeds if They Are Ornamental.”  She was unruffled and said, “Provided the plant is beautiful, I cannot see why I should not use it for decoration just because it has the added advantage that it can also be eaten.”

Barbara Wise does not arrange or decorate flowers for indoors but she designs hundreds of containers a year at the Southern Land Company. When she is not creating and planting she is on the loose admiring other arrangements. On her blog she has been documenting plantings she has created and visited. She knows that Constance Spry’s theories are alive and well outdoors as well as indoors. This container is a perfect example. Mrs. Spry loved urns and was alway on the alert for old urns, and she was notoriously famous for her love of kale as a decorative element.

I had to reduce this photo that Barbara sent me to get it to fit but the kale is clear and if you look closely you can see that the planting contains chard as well as pansies, grass and other graceful foliage plants.  A tour of Barbara’s blog, bwisegardening, will inspire you with many more container plantings.

How Constance Spry Prepared Her Flowers

Gloria Pacosa uses Spry's method

Many of us probably don’t fuss very much when we are making a flower arrangement for our dining table. We run out into the garden and cut a little bit of whatever is in bloom and a few leaves, put them in a vase with little fuss and we are done.

However if we are make a more important arrangement for a special party, for a friend’s wedding, or the church altar, we will need more flowers and foliage and we should take more care with preparing them.

According to Sue Shephard, author of The Surprising Life of Constance Spry,  “She always picked her own garden flowers at least a day before they were needed, and put them in deep pails of water in a cool place. This enabled them to absorb plenty of water before being exposed to the rigors of travel, warm rooms and over handling during arrangement.”

She also often removed most of certain flowers’ leaves to help them last longer, and for the design. This spring I am planning to try an arrangement of lilacs only, no other flowers and no foliage – just like Constance.  My friend Gloria Pacosa follows many of Spry’s in her arrangements.

Gloria's foliage

Swiss chard and kale!

Spry’s Fresh Bouquets

Photo Courtesy of Debra Prinzing

Constance Spry found beauty in places others had not noticed. The unexpected drama of the plants she used surprised and delighted people. She turned to the vegetable garden and found one of her favorite plants – kale – but used other vegetables and fruits to brilliant effect.

Her arrangements would not have the same  startling effect today, because the ideas she propounded, her cry to forget about the rules and have fun, to see beauty in the commonplace have actually become commonplace today.

Garden author and blogger Debra Prinzing is working on a beautiful book,  A Fresh Bouquet, with photographer David Perry. Their journey among flower growers, the flower industry, and floral designers is being captured in their A Fresh Bouquet blog. There I found instructions very similar to what Constance Spry was following and teaching in the 20’s and 30’s.

Photo Courtesy of Debra Prinzing

“Use twigs and branches as well as more common foliage, conifers  and broadleaf evergreens.

Use fruits and berries, and maybe vegetables.

Use other natural materials, seedpods, pine cones, grasses, moss.

Use commercial flowers with restraint. Flowers are not always necessary.”

For the full post click here.

Constance Spry

Constance Spry

“I want to shout out: do what you please, follow your own star; be original if you want to be and don’t if you don’t want to be. Just be natural and gay and light-hearted and pretty and simple and overflowing and general and baroque and bare and austere and stylized and wild and daring and conservative, and learn and learn and learn. Open your minds to every form of beauty.” Constance Spry

Those passionate words came from a woman who was born into poor circumstances in England in 1886. There was little beauty in her world, but young Connie Fletcher spent most of her ‘Saturday pennies’ on packets of seeds so that she could have something pretty.  No one could have dreamed that one day she would be arranging flowers for British royalty, and hobnobbing with the bright lights of high society.

In her excellent biography, The Surprising Life of Constance Spry: From social reformer to society florist, Sue Shephard takes us from Spry’s humble beginnings, to her 1929 meteoric success as a ‘flower decorator’ to the noble and wealthy in London, through the wartime years when her efforts led her into the kitchen as well as the garden, and closing the circle with arranging flowers for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation and back to teaching

Spry held several jobs into and through the 20’s beginning with a traveling program in Ireland educating people in an attempt to wipe out TB. That job led her to a short lived marriage and a son. She  then worked for the Red Cross; as a welfare supervisor; as an educator for the Ministry of Aircraft Production; and as headmistress in a school for teenage factory workers where she added flower arranging to the curriculum. There she saw the girls’ hunger for beauty, and showed them how flowers could fill that hunger.

At the same time Spry’s local fame as a flower arranger grew, as she did the flowers for friends’ parties and wedding. In 1929 she agreed to do large arrangements for the windows of a new fashionable perfumery. This was an adventure; Spry was always ready for an exciting project. The shop was to open in November, not the best time for interesting flowers, but when the carillons rang out in joyful celebration the windows  were filled with “old man’s beard with silvery seed-heads, copper colored leaves, great trails of hops turned to strawy gold,” and heavy green orchids she added at the last moment thinking that all those ‘weeds’ might not go over very well.  The windows were a sensation and the beginning of her business. It was also a lesson in the use of plant material that was usually discarded “gone with the wheelbarrow”.

Along the way she set up housekeeping with Ernest Spry and became known as Mrs. Spry, but they never were officially married.

Later Shephard tells us, she met the artist Hannah Gluckstein, known only as Gluck. Their quiet relationship was accepted for four years in their circles, until Gluck ended it. This had not been widely known until Shephard’s book..

All during the 30’s Spry was The Person to arrange the flowers for society parties. She and Syrie Maugham, the famous decorator, known for her white rooms, often worked in tandem. At one elegant party Spry used celadon vases filled with “white lilies, eucalyptus, green hydrangea heads, lichen covered branches, with perhaps one brilliant spike of scarlet anthurium for drama.” Such combinations became all the rage.

She traveled to France to arrange huge pink peonies, cascades of lilies, lilac and flowering laurel, acanthus and white yucca for the wedding of the Prince of Wales to Wallis Simpson,  Her friendship and work for this couple put an end to other royal commissions. For a while.

She did not do all this single-handedly. At one time over 70 people trained in her style were employed by her business.

At the end of the 30’s Spry came to the United States under the auspices of the New York Botanic Garden and the Garden Clubs of America for lecture tours. She was such a success that wealthy New York matrons prevailed upon her to open a New York shop. She loved new projects, and with her usual enthusiasm and energy she plunged in. However, with the declaration of war in Britain, she returned to do her bit.

Her energy and optimism never wavered. The war sent her in a slightly new direction – the vegetable garden. Her thoughts about fresh vegetables and cooking would sound up to date today. The kitchen garden had always been a part of her decorating. She once said, “One has only to look at the lovely line and form of a group of kale leaves to realize that the humble kitchen garden can hold its own with the aristocrats of the hothouses.”

Indeed, Shephard makes it clear that Spry’s approach to gardening, and to ‘decorating’ with plants changed the way that we handle flower arrangements today, looking for original plant combinations and unique containers.

She also captures the verve of this un-prepossessing woman  who inspired David Austin to name one of his hardiest roses after her, and whose exhortation to be confident and  to plea

please ourselves in the garden can still inspire us today. ###

Between the Rows   January 15, 2011

Hurry Up and Wait

Snow on April 16

A wet snow was falling on Friday morning. It did not last long on the ground, but the day continued wet and chill and not suitable for gardening.  I was happy that I had spent most of Thursday cleaning out, weeding and putting some semblance of an edge on the Herb Bed in front of the house. Since we added the Entry Walk to the Piazza and Welcome Platform, the Herb Bed has expanded to approximately 33 feet long, and 5 feet deep.

With all that room I added a rose, and three golden Henryi lilies and three White Henry lilies last year. I can’t wait to see them. I also seeded some spinach on April 1 and it has sprouted and has managed to survive the snow and cold rains. I guess that’s why they call it a hardy cool season crop.

I also moved some six packs of lettuce, broccoli – and even cosmos – down to the cold frame early this week.  The seedlings survived strong sun on the two days when I needed to open the ‘lid’, as well as near- freezing temperatures. They are sitting in a plastic tray so that I can add water every day and keep them watered through osmosis action.

Seedlings in the cold frame

Other six packs of parsley, cosmos, and zinnias are doing well on a windowsill upstairs. I planted more seeds as well: Sakata Sweet Treats cherry tomatoes sent as a sample; Seed Savers Exchange Hot Biscuits amaranth given as a sample at the nursery trade show; and purchased seeds including High Mowings Belstar broccoli; and Renee’s Garden cosmos, and Blue Boy Cornflower. I am determined that this year I will have flowers for cutting and arrangements as well as veggies on the plate.

Nothing much is happening so far in the new Front Garden. Lettuce and spinach have been planted, but without composted manure from the local horse farm I haven’t tried to plant the second bed there. I did go down to the Potager and weeded and dug one bed. I planted blue sweet peas, another sample from Seed Savers, as well as swiss chard and onion sets. I had to hurry because I did only have the day – as it turned out.

Daffodils are still coming. Everytime I have to drive down Route 2 I see more and more of the Mystery Daffodils coming into bloom. This is the third spring for these beautiful flowers which appeared mysteriously – and no one knew who had planted them. The secret leaked out a little bit, but I have kept my lips sealed. I love thinking about this Secret Sharer, making all of us smile as we drive back and forth to work or on our necessary errands.

I have daffodils, obviously of late varieties, but I have been admiring the progression of foliage on the trees with special attention and joy this spring. Flower arranging is not my forte, but I thought I would have some luck with foliage arranging. There are wild cherry buds, deep red ornamental plum leaves, birch catkins and I’m not sure what else.   I stuck in a handful of daffs and brought the arrangement to sit on the Coffee Table for social hour at church. It was admired!