The book Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden is an inspirational book for anyone wanting to cultivate a beautiful garden full of flowers for arranging. Author Erin Benzakein along with photographer Julie Chai have filled this 300 page resource with beautiful photos and hard won growing advice on more than 175 flower varieties plus planning tips for all four seasons. The setting for the book is a Mt. Vernon, Washington farm that is only two acres in size. Erin and her husband Chris have created a small scale, high intensity flower farm along with a thriving mail order bulb and seed company plus an online school teaching the in’s and out’s of their cut flower business. Erin’s knowledge comes from ten plus years of experience on the farm where every year she trials new varieties of flowers. Ms. Benzikein touches on the current farm to vase trend and the increasing demand for locally grown, seasonal and organic flowers. She states, “The underlying philosophy of this book is that using local blooms and other materials when they’re in season, at their most abundant, will give you the most luscious, beautiful bouquets.”
Written in a relaxed first person style, the author’s goal is to provide all of the information needed to begin growing cut flowers.
For me, that was exactly the outcome! I purchased the book in March 2017, and was motivated to begin seed starts in my basement that same month. Erin’s step by step information and beautiful photos really took the mystery out the process for me. She points out early in the book that, although she made the information as universal as possible, readers need to plan around frost dates and planting recommendations specific to their area. Certainly, the relevance of the information for gardeners in our cold state is somewhat limited, but I believe the author has provided information which makes it possible for even Alaskan gardeners to have some amount of cut blooms all year long.
Starting with “The Basics.”
Ms. Benzakein outlines her technique for planning a garden that includes choosing the site and the plants, as well as techniques to help maximize production from the space. She continues with “Putting the Plan Into Action”, and touches on soil preparation, watering techniques and weed management. In “Mastering Techniques”, Erin writes about planting starts and seeds, flower stem support, pinching, caring for cut blooms and useful hand tools. Personally, I wish I had paid more attention to the techniques on stem support: I definitely will next year!
Photos by Blog Author
Nigella “Starry Night” Zinnia “Oklahoma Sunset”
The author writes beautifully descriptive passages throughout the book that help describe how it feels to be on Floret Farm through the four seasons.
In the introduction to “Spring,” Erin writes “Spring brings with it a busy hum of activity. We sow thousands of seeds in our warm greenhouse and nestle hundreds of baby plants into the ground. This is the time of the year when I’m most prone to overdo it, both by working too long in the garden and by planting too many seeds. I find it nearly impossible to remember that each tiny seed will eventually grow into a magnificent plant that requires space, attention, tending and harvesting. It is so tempting to grow a ton of extra seedlings. I constantly have to rein myself in and stick to the master plan I created.”
Also in “Spring,” Ms. Benzakein explains tasks like dividing dahlia tubers, planting seeds and seedlings and mulching. Along with twenty other spring bulbs, flowers, and branches, she includes peonies as a spring harvest bloom. The inclusion really highlights the difference in the growing season between Washington state and Alaska. As a floral designer here in Anchorage I have learned that precisely because peonies are NOT spring blooms in Alaska, peony farming is a popular industry in Alaska. Historically, peonies have only been reliably available commercially in May and June. Statewide, our farmers harvest peonies in July and August. This timing effectively extends the availability of this very popular wedding bloom by two months to the stateside and world flower market.
“There is something magical about experiencing the whole year through flowers” Erin Benzakein
In “Summer,” Erin highlights everything from dahlias, roses and branches, to herbs, fruits and vegetables that last in flower arrangements. I love the idea of using slender red chili peppers and dainty Asian eggplant in my vases; I can’t wait to try growing them next season. The detailed information varies but can include ideal growing conditions, recommended soil amendments, planting depth, light, temperature and water needs plus recommendations on specific cultivars. Managing pests and diseases, division techniques, vase life tricks and even step by step design projects are sometimes included. All this combined with fantastic photos!
Dahlia “Cafe Au Lait” Nasturtium “Salmon Gleam”
Floret Dahlia Growing Guide
The fall section is titled “Autumn Blooms, Edibles and Textural Stems.”
Ms. Benzakein highlights seven different types of Rudbeckia. She writes “This group of plants is massive and filled with so many choices … I suggest sticking with the taller Rudbeckia hirta and the wildly abundant Rudbeckia triloba.” She also touches on grains and pods… even pumpkins and gourds. She writes “As autumn progresses and the weather turns wet, cold, and frosty, few flowers still look good in the garden. But this is when ornamental cabbages and kales are at their finest, and tucking a tiny patch of these late season workhorses into the garden will allow you to continue making arrangements long after most floral ingredients have faded.”
One of my favorite sections of the book is “Winter”.
I love that the author sees winter as an active gardening time! She has recommendations on creating with fresh local evergreen product, forcing bulbs and branches for indoor flower beauty and of course planning for the spring. Per her recommendation I tried my hand at growing paper-whites last December. Although the growing process was rewarding and the flowers really beautiful, the fragrance was nothing I care to encounter again! I will be trying my hand at Amaryllis this year.
Overall, I loved this book! I have used it often as a reference and will continue to do so.
For me, one of the best things the author does is introduce flowers, vines and grasses that are not available in the commercial floral design arena. For instance, I didn’t know that some varieties of nasturtium vine can be incredibly long lasting in the vase! Because I’m a beginner gardener, I suspect the book would be less helpful to experienced gardeners, but I also believe the photos and stories are interesting to a wide audience. Although I dearly wish the author was based in Alaska, her Pacific Northwest farm grows a selection of flowers very similar to what is available each summer from the Palmer area farmers. If you are interested in growing your own flowers here in the Anchorage area, I recommend Floret Flower Farm’s Cut Flower Garden as an amazing inspiration to “Grow, Harvest and Arrange Stunning Seasonal Blooms.”
Chronicle Books, 2017, $29.95, ISBN 978-1-4521-4576-1