Whoa – it’s February already!. That really snuck up on me! January went by was faster than a collection of short and cold days have a right to. I think its time to catch up from the beginning of the year….from when we were in beautiful southern California.
I’ve pondered the best way to tell you about our trip to meet California flower farmers and see the Rose Parade and I have finally decided that the best thing to do, right now, is to just document it. I don’t want to forget the little pieces that added up to a wonderful experience. What I saw and learned will wend its way into all my future writings, but that will come with time; for now I need a diary.
Day 1 – We arrived in CA and made our way to our hotel. Shortly after our arrival a beautiful and huge bouquet of flowers was delivered (see here) along with our very own ‘Ask me I’m a California Flower Farmer’ t-shirts. I later learned that the bouquet was made by one of the leaders of the Cal Poly float-making team with cuttings from the flowers that were being used on that float – making it all the better.
Day 2 – (my favorite day). We took the coastal road as we headed north to tour a few flower farms in the Oxard and Carpenteria areas. I had no idea that just an hour or so north of LA begins a stretch of the California coast that is both fertile and generous; pleasantly populated with farms and greenhouses – and so unlike LA. Our first stop was Sun Valley – the largest cut flower grower in this country. It it quite likely that if your grocery store flowers are American grown (but odds are that they aren’t) then they were grown by Sun Valley. Rodi and Gerrit generously lead us through the facility. I was fascinated to see the production lines for bouquets and how the recipes (one stem of this, two stems of that…) come together. The whole place is designed around making sure the flowers get to the market with as much stem length and freshness as possible. Stem length – something I had never thought about before – is a big goal in this industry – the more the better. Sun Valley even has a special machine for bulb grown blooms (see above) – it smashes the bulb freeing the flower stem at a longer length than what can be cut if the bulb were to stay intact. Every inch counts when you consider how many times a flower’s stem will be cut to keep it fresh and healthy.
Tip from Rodi: A little bit of bleach in the water of a bouquet will kill the bacteria that reduces cut flower life, but will not harm the flowers at all.
After walking the fields, and taking an exhaustive tour of the packaging area and greenhouses, we were given yet another gorgeous bouquet (can you see a happy theme starting to form here…??). I loved seeing the mossy green pom pom carnations (Dianthus barbatus, I think) but my children were impressed (as was I) with the lovely white double lilies that were being grown (you can see the remnants of one in Isaac’s hand) After a nice lunch we headed to Rose Story Farm to meet Danielle Hahn. This visit was undoubtedly the highlight of my day. We wandered around smelling and picking all sorts of blooms and comparing fragrances. Dani was so lovely and the way in which she ran, with her family, a remarkable and beautiful rose farm had me daydreaming of further conversions of my own garden. I was truly inspired by what she has created. I will certainly be writing more about her and her sweet dog, the lovely rose cake, the gorgeous flowers, her rose infusions, and the endless charming stories of this place. We left with a back seat full of fragrant roses and petals everywhere…I am quite sure the car rental company hasn’t ever had such a ‘rosy’ car returned to them.
Tip from Dani: The better a flower smells, (generally) the shorter its vase life. To find good smelling flowers for bouquets, this basic tradeoff should be understood.
Everbloom was our final stop for the day and this place was fascinating for an entirely different set of reasons. Not only does Everbloom conduct a boutique business specializing in Gerbera Daisies (meaning that they grow over 200 different colors and varieties that can be perfectly matched to nearly anything) but they do it all hydroponically. The science and engineering behind this type of growing is one of my newest obsessions. From the basalt rock growing medium that looks vaguely like fiberglass insulation to the recycling of the fertilizers and water, I am amazed at the systems that can be constructed to maximize growth and production while minimizing the needed resources and reducing the environmental load.
Ivan and his father Eduard were also such generous hosts (more flowers for our car!) who shared their passion for growing as well as their cultural heritage. I was surprised (though perhaps I shouldn’t have been) to learn that much of the US flower farming community are Dutch immigrants who came to the US seeking new planting areas (which they found throughout California). Eighty percent of American grown cut flowers are grown in California, but – like other farming communities – their ranks have been dwindling to a tiny fraction of what they once were and the ‘American-grown’ market share has largely been over taken by imported producers. It is a trend that I hope we can reverse.
Tip from Ivan: For longer lasting cut gerbera daisies, don’t put them in deep water (just enough so the bottom inch or so is immersed). Make a fresh cut on the stems every few days (or as soon as they begin to brown or decay) and put them in fresh water.
As the day winded down, we headed into Santa Barbara, watched the sun set on the beach, enjoyed wandering the town and had a relaxing dinner at a mediocre (it can’t all be perfect, right?) tapas restaurant.
Stay tuned for Day Three (in another post) – where we headed into the heart of parade preparations to see the amazing Rose Parade floats come together.
images: rochelle greayer