by Sally Colby
There’s no doubt Beth Syphers’s early years influenced what she’s doing today. “Growing up, we had amazing, beautiful flowers with a lot of different landscape specimens that bloomed year-round,” said Beth. “One of my older sisters worked for a florist, then went to England in the 1980s and studied there. When she came back, we started designing in an English garden sort of way, using what was available to us.”
The four eldest girls in the family started to do design work for friends’ weddings. “We dabbled in growing, then went our own ways and had careers,” said Beth. “About eight years ago, when I was living in the suburbs and working in the medical field, a friend asked me to do a bouquet for her downtown window display, so I did that for her.”
The restaurant owner next to the store where Beth had done the display noticed her work and asked her to do flower work for him. Beth was flattered, but didn’t think much of it. She harvested flowers from friends’ yards to complete the project. When Beth decided to pursue a flower-based business, the Syphers moved to their farm in Rickreal, OR, and Beth started turning her love for flowers and design into a serious business.
Beth explained that the Crowley House, which is now the family’s residence and the name of her business, was built around 1870. When it was in its original location, it was slated to be demolished, but someone purchased it and moved it to the current property.
Although Beth had experience growing and working with flowers, her knowledge of the flower business was limited. She knew she needed more information about growing, and got a good start from a book by Deborah Prinzing. Beth also attended a Washington State University conference on growing flowers, and recalled the event as both overwhelming and eye-opening.
“When I was growing up, we grew what we knew and used what was growing in the landscape,” said Beth. “Apparently, what we had in the landscape was very rare. A landscape architect had designed the space, and I didn’t realize that material wasn’t available for traditional floral design.”
Today, Beth’s property resembles the sprawling gardens she grew up with, and she continually seeks interesting and unusual plants that can be used for design. “My house is a farm, but it’s also a garden, so I treat it differently than a row crop farmer,” she said. “Here at the Crowley House, I keep it English style with a mess of flowers. I cut from it, but not mass cuttings for wholesale.”
The English garden approach is a major marketing factor for Beth. She said the natural beauty of the informal design is what people envision their flowers coming from. Although Beth uses some of the flowers grown at her home, especially for initial creations, she relies on five acres of production-style growing for the majority of material.
“I grow unusual plants and try to push the boundaries on timing,” said Beth, noting that she doesn’t always succeed. “I look at something, I love it and I try it. I might try something I see on the side of the road. I look at the texture and structure. I may not know the name and growing habit, but I’ll bring it to the house or watch it grow on the side of the road to see what it does. If it works, I’ll buy it and grow it.”
Roses thrive in Oregon, and Beth just added 1,000 new roses to the more than 1,000 she’s already growing. Because she markets some flowers wholesale, she looks for varieties that hold up well in shipping. “We sell at the Portland Market and ship to other areas,” she said. “I’m looking for roses that ship well and also have the ‘look.’ I know the trends high-end florists follow, and that’s what I want because I do a lot of design work.”
Beth also watches trends for color selections. “Everyone wants peach, cream and blues,” she said, adding that the Pantone color of the year for 2020 is dusty blue. “Roses are rarely blue, but there are complementary colors so that’s how I’m choosing which roses to put in.”
When Beth works with brides for wedding flowers, her goal is to get a general sense of the bride’s colors and style. She rarely knows exactly what she’s going to create until the day she’s working on the wedding. Brides suggest a color palette and what they like or don’t like, and Beth takes it from there. “People come to us because we view it a little bit like art,” she said. “I use what’s available to me from the farm.”
For winery events, Beth uses flowers that have no scent, which limits her options. “We grow a lot of herbs and edible flowers and can use those,” she said. “Restaurants that use flowers in bouquets on tables or on their charcuterie board can use those because they don’t compete with food. For a wine tasting with a cheese platter, they can use a few sprigs of herbs.” Beth added that any plant material used for food has to be grown organically, which presents an additional challenge.
With a generous growing season, Beth can start nearly everything she grows. The exceptions include roses, lisianthus, ranunculus and tubers. A 3,000-square-foot greenhouse is ideal for starting tender crops including sweet peas, anemone, stock and snapdragons, most of which are used for design work. Many crops are seeded every two weeks for a steady supply throughout the season.
After being in business and establishing a reputation, Beth realized she’s in an area where she has an opportunity to sell a lot of flowers, and that she started at the right time. “We’ve been pretty successful,” she said. “There are times I take a deep breath and say ‘I can get this done’ and other times it looks like I might not have enough flowers to pull an order together. So I go to other farms that are starting up and order buckets of flowers from them.”
Beth recalled thinking that when she first started growing flowers, she’d have a break in winter. “The more knowledgeable I became and as I got better at growing and timing, it became a year-round full-time job,” she said. “The biggest challenge is just shutting it off. When the farm is right here, it’s always at the back door and I’m constantly working. But I like to look outside and enjoy the hard work I’ve done.”