Growing flowers: a sweet smelling deal

Farming in the Rogue Valley isn't limited to hay, cattle, fruit and vegetables. Many make a living, or at least supplement their incomes, growing flowers.

Joan Thorndike, owner of Le Mera Gardens in Ashland, partners with Fry Family Farms and is known in this area as the queen of the cut flower industry.

She's been growing, seeding, propagating and snipping flowers for the last 15 years. Thorndike uses a combination of owned and leased land in the area and can extend her season, which runs from mid-April to the second week of October, by using cold frames and greenhouses.

"The daffodils have just ended and now we're moving into the ranunculus and anemone season," Thorndike said, adding that she tries to grow everything that does well in this area.

She's the biggest wholesaler of organic cut flowers in Southern Oregon, and at least two Ashland florists buy 80 percent of their flowers from her.

"I've tried to talk her into growing throughout the winter; but she said farmers are farmers so they can take winters off," said Brandon Kirkland, who owns Enchanted Florist with his wife Leslie.

Kirkland said that almost from the beginning of his florist business, which began 11 years ago, he's made it a point to buy as locally as possible. His shop is also 100 percent organic.

When he first opened Enchanted Florist, he said veteran flower cutters would talk about their burning skin and eyes.

"It took a few years, but I finally went organic because I didn't want my daughter, wife or workers to get a tumor because of the chemicals used to grow flowers," he said.

Kirkland said he's grateful to all the local, organic flower growers, whom he also buys from.

"Local sustainability just makes sense whether it's flowers or beef," he said. "It makes for a stronger, healthier community. And because of the high gas prices right now, a lot of florists have had to raise prices. When you buy local, that's not a concern."

Kellie Kinkead, owner of Eufloria Flowers in Ashland, said another great thing about local flower growers is that they are more willing to venture out and try new flowers.

"A national or international wholesaler would never do that," she said. "They would say, 'This is what we sell. Take it or leave it'."

Local flower growers have many options of where and how they sell. Thorndike wholesales to florists, wedding designers, restaurants, party organizers and offers a subscription service.

"I don't do the bouquets. I deliver in bulk and the subscribers put together the arrangements," she said.

Katie Powers of Always Bloomin' in Central Point wholesales to florists and offers subscriptions, but she does put together bouquets. She also sells $5 bouquets at the Rogue Valley Farmers Markets in Ashland and Medford through the Winema Garden's booth.

Powers got into the business about five years ago as a way to supplement her income.

"I wanted a way to make some extra money from home because I had a young child at the time," she said.

Powers uses her half acre of land to grow winter and early spring flowers.

"I just thought that during the winter was exactly when people need flowers to cheer them up," she said.

Powers grows sweet peas, snap dragons, herbs, Spanish blue bells and other perennials and forces bulbs in her 48-foot-long green house.

"It's amazing what I can do with half an acre &

a very crowded half acre," she said.

Who knew?

Many people associate Pennington Farms in the Applegate Valley with incredible berries and berry products; but Sam Pennington said he and his wife Kathy moved here from Colorado to expand their hydrangea and peony cut flower business.

The flowers have since taken a backseat to the berry business, usually just filling in for the slow berry times &

spring and fall.

"But I'm starting to think about them more," he said. "I like them both, I just don't have four of me."

Pennington has about one acre dedicated to "funky" flowers and spring-blooming branches. His biggest buyer is a freelance florist in Los Angeles who does high-end arrangements.

But all the florists in Southern Oregon know who's growing what and when.

"I often get desperate phone calls from florists who are having a wedding emergency and need a certain colored flower," he said. "I like it when I can help them out."

Reach reporter at 482-3456 x226 or .

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