Blooming Opportunities

It is not unusual to find flowers for sale in February, no matter your geography. But as attention has turned toward the origins, availability and production of the food we eat, the idea that flowers are as seasonal and diverse as vegetables is also taking root. In meeting this increasing interest, Stone Barns Center is working with Johnny’s Selected Seeds on trials of three new varieties of flower crops.

Flowers are an integral part of the Center’s diverse farming operation. They attract pollinators and deter pests, are part of the crop rotation that keeps our soil biology balanced, and impart beauty. This year, Shannon Algiere, Stone Barns Center’s Flower, Herb and Terrace Manager, collaborated with Hillary Alger, a Seed Breeding Tech at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, to choose flower crops that complement the Stone Barns farming operation and market.

In beds at the top of the vegetable field, Shannon and her team have planted five unnamed varieties each of three different flower crops: ammi (Queen Anne’s lace), pincushion flower (scabiosia) and a zinnia similar to a scabiosia. Each variety will be evaluated for qualities like plant health, yield, stem length and durability, flower color, and consumer and florist appreciation. The data collected will be sent back to Johnny’s and will help inform which varieties the company makes available in future seasons.

In the last two decades, the United States floral market came to rely heavily on imports. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, imported cut flowers accounted for 79 percent of the total U.S. supply in 2012. But this figure is on the decline, while local flower farms are on the rise and the range of flowers in demand is broadening.

A flower like ammi highlights the change in perspective when it comes to the marketplace. Queen Anne’s lace is a wildflower, often seen along roadsides and historically considered a weed. But this lace-like bloom has lately been making its way into formal arrangements and is catching the attention of florists, breeders, producers and consumers alike. “I think it’s part of an aesthetic set by a new generation of floral designers,” Shannon says. “It connects to concepts of nature and simplicity.”

That new and more flower varieties are being studied and appreciated signals greater engagement in whole farm systems and business. Seed trials offer farmers a place in the conversation with breeders and seed companies about diversity, seasonality, regionality and success in the ground and at market. And the availability of these new flowers gives us all another way to understand and support our regional ecosystems.