Debra Prinzing

Get the Email Newsletter!

Slow Flowers Field Trip to Whidbey Island (Episode 223)

December 9th, 2015

The wonderful Slow Flowers people of Whidbey Island. Front row, from left: Pam Uhlig, Kelly Uhlig, Melissa Brown, Tobey Nelson. Back row: Benjamin Corteau, David Brown and Molly Brown.

The wonderful Slow Flowers people of Whidbey Island. Front row, from left: Pam Uhlig, Kelly Uhlig, Melissa Brown, Tobey Nelson. Back row: Benjamin Courteau, David Brown and Molly Brown.

Here's a map of Whidbey Island to orient you! Notice the town of Langley on the southeast portion of the map and you can picture where today's guests live, farm and flower!

Here’s a map of Whidbey Island to orient you! Notice the town of Langley on the southeast portion of the map and you can picture where today’s guests live, farm and flower!

This week we’re introducing a new ongoing feature that I hope to bring to you once a month: the “Slow Flowers Field Trip.”

As you know, I love interviewing flower farmers and florists for this Podcast, but what I love even more is visiting them in person to see them in their element — whether that’s out in the shed starting seeds, in the fields harvesting, or in the studio creating something breathtaking.

As often as possible, I’ll hit the road and visit Slow Flowers members to share a snapshot of a community, highlighting what’s grown in that region, and introducing you to the people who grow and design with those flowers.

For 2016, we’ve already booked a field trip to feature the North Bay Flower Collectivenorth of San Francisco, and several other destinations are in the works.

If you’re interested in bringing the podcast to your corner of the U.S., get in touch and we’ll see what might come together.

While it’s located only 30 miles north of Seattle, visiting Whidbey Island takes a little planning because it is reached via ferry from the mainland. The island is notable as one of the longest islands in the country, at 55-miles long, and it lies between the Olympic Peninsula and the I-5 corridor of western Washington. Whidbey Island forms the northern boundary of Puget Sound.

Picked on November 12th - pre-frost! Melissa Brown of Flying Bear Farm grew and designed this lovely arrangement for my visit.

Picked on November 12th – pre-frost! Melissa Brown of Flying Bear Farm grew and designed this lovely arrangement for my visit.

In my earlier years as a garden writer, Whidbey was a magnet for fantastic specialty plant nurseries and private garden tours, so I have spent quite a bit of time there. Now, thanks to the efforts of today’s guests, there is a nascent cut flower farming community, which is essential to Whidbey’s destination wedding scene.

A few weeks ago, I took a day trip to Whidbey, driving north to the waterfront community of Mukilteo, where I caught the 20-minute ferry ride across Puget Sound to Clinton, on the southern tip of the island. My three stops were concentrated on the southern half of the island, in and around the town of Langley, where there’s a mix of tourism, businesses serving vacationers and owners of second homes, as well as small agriculture.

Let me introduce you to the guests you’ll hear in this extended one-hour episode:

A bird's eye view of Sonshine Farm

A bird’s eye view of Sonshine Farm, photographed by a tree-trimmer who was working there

Kelly Uhlig (left) and mom Pam Uhlig (right)

Kelly Uhlig (left) and mom Pam Uhlig (right)

On my first stop, I visited Pam Uhlig and her daughter Kelly Uhlig, flower farmers who own Sonshine Farm, a specialty cut flower farm that packs more stems into a small homestead than you can imagine.

While pursuing a horticulture degree at a local community college Pam apprenticed with Vivian Larson of Everyday Flowers (a past guest of this podcast) – and that’s where I saw her in action. Kelly, a 4-H superstar who’s herself now a college student, is just as committed to flower farming as her mom. Together the two make a dynamic team; they are now members of the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market, where the local floral community snaps up their gorgeous flowers.

Kelly, with one of her bouquet creations, grown & designed

Kelly, with one of her summer bouquet creations, which she grew & designed

Pam poses with 'Vincent Fresh' ~ a favorite sunflower she grew last summer.

Pam poses with ‘Vincent Fresh’ ~ a favorite sunflower she grew last summer.

Melissa Brown (c) Jenna Bechtholt Photography

Melissa Brown (c) Jenna Bechtholt Photography

After interviewing Pam and Kelly and taking a tour of their farm, I went to meet Melissa Brown of Flying Bear Farm. Melissa is a farmer-florist interested in growing flowers for her own floral design business.

We met up first on a parcel that a friend has invited Melissa to plant with flowers, which is where we recorded our podcast interview.

And then . . . Melissa took me to the Flying Bear Farm headquarters, just outside Langley. That’s where she and her husband Benjamin Courteau have just moved, along with Melissa’s parents Molly & David Brown, into a fabulous compound complete with a barn, two residences, an art studio, and lots of terra firma for growing flowers.

Melissa’s folks treated all of us to a delicious luncheon where the conversation only got better with more creative voices around the table.

Benjamin Courteau, field harvesting for Flying Bear Farm.

Benjamin Courteau, field harvesting Flying Bear Farm’s snapdragons

Here's the land that a friend has lent Melissa and Benjamin to grow flowers on Whidbey Island.

Here’s the land that a friend has lent Melissa and Benjamin to grow flowers on Whidbey Island.

A floral creation from Flying Bear Farm

A floral creation from Flying Bear Farm

A Flying Bear Farm tabletop design ~ lovely!

A Flying Bear Farm tabletop design ~ lovely!

Tobey Nelson of Vases Wild

Tobey Nelson of Vases Wild

After lunch, I grabbed some time with our final guest, Tobey Nelson of Vases Wild.

Tobey and I have been talking about this emerging Whidbey Island flower farming-floral design community for a couple of years so I credit her with pulling together my field trip.

She has an extensive background in landscape design, fine gardening and wedding & event florals, which makes Tobey particularly passionate about sourcing from local flower farms on Whidbey Island.

That said, it’s not unusual for her to jump on an early-morning ferry to come into Seattle where she shops for flowers grown by the farms of the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market.

Floral necklace by Vases Wild's Tobey Nelson (c) Suzanne Rothmeyer Photography

Floral necklace by Vases Wild’s Tobey Nelson (c) Suzanne Rothmeyer Photography

Wedding arbor by Vases Wild's (c) image by Scott O'Malley

Wedding arbor by Vases Wild’s (c) image by Scott O’Malley

Bridal bouquet by Vases Wild's Tobey Nelson (c) Mazagran Photography

Bridal bouquet by Vases Wild’s Tobey Nelson (c) Mazagran Photography

Please enjoy each guests’ unique perspective on growing flowers, island style. They are building a creative interdependence that is a small-scale model of what can and should happen in every community where flower farmers and florists come together.

Here’s how you can find & follow the Whidbey Island creatives:

Sonshine Farm, Pam Uhlig and Kelly Uhlig on Instagram

Flying Bear Farm, Melissa Brown and Benjamin Courteau on Facebook

Flying Bear Farm on Twitter

Flying Bear Farm on Pinterest

Flying Bear Farm on Instagram

Vases Wild, Tobey Nelson on Facebook

Vases Wild on Pinterest

Vases Wild on Instagram

Thank you so much for joining me today. Episodes of the Slow Flowers Podcast have been downloaded more than 74,000 times and I thank you and others in the progressive American-grown floral community for supporting this endeavor.

Until next week, you’re invited to join me in putting more American grown flowers on the table, one vase at a time. And If you like what you hear, please consider logging onto Itunes and posting a listener review. THANK YOU to each and every one of you for downloading, listening, commenting and sharing. It means so much.

The content and opinions expressed here are either mine alone or those of my guests alone, independent of any podcast sponsor or other person, company or organization.

The Slow Flowers Podcast is engineered and edited by Andrew Wheatley and Hannah Holtgeerts. Learn more about their work at shellandtree.com.

2 Responses to “Slow Flowers Field Trip to Whidbey Island (Episode 223)”

  1. Shari Shambaugh Says:

    Debra, This brought back wonderful memories of Whidbey Island, where I honeymooned 26 years ago, which may have been the last time I saw your folks! There was a double rainbow outside of our inn the first day. I still remember the beauty of the island. We stayed only a day or two before heading up the island chain, but we want to go back again to visit at some point. Maybe next time we will stop in to see these wonderful farms. Thanks for your important work. We buy organic, local flowers from our CSA up here in Maine, and love helping support the effort in this small way. Peace, and hugs, Shari

  2. Joan Ewer Thorndike Says:

    I’ve bought flowers at the Langley market from Melissa, so happy to read about her Flying Bear Farm. Thanks for the story!

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge