Cut-Flower Farmers and Creative Geniuses: Carroll and Richard Chandler
Get to know the growers behind the holistically-managed flower farm, Wildcraft Flowers.
Meet modern flower farmers Carroll and Richard Chandler of Wildcraft Flowers. This husband-wife team operates a cut-flower farm about an hour south of Atlanta and are part of the growing slow flower movement, which promotes seasonal, ethically-grown, American-produced flowers. The Chandlers are also dedicated to preserving land through sustainable agriculture and protecting native ecosystems.
Tell us a little about yourself.
We are a husband and wife team that runs a small cut-flower farm together. All of our flowers are grown naturally, with no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Our farming methods focus on the bigger picture of healthy soil and a healthy farm ecosystem. We sell to floral designers, flower shops and retail at farmer’s markets in the area.
How did you get into growing flowers commercially?
What eventually led us to start a flower farm was our mutual interest and experience in agriculture and horticulture. I (Carroll) was lucky that my parents encouraged me to get my first jobs on an organic vegetable farm and a perennial plant nursery, where I worked for several summers throughout high school and college. It turned out I really loved working with plants and pretty much stuck with it, going on to work at more farms and gardens after college. Richard also had an interest in agriculture and was working on an organic vegetable farm when we met. Plants were one of the first things we connected over. We pretty quickly realized we wanted to start a farm together, it was just a matter of deciding what to farm. Flowers seemed like a new side of horticulture that we could apply our skills to, but also learn something new and have a niche business in an area with few flower farms.
What attracted you to the slow flower movement?
Already feeling like members of the slow food community and the locally-grown movement, it was an obvious choice that we would grow our flowers organically. Discovering the slow flower movement while researching the feasibility of our business idea really encouraged us to go for it, realizing that there was a lot of momentum behind the movement and a supportive community to help us develop our business.
How difficult is it to grow cut flowers on a large scale?
Some flowers are more difficult than others to grow, but learning how to stretch the limits of our climate has been very important in allowing us to grow a wide variety of flowers. The biggest challenge with growing flowers for a business is that when we lose a crop to pests, disease, weather or our own mistakes we often have to wait an entire season to try again. You can’t always fix the problem immediately, and that can be costly.
What are some tips you can offer to backyard gardeners looking to start a cut-flower garden?
I always first recommend a good selection of perennials for the home cut-flower gardener. They don’t need much attention once established and you can count on flowers throughout the season. Whether it’s annuals or perennials the most important thing is to have healthy soil. Most annual and many perennial cut-flowers need fluffy, well-drained soil. Adding a layer of compost every year and doing a soil test to be sure you are not deficient in any key nutrients will set you up for success. When starting flowers from seed be sure to research propagation methods in a good book or online. Seed starting is the easiest place to make a mistake when growing flowers, and I’ve noticed that the directions on a seed packet are often general guidelines and leave out important information about how to germinate that specific flower seed.
What are some of the easiest flowers to grow? What are your favorites?
Tuberoses are one of our favorites and so easy to grow here in the South. They are highly fragrant, thrive in hot summers and are perennial as long as they are well mulched in a cold winter. Once in a vase, remove lower flowers as they fade, and new flowers will continue to open for about 10 days. Campanula medium (Canterbury bells) might be my favorite cut flower. It is very impressive looking with its large bell-shaped flowers but is fairly easy to grow. In the South, the seeds must be started in late summer in a cool place and planted out into the garden by November. Once in the garden, it really doesn’t require anything special. It can tolerate very cold temperatures and will bloom in April. It lasts for up to 10 days in a vase.
Can you give us some professional tips on how to make flowers last longer when cut?
Flower food is an option to extend vase life, but there are some natural, simple ways to keep your flowers lasting longer. Make sure your vase is sanitized, or at least very clean. Change the water in the vase every day to every few days and trim stems of the flowers every couple of days. Keep them in a cool place in the house, not in direct sun. The cooler they are the longer they will last. Do not submerge leaves below the water, and remove any stems that become discolored or slimy. If you are cutting flowers from your own garden, cut them in the morning when they are the most hydrated, before the heat of the day. If you are cutting your own flowers or purchasing flowers, choose flowers that are fully colored, but are not quite fully open. They will continue to open in the vase and this will give you a few extra days to enjoy them.