As we continue to daydream about spring and prepare for our cut flower garden we sat down with our favorite local cut flower farmer, Christine O’Brien, for some hard hitting questions as she gets ready for her upcoming lecture in The Studio (more details below). Full disclosure, Christine’s is also the head grower at our farm in Clarksville. She came to Bowood nearly 20 years ago after completing a degree in horticulture from the Ingenieurschule Waedenswil in Switzerland. She always felt her path would bring her to the United States, as she has family in Saint Louis. She had planned to take a job with another nursery but when she arrived in the US, they were on a hiring freeze. They directed her to Bowood and we have been lucky enough to have Christine as a part of the Bowood family since.
SR: What inspired you to start a cutting garden?
CO: Floret Flowers. Lizzy & Katherine made me aware of Floret Flowers, I looked them up on Instagram and was hooked. That lead into looking up more cut flower farms from all over the world and plants in general started to have a different, more important meaning to me. Working at a wonderful nursery like Bowood is a privilege, and adding the cut flowers to my life made working at Bowood actually even more fun!
SR: Looking back, what was your very first cutting garden like? Did you set attainable goals or was the sky the limit?
CO: My first cutting garden was fairly small, but it gave me great joy and comfort while dealing with the loss of a family member. I needed to keep busy and to be rewarded at the end with such beautiful blooms was (and still is) so good for my soul. Sky was not the limit… yet. We kept it to two 75’ beds and that was just the perfect amount.
SR: At what point did you decide you wanted to take it to the next level and sell your flowers wholesale?
CO: That really came when Lizzy & Katherine decided to do a weekly flower bar at Bowood. That’s when it really clicked. And, following great floral designers, flower trucks, wedding sites, boutiques all in the St. Louis area made me very aware that there is a movement of cut flowers going on that has become kind of unstoppable. And, especially locally grown flowers have become more popular which is really wonderful to see.
SR: There are so many beautiful cut flower options out there! How do you select the flowers you will grow each year?
CO: That is really a tough decision to make. Following designers and flower farmers from all around the world are good guides for making those decisions. I always try to feel out the trend of what’s popular, new and fresh. However, staying true to my own taste and not be completely lead by what everyone wants is very important to me. Might be a selfish way, but I feel like that’s what really puts a “stamp” on the flowersinclay cut flowers and sets us apart from other flower farmers.
SR: What have been your biggest successes in the cut flower garden? Any notable failures?
CO: Dahlias have been a huge success for us last year! Wow, the colors and continuous blooms have been just amazing. The Queen Lime Zinnias Series, Snapdragons, Phlox, Scabiosa, Asters, Strawflowers, Rudbeckias and Cockscomb have been really doing well for me. They are very reliable and true cut-and-come-again flowers. Failures… Sweet Peas and Icelandic Poppies. The Sweet Peas got prime real estate in the cut flower garden. I love them so much, but they don’t like the Missouri heat. Same with the Zinnia ‘Zinnderella’ Series. They look so dreamy in the photos (taken in the PNW). Again, the heat is not their friend, and they never gave me that cool scabiosa-look I’ve been looking for. A true and very late surprise were the Spider Mums. Those are really fun, the timing however is a challenge for me. They bloom so late, so that they’re the only act in our bouquets. What’s terrific about them is their vase-life, 2 weeks easily.
SR: Which blogs or Instagram accounts are you following for inspiration?
CO: Floret Flower, @floretflower
Milly Van der Hoeven, @primmgardens
Frances Palmer, @francespalmer
Becky Crowley, @beckycrowley_
Field Of Roses, @field0froses
3 Porch Farm, @3porchfarm
Emily Avenson, @fleuropean
Charlie McCormick, @mccormickcharlie
Flowers On Lawn, @flowersonlawn
There are so many more… but I guess this is my top 10 list.
SR: What is your best advice for someone starting their very first cutting garden?
CO: My best advice would be: start small and pick flowers that are easy to grow: Zinnias, Sunflowers, Cosmos, Cockscomb, Bachelor’s Buttons, etc. And, make sure you have a good plan for weed control and access to water. Those are two very important factors when you have a cut flower garden. And of course the site and rich soil is very important. Pick a place that is in full sun all day, and where you are forced to walk by on a daily basis. That way you can always see what’s going on, what needs to be cut for beautiful bouquets 🙂
SR: If you could be any cut flower, which would you be and why?
CO: English Rose! She’s the queen of cut flowers for me. Elegant, best fragrance and pretty much can stand on her own and be beautiful. If we can ever figure out how to grow them without the Japanese Beetles devouring them, then we will have English Roses in our future cut flower garden.
For the second spring in a row, Christine will be joining us in The Studio to give a lecture on “Cut Flower Gardening.” She will outline the proper steps to take and offer her best advice for planning and selecting the flowers. Join us on March 27th from 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM, seats should be reserved in advance so be sure to call. You can find the full details here. We hope you’ll come join us!