Episode 312: Growing a Start-Up Floral Business with Melanie Harrington of Ontario’s Dahlia May Flower Farm
August 30th, 2017
At the very beginning of this month, after spending several days in Buffalo at the Garden Writers Association annual symposium, I picked up a rental car and drove to Ontario, crossing the vast Niagara River on the beautiful Peace Bridge.
My destination was the Niagara region where the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers’ regional meeting was taking place on a number of flower farms in the area.
It was well worth the extra travel and time, because the wonderful community of flower farmers and farmer-florists there put together a fantastic series of farm tours, presentations and floral demos, giving us an in-depth understanding of the vibrant local floral scene there.
Of course, I had my digital recorder along with me on the trip. A few weeks ago, you heard my bonus interview with Gillian Hodgson of Flowers from the Farm, our UK kindred spirit, who shared her update on the British Grown flowers scene.
There were others to interview, including today’s fabulous guest. I briefly met Melanie Harrington of Dahlia May Flower Farm in person last November at the ASCFG annual meeting in Grand Rapids, Michigan, but had never really spent the time with her that I wanted. She agreed to break away from the schedule so we could sit down in a field, under a tree, in order to share her story.
Here’s a little more about Melanie and her farm. Founded in 2014, Dahlia May Flower Farm is a small family operation specializing in growing romantic and fragrant, often heirloom, varieties of flowers. Nestled in the beautiful rolling Murray Hills of southeastern Ontario, Dahlia May supplies fresh seasonal cut flowers and distinctive bouquets to farmers’ markets in the greater Quinte area, and also offers both rustic and elegant floral design services, inspired by nature and changing with the seasons.
A native of the Quinte area and a lover of nature, Melanie brings to her work a background in art and horticulture as well as a passion for growing beautiful flowers. Melanie completed studies in horticulture and floral design at Loyalist College, and has taken a course in flower farming and design with Erin Benzakein of Floret.
Melanie wrote a personal essay on her web site, as well. You’ll want to read the entire piece here. But to give you a small glimpse of this amazing young woman, I’ll share this small excerpt, in her words:
Years ago my parents farmed the very land I now cultivate. Their first wish was to grow their own food; before long they were supplying our local farmers’ market with fresh produce. Between rows of tomatoes and beans were the inevitable patches of cut flowers, my fathers favourites and my personal joy. Already as a young child, I helped my father plant the seeds. There were bold sunflowers which would tower over me. Vibrant zinnias to surround me with colour. Cheerful asters…. Together we nurtured them and watched them grow. Later we worked side by side to pick them. I remember standing on a milk crate arranging this colourful harvest in tins cans lined up on the tailgate of our truck. I was hooked. . .
When my father passed away in 2012, my husband and I returned to the family farm. With my perennial awareness of how short life can be, I left my job as a floral designer to rediscover what flowers truly meant to me. I didn’t know where this path would lead me; I was, however, certain that the best way to honour my father’s memory was to find my true passion and live it.
This journey, full of bumps and hurdles and unexpected turns, culminated in the founding of Dahlia May Flower Farm. I am back where it all began, farming lush and romantic cut flowers on our beautiful homestead, working out of our 1885 farmhouse. Many of these blooms are sold at the same Quinte West farmers’ market where my parents sold their garden bounty all those years ago. Others may be found at farm markets and speciality stores throughout the area.
We strive to grow high quality, long-lasting, and distinctive blooms. Our flowers connect people, create memories, and bring joy. As one of my customers shared with me: “Flowers make my heart happy, it’s as simple as that.” At Dahlia May Flower Farm we are committed to cultivating happy hearts, and making the world more beautiful.
Please enjoy this highly personal conversation with Melanie and be sure to check out the photos she’s shared – of her flowers and farm and her charming farm stand. And, if you haven’t yet discovered Dahlia May Flower Farm on social media, here’s how to follow along:
Dahlia May Flower Farm on Instagram
Dahlia May Flower Farm on Facebook
Dahlia May Flower Farm on Pinterest
Thanks again for joining me today. My take-way from this conversation with Melanie is to have a clear vision of what you do best, while also being open and experimental when new doors open. Hard work and long hours are a given, yet Melanie still takes time to revel in the awe-inspiring presence of nature that surrounds her natural world day in and day out. And she is willing to be vulnerable as a way to keep it all real and honest, despite the allure of social media and its promise of fame and fortune for those who chase those things.
On her instagram bio for Dahlia May Flower Farm, she includes this: Flower farmer. Florist. Forager. Lover of dirty hands. Finder of magic in nature. Practicing graditude.
Those are terms that many of us embrace. So I know you share my appreciation for Melanie’s story. Thanks for listening.
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Thank you to family of sponsors:
Our lead sponsor for 2017: Certified American Grown Flowers. The Certified American-Grown program and label provide a guarantee for designers and consumers on the source of their flowers. Take pride in your flowers and buy with confidence, ask for Certified American Grown Flowers. To learn more visit americangrownflowers.org.
Arctic Alaska Peonies, a cooperative of 50 family farms in the heart of Alaska providing high quality, American Grown peony flowers during the months of July and August. Visit them today at arcticalaskapeonies.com
Seattle Wholesale Growers Market, a farmer-owned cooperative committed to providing the very best the Pacific Northwest has to offer in cut flowers, foliage and plants. The Growers Market’s mission is to foster a vibrant marketplace that sustains local flower farms and provides top-quality products and service to the local floral industry. Find them at seattlewholesalegrowersmarket.com
Longfield Gardens provides home gardeners with high quality flower bulbs and perennials. Their online store offers plants for every region and every season, from tulips and daffodils to dahlias, caladiums and amaryllis. Visit them at lfgardens.com.
Syndicate Sales, an American manufacturer of vases and accessories for the professional florist. Look for the American Flag Icon to find Syndicate’s USA-made products and join the Syndicate Stars loyalty program at syndicatesales.com.
Johnny’s Selected Seeds, an employee-owned company that provides our industry the best flower, herb and vegetable seeds — supplied to farms large and small and even backyard cutting gardens like mine. Check them out at johnnysseeds.com.
Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers. Formed in 1988, ASCFG was created to educate, unite, and support commercial cut flower growers. It mission is to help growers produce high-quality floral material, and to foster and promote the local availability of that product. Learn more at ascfg.org
I’m Debra Prinzing, host and producer of the Slow Flowers Podcast. Next week, you’re invited to join me in putting more American grown flowers on the table, one vase at a time.
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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 Brenlan. Learn more about his work at KineticTreeFitness.com.
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