A (American Grown) Flower-filled April, Part One
April 27th, 2014
My 11-day road trip took me by plane to Southern California and back home again behind the wheel of a rental car as I happily drove north on U.S. Hwy. 101 through a beautiful and ever-changing coastal landscape.
The trip began on April 6th when I landed at Burbank Airport, my favorite airport destination these days. I picked up the rental car and hit Ventura Freeway, passing by scenery so familiar to me from the four years we lived in this area.
My destination was Carpinteria and Rose Story Farm. The setting sun ahead of me as I drove northwest, I turned off of the freeway at Casitas Pass Blvd. and headed away from the ocean, toward the foothills.
A humble sign, “Rose Story Farm,” greeted me at the end of a long, one-lane driveway (curses, speed bumps!) that runs along the edge of several acres of farmland. Current crop: sunflowers. Then, up ahead, towering palm trees, their presence here oddly normal, and an iron gate. I rang and heard Danielle Hahn’s voice through the speaker box: “Welcome! We’re just about to eat dinner – meet us in the barn.”
I’ve been to Rose Story Farm on three previous occasions (read previous blog posts here and here), and yet the charm and old-Santa-Barbara character still excites. Dani and her husband Bill Hahn have converted the former horse stables into the headquarters for their organic cut rose business. What once was the large tack room is now a grand family room, with a giant stone fireplace, soaring beams, cozy upholstered sofas and a big trestle table where three generations of the family were sharing dinner. I joined them for some of the most delicious Mexican take-out I’ve ever eaten.
I shared that meal with Dani and Bill, their son Will and his girlfriend Anne, and Dani’s lovely mother Patti D’All Armi. The stimulating conversation set the tone for a magical visit surrounded by friendship and fragrant roses. It was just the beginning of my three days in the Carpinteria-Santa Barbara area.
The impetus for my arrival was Dani’s invitation a year in advance to speak to the Garden Club of Santa Barbara at one of its monthly meetings. We dreamt up a two-part event, with my Monday morning lecture about the American Grown Flower Movement, followed by a lunch break, leading to a hands-on floral design workshop.
Typically, I like to cap hands-on design workshops at 25 students, maximum. Well, somehow this workshop climbed to 52!!! Yikes, without Dani, Patti and Anne’s help, not to mention a few other people on the Garden Club program committee, we could not have pulled it off.
Here we were in the “flower basket” of America, the one place in our country where more cut flowers are produced than anywhere else. And while one might worry that I would be “preaching to the choir,” it simply wasn’t the case. The reaction to my lecture was sadly familiar. Comment after comment, as I signed books, visited with the Garden Club members, or helped a student assess her arrangement, went like this: “I had NO idea that so many flowers are imported. I am so glad to learn what I can do to change this practice.”
Workshop participants were asked to bring their own containers and tools, as well as greenery from their gardens to share. We were able to underscore the message about the benefits and pleasures of local, seasonal flowers with a powerful visual aid: ROSES! Bless her heart, Dani harvested and donated 500 gorgeous roses from her fields. Talk about intoxicating! These old garden roses, David Austins, pre-1950s American hybrid tea roses and European varieties are simply stunning. The colors, forms, petal shapes and fragrances will instantly convert you into a believer in locally-grown flowers.
In addition to using roses and several other cool ingredients from Rose Story Farm (including velvety scented geranium foliage), we procured some donations from other local sources. I want to thank Florabundance, a floral wholesale business owned by Joost and Alex Bongaerts, for their generous donation to match our purchase of a variety of really beautiful, healthy and unique annuals, perennials and foliage – all California grown. And two other flower farms donated interesting varieties for our students to use. Thanks to Marcus Van Wingerden of Pyramid Flowers Inc., of Oxnard, and Igor Van Wingerden of Ocean Breeze Farms in Carpinteria, for their support.
That evening, after the day-long workout hauling huge buckets of flowers and standing on our feet all day, Dani pulled off yet another classy event. She hosted a garden party for her fellow committee members to celebrate our successful day. It was a delight – and I know you’ll be mesmerized by the enormous arrangements that her staff created for the evening. I certainly was seduced by them, especially in that dewy, coastal air as the sun descended toward the Pacific, illuminating each petal in vivid relief.
After a late-night gab, Dani’s family long since retired for the night, we finally stopped talking and headed to bed ourselves. My destination: The Hydrangea Cottage. This was my home in the midst of the rose fields. How lucky can one woman be?
Lots more took place during the ensuing days, but I have so many wonderful photos to share from my time at Rose Story Farm that I need to postpone the narrative for subsequent chapters! To be continued . . .