When choosing flowers for a wedding, local flowers are the more environmentally sustainable choice — since they don’t carry the costs of transport or the residue of toxic pesticides. Local flowers are also one of the only ways to get the delicate, sumptuous blooms — such as dahlias and peonies — that don’t ship well and don’t have a long shelf life. The flowers are also fresher, picked from the fields a day prior and lovingly arranged.
Wedding flowers are an individual expression of the bridal couple, just as flower farms reflect the unique nature of the farmers themselves. Below are the stories of three women farmers, their flowers, and their design advice to those saying “I do.”
Gilsum Gardens (Gilsum, New Hampshire)
In 1993, Barbara and Barry Williams started Gilsum Gardens, growing retail annual bedding plants. The business grew organically, just like their daughter, Maegan, who was born soon after they started. Another year, another greenhouse.
In 2012, now-grown Maegan Williams returned to the farm to help her father with the business. Williams felt at home in the greenhouses and enjoyed the quiet hard work, but she noted that the work of annual bedding plants always ended abruptly around Mother’s Day. Williams’ work at the Green Wagon farm stand inspired her to think about cut flowers as a way to extend their season.
Today Williams is head grower at Gilsum Gardens, which she co-owns with her father. Her choice in the flowers she grows is largely determined by the market, which is shaped by the power of internet influencers. When Martha Stewart featured cafe au lait dahlias in a bridal shoot, brides took note. Since then, the milky dinner plate dahlia has been in high demand and short supply. Dahlias like these, are an ephemeral treat. They are not a long-lasting cut flower, but weddings represent a very specific part of the flower trade because unlike table flowers, wedding flowers only need to endure for one glorious day to be photographed for in memoriam.
Even Williams’ flower color palette is carefully curated to the demand.
“The color trends have been champagne, peach, white, blush and burgundy,” says Williams and those are the flowers she grows.
There are only so many varieties in off-white, and she jokes about how many flowers she could grow if purple would come back in style. Delicate, fragrant foliage, has also been a trend, and the inclusion of herbs by designers is another place where local growers can excel. Herbs don’t travel long distances well.
Williams sells her flowers wholesale to florists and designers and enjoys the one-on-one relationship.
“I always found retail very exhausting,” she says, “and I excel working with other business owners.”
Gilsum Garden sells primarily sells wholesale, but table bouquets can be purchased at the Monadnock Coop. Williams’ flowers can also be found in the hands of Anderson Florist in Keene, Village Blooms in Walpole, and Billies and Tillie in Jaffrey.
Vera Flora (Gilsum, New Hampshire)
Sarah Barkhouse has been arranging flowers since she was a child growing up on the border of state forest land in Southeastern Connecticut. Her official farming start was as a Stonewall Farm intern in 2007. It was there she did her first wedding and began to consider flowers more seriously, learning from and networking with other flower farms across the country.
Barkhouse started growing flowers for own business Vera Flora in 2012 with wife and partner Vanessa Helgerson.
Barkhouse says the key to the operations of the flower farm is diligence.
“Every crop requires certain things: pinching, or staking or more fertilization. There is always something to do,” she notes. “Japanese beetles are chewing on my zinnias right now, and I have to go pick them.”
Barkhouse takes advantage of the long summer days, and when the 15 hours of daylight wanes, “we put on the lights so we can work a little longer,” she says.
Vera Flora is a member of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers and offers full-service design for weddings, as well as bulk buckets and anything in between. Vera Flora also runs a flower CSA with a pick-up at the Hannah Grimes Marketplace in Keene and does twice-weekly deliveries to the Monadnock Co-op, also in Keene.
Vera Flora bouquets are picked, at most, a couple of days before the wedding, waiting in the cooler.
“You can still feel the life force in the flowers, says Barkhouse.
Her goal when working with brides is to “meet people where they are,” she says, “it is about education. I have had a groom tell me, I ‘I didn’t know you could grow all these flowers in New Hampshire on a farm.’”
Barkhouse wants people to experience local flowers, for their “whimsy, vibrancy and creativity.”
Tapalou Guilds Flower Farm (Guilford, Vermont)
Hanna Jenkins is passionate about what flowers have to teach us about the life cycle.
“For me, flowers are the language of love,” she says.
Jenkins has been witness to the hardships of human experience in her work in the Peace Corps in Honduras and her work with survivors of domestic violence in Philadelphia.
Flowers she has found, “feed a different hunger in myself and in people.”
When she first started growing, she nurtured a fear that flowers were not that important, but she has since abandoned that concern, and now believes that flowers are “vital.” Jenkins can cite studies to the healing effects of flowers, but her knowledge is also intuitive, having seen the effects in herself, her child and others.
Tapalou Guild Flowers is Jenkins’ main business, but the flowers themselves play a larger role in the permaculture farm she shares with her life partner, Andy Loughney. Flowers are foundational pollinators and an important part of guilds, a permaculture idea that honors the beneficial relationships between plants.
“One of the things about flower farming,” notes Jenkins “is that it may be seen as cleaner, or more dainty. It definitely is beautiful, but it is also all the other things that farming is — unpredictable. You’re perpetually trying to deepen your ability to be mindful and present.”
Tapalou Guild flowers can be found at their farm stand, the Country Store in Guilford, the Tuesday Evening Market and Avenue Market in Brattleboro.
For weddings, Jenkins offers full-service wedding design, a la carte arrangements and bulk buckets. While she arranges for all life occasions, she finds special meaning providing funeral flowers.
About one-fifth of Jenkins flower production is in dried flowers. The dried flowers extend the local season and can be incorporated into wreaths and bouquets all winter.
“That is a way I steal time,” she says.
Jenkins is largely self-taught but took an online class from Floret, a farm in Washington State that is foundational to the local flower movement.
She finds the flower community collaborative and generous.
“I operate on the guiding philosophy that there is enough to go around,” says Jenkins.
Floral Advice to Brides. Love, Your Farmer.
“Try to be flexible, not only with flower types but with flower colors. Supporting local agriculture is about supporting what is in season this week. The best thing that a bride can do is find a florist whose portfolio that really inspires you, and let the designer design. Trust that whatever it is going to be, is going to be beautiful.” — Maegan Williams, Gilsum Gardens
“I love the Pinterest as much as the next gal, but if you are interested in working with local farmers and if you can go see the flowers, it will open your eyes up to how much local beauty can be produced in our region. Getting to see the flowers first hand will open your mind up.” — Sarah Barkhouse, Vera Flora
“Knowing that we work so intimately with flowers, we are going to have a different relationship to flowers. We are going to be able to bring an intimacy to the occasion. We have been with these flowers for months, seeds in the hand in the winter snowstorm. We approach it with intention and mindfulness. You can’t put a price on that.” — Hanna Jenkins, Tapalou Guild Flowers
Paige Lindell writes from Rindge, New Hampshire.