Despite the challenges of the last two years, flower farmers and designers in our region have come together as we can to learn and connect. Last autumn, a group of growers and designers met in person in a greenhouse at Hessian Hill Farm to debrief our season. As the conversation continued it became clear that Jess Beretz from Farmhouse Floral in Middleburgh, NY, and I had nothing in common – different flowers, different colors, different uses. Zinnias were the obvious disparity. As a market bouquet maker, I only grow Benary Giant and Oklahoma zinnia and she wants the fancy, fluffy ones for weddings. It was Pacific Giant delphinium for her, belladonna for me. What is useful in mixed bouquets does not necessarily make the cut in a design studio. I mentioned that I did not have enough filler options in autumn so she mentioned spiky celosia plumes and little round gomphrena balls. I think of them as fillers more than foliage.

Starkly, stage of harvest was the biggest difference. I need the blooms to last a week; she only needs them to be gorgeous for one day. By the time we were done chatting, it was like we were in different flower worlds. That was enlightening, so this month I’m sharing some wisdom from those who grow for florists and events.

I’ve been talking so much about market bouquets lately that I needed to step back and let myself look closely at other areas of crop planning and flower farming. In general, wedding designers and event planners have specific needs. They are primarily using focal flowers and greens. Flowers are harvested throughout the week prior and held in the cooler because they only need to be fully open and gorgeous for that day. Varieties are selected to last out of water in bouquets and boutonnières. The colors are soft, creamy and romantic.

To learn more about how local growers supply florists, I reached out in the “Flower Farming in Upstate NY” Facebook group. Based on my own assumptions of what designers need, I asked what the top three dahlia, sunflower and fillers are for crop planning. I also assumed June is the big wedding month, but one thing I learned is that autumn is a prime season for local event flowers.

Jessica Phillips  from Misty Meadows Flower Farm designed a mason jar with a Procut White Nite sunflower balanced with a queen lime zinnia, surrounded by phlox, gooseneck loosestrife, green sedum and frosted explosion grass. Photo courtesy of Jessica Phillips

Dahlias large dinnerplates are the centerpiece of autumn weddings. They don’t ship well so they must be sourced locally. The creamy dinnerplate Café Au Lait is the queen of wedding work. Burgundy tones also work well. Once they start blooming, dahlias will produce until frost, but some varieties start later than others. Erin Cole of Little Ann’s Flowers in Canajoharie, NY, likes Peaches N’ Cream because “they bloom early and abundantly, are a great color and they produce a good amount of tubers.” Taking this as the standard for a good dahlia, it was fascinating to hear what else made the cut. Eve Bucwinski of Garden of Eve in Ballston Lake, NY, also grows white varieties along with burgundy to work with the wedding seasons. Her favorite burgundy is Rip City dahlia.

Again, I was making assumptions when I asked these questions. The surprising-not surprising answer was the use of sunflowers. Eve has a very high end aesthetic so she chooses not to grow them except for fun around the house. Jessica Phillips from Misty Meadow Flower Farm in Cooperstown, NY, is surrounded by traditional sunflower growers so only chooses varieties that are different, including Procut White Nite and White Lite, plus any double. “I try to grow sunflowers that are a little different than typical sunflowers because farms nearby sell them,” she said.

Erin picks her varieties based on how they hold up after harvest. Procut varieties tend to have floppy heads while the Sunrich Series hold up better. Procut White Nite still makes the cut because of the pale color for wedding work despite the weak necks.

When we talked about fillers, I was excited to hear there is more than eucalyptus, especially in light of the continued scarcity of seed. Jessica explained her choices: “Frosted Explosion [ornamental grass] for a little pop and movement, Green Gold Bupleurum for a bigger, airy filler and [Autumn Joy] sedum – when it’s young and green, I can use it at the base of the vase to stabilize other flowers and it’s also a nice filler when green or pink.”

Erin is equally thoughtful in her filler choices: “Mrs. Burns’ Lemon Basil because it is easy to grow, looks great in a market bouquet and the smell is out of this world. I always have people comment on the smell of the bouquet when I include lemon basil. Blue Planet Ageratum, because it is easy to grow, blooms abundantly and is a nice purple color. Gomphrena, because they are easy to grow and they are cute.”

The conversation in the greenhouse led to the desire of more discussion. Until we can meet in person again, the Watershed Agricultural Council and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Delaware County are hosting two online conversations with a panel of growers and designers on the needs of local wedding designers and another with growers specializing in focal flowers, hosted by Carla Crim on March 24 and March 31. Registration is available in the Facebook group.