Twenty years ago, when Kelly and Kingsley Goddard started farming together on the land that Kingsley’s family had owned for generations, Kelly wanted to introduce cut flowers to the robust vegetable production that Kingsley had been nurturing. Kingsley wasn’t convinced that precious field space should be devoted to flowers until Kelly reasoned that people don’t only need things they can eat, they need things they can admire, too. Today, Barberry Hill Farm in Madison, Connecticut grows more than 20 varieties of cutting flowers. And while Kingsley might have been a skeptic at the start, Nell Newman once introduced him as one of Connecticut’s premier cut flower farmers.
In the weekly CSA boxes that Barberry Hill Farm supplies to their members, the Goddards tuck bouquets of cut flowers alongside eggs, meat, produce, and homemade soap. In addition to supplying CSA members with fresh flowers, the Goddards sell cut flowers by the pound at their roadside stand and at farmers’ markets throughout the state.
Photographs by Erin Boyle.
For the sake of full-disclosure, I should divulge that I’ve been admiring the flower fields at Barberry Hill Farm since I was a child. My parents still live in the house where I grew up, down the street from the farm. When my husband and I asked Kelly and Kingsley if we could get married on their property last summer, the decision was made in no small part because the idea of walking down a makeshift aisle carrying a bouquet of flowers right from the farm was my idea of wedding perfection.
I returned home last week in order to breathe a bit of country air and to ask Kelly and Kingsley Goddard for their top tips for growing and harvesting cut flowers.
Plant flowers with a variety of shapes and texture: When planning for a new year, Kelly and Kingsley select which flowers they’ll plant with an eye toward having flowers in a variety of different shapes and textures. Among other annuals, they grow Benary’s Giant zinnias, snapdragons, statice, ageratum, coxcomb celosia, feather celosia, larkspur, cleome, cosmos, sunflowers, purple coneflowers, rudbeckia, veronica, and anise hyssop.
Choose varieties with long stems: For cutting flowers especially, it’s important to grow varieties with long, straight stems that will be easy to arrange. As a general rule of thumb, the Goddards look for flowers with stems that are at least 18 inches long.
Consider plant supports: Years of experience means that Kelly and Kingsley Goddard have had success planting their flower crops very close together which helps them stand up straight. For less experienced gardeners, Kingsley encourages the use of plant supports or ties to keep the tall stems from flopping to one side or another as they grow.
Plant your flowers in full sun: Most varieties of annual flowers (and vegetables) need full sun to thrive. Choose the sunniest spot in your yard as the place to plan your cutting garden.
Steer clear of orange: Years of selling cut flowers has taught the Goddards that bright orange flowers don’t do well at market. Instead of planting bright orange varieties, they choose oranges in more muted salmon and coral tones. A packet of the gorgeous Benary’s Giant Salmon Rose Zinnia Seeds they grow is available for $3.95 from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
Pay attention to the frost dates: After doing the work of starting delicate plants from seed, it’s important to pay careful attention to frost dates and be sure that you’re not planting seedlings in the ground when there’s still danger of a frost.
Grow your soil: Before you think about growing cutting flowers, first think about growing your soil. The soil at Barberry Hill Farm is soft and loamy, the result of years of careful attention and planning. The top four feet of the soil is nearly 100 percent worm casings left behind from leaf compost used to amend the soil. While many cut flower farms rely on black plastic and drip tapes to discourage weeds and keep plants irrigated, the Goddards have found that using leaf compost is more effectiveâ€”not to mention more attractive. At the end of a season, the Goddards let the sheep into the fields to mow down any remaining plants and to help fertilize. Next, they deposit large piles of leaves, which they allow to moulder throughout the winter and spring. When it’s time for planting, seedlings get planted directly into the leaves. No irrigation, pesticides, or black plastic necessary.
Pick early, or late, but never midday: Cut flowers may need plenty of sun to grow, but they need to be cut in the morning before the sun hits them, or after the sun has sunk for the day. For the Goddards, this means getting into the fields at 4:30 in the morning.
Keep flowers cool after cutting them: Keeping flowers cool at a farm stand is no easy feat, but the Goddards do their best to keep the flowers cool in an air conditioned room in the hours between cutting and replenishing their roadside stand.
Just a drop of bleach: The No. 1 enemy to flower life after cutting is bacteria. Adding just a tiny drop of bleach to your bucket (or vase) will help prolong the flowers’ lifespan post snip.
Sell flowers by the pound: If you’re considering starting up a flower stand of your own, consider selling by the pound the way you sell other produce. Cut flowers at Barberry Hill are sold for $14 per pound, allowing shoppers to pick and choose their own flowers.
Trim your stems daily: After you’ve cut your stems, the No. 1 recommendation for keeping them fresh is to trim a bit off the bottom of the stem each day.
If you’re interested in purchasing flowers from Barberry Hill Farm, visit the farm stand along Route 1 in Madison, CT, or email Kelly and Kingsley directly at [email protected]