“Had you asked me five years ago, I never would have imagined we would be owners of a cut flower farm,” says Melissa Brown, who runs Bee Merry Farm in Washington’s Skagit Valley alongside her husband, Jeff, who’s also a hobby beekeeper.
The roots of Bee Merry Farm came about through necessity. After moving to a new property that included 4 of its 5 acres zoned for agriculture, Brown knew they would need to work the land to maintain its zoning. So she planted 10 initial dahlia plants that soon bloomed to over 100 in their first season.
“Basically, what started as a hobby became something to help retain our farmland zoning, which ended up becoming something I absolutely love,” reflects Brown.
Taking a moment out from the flower fields, we spoke to Brown about the benefits of her land’s soil and the enduring appeal of dahlias. We also got into the potential of flowers as an artistic outlet.
The Skagit Valley Soil
“We are really fortunate to live in the heart of Skagit Valley’s farmland, which has some of the best soil due to a long history of flooding and nutrient-rich soils being deposited along the valley floor,” says Brown. “With dikes now preventing that type of flooding, we get to reap the benefits of fantastic soil with minimal worry about flooding—at least most of the time!”
Brown also says that beyond adding compost, she doesn’t need to tinker with the soil too much to successfully grow her blooms.
Give It Up for Dahlias
Brown suggests that the recent rise in popularity of dahlias is due to a number of factors, including “social media, an increased interest in gardening during the pandemic, and a rise in small farms selling dahlias.”
The abundant nature of dahlias has also helped their cause. “They produce blooms all summer long and multiply tubers that can be split and shared,” says Brown. “It’s rewarding, and a bit addictive, to grow them–with a little bit of care, they will bloom their hearts out and then give you more tubers so you can do it all over again the following season.”
The Benefits of Small-Scale Flower Growing
“Over the last few seasons, the interest in procuring dahlia tubers has reached an almost competitive level,” explains Brown, as she considers the demand for dahlias. “Unfortunately, many of the dahlias sold in big-box stores are machine-harvested, imported and often diseased (commonly with crown or leafy gall, neither of which is curable).”
By comparison, Brown says, smaller farms are able to “take measures to ensure their plants are healthy, which typically means they are tended by hand.”
She adds that this extra level of care and attention means it can take a long time to build up enough stock to meet the demands of buyers. “This is why, when dahlia tuber sales go live on a seller’s website, they are often sold out within minutes. Coveted varieties are often sold out within seconds. There just isn’t enough to go around right now—[but] a collective desire to grow more flowers is a beautiful problem to have.”
Read more: Ready to start a cut-flower farm business?
A World Beyond Dahlias
While dahlias play a crucial role at Bee Merry Farm, some of their supporting blooms are just as eye-catching and beneficial.
“Aside from dahlias, other flowers I love to grow include sweet peas, cosmos, zinnias and nasturtiums,” says Brown. “It took me a few years to get the hang of growing sweet peas, but their nostalgic scent is well worth the effort of learning their ways.”
“Cosmos and zinnias are incredibly easy to grow and come in a variety of colors,” she adds. “Cosmos in particular add a nice whimsy to floral arrangements. As for nasturtiums, I grow them simply because I remember my mom growing them when I was a child. I was so fascinated by their leaves in particular.”
Flowers as an Artistic Outlet
“One of the most surprising realizations I’ve made is that flowers can be an incredible artistic outlet,” says Brown, who balances her flower farming with a role as a teacher. “They are a beautiful medium for exploring textures and colors.”
Brown explains she’s fond of creating flower art through flatlays, which depict her flowers from directly above (and are regularly posted on her Instagram account). “I started creating flatlays as a way to say goodbye to flowers—experimenting with spent blooms before they hit the compost pile—as well as to give them permanence through photography.”
After reading Susan Cain’s book Bittersweet last summer, Brown adds that she learned how “some people are more apt to experience intense feelings of longing, being deeply moved by things that are fleeting in life.”
It’s a philosophy Brown has successfully translated to her own flower farming and artistic inclinations. “Accepting that the cyclical nature of growing flowers is both bitter and sweet has made the process of creating flatlays a meaningful outlet for me.”
Follow Bee Merry Farm on Instagram.