Episode 319: Connecticut artist-florist Michael Russo of Trout Lily Farm
October 18th, 2017
Whenever I travel, even for pleasure, I’m likely to add three things to my itinerary:
First, I visit Slow Flowers’ members to see their places of business — flower farms, floral studios and retail florists locations.
Next, I team up with one or more of those generous folks to schedule a Slow Flowers meet-up.
And third, I turn on the digital recorder to interview at least one of these folks for a Slow Flowers Podcast episode.
Yes, I do travel quite a bit, the “non-slowness” of which is a bit ironic, as my friends and family have pointed out.
But I’m so passionate about getting out “on-location,” so to speak, to capture your stories.
Sharing the stories of American flowers and the people who grow and design with them is at the heart of the Slow Flowers mission.
Last month, you benefitted from my interviews in Montana. This month, it’s Connecticut and Virginia. Next month, it will be Massachusetts and Arizona. And then, maybe I’ll stay home for the holidays!
So enough of that. Let me introduce you to Michael Russo, a farmer-florist and gifted artist who co-owns Trout Lily Farm in Guilford, Connecticut. He and his husband, Raymond Lennox, who works in the health care industry when he’s not co-farming, purchased Trout Lily about 13 years ago. The farm is located on picturesque Lake Quonnipaug in North Guilford, where Michael and Raymond grow and sell organic edibles and seasonal cut flowers for the table, weddings and events.
I’ve been wanting to visit Trout Lily Farm ever since I first met Michael in the fall of 2014 at a floral design workshop I taught in Rhode Island at the wonderful estate home and garden called Blithewold Mansion.
My friend Ellen Hoverkamp of My Neighbor’s Garden, an botanical artist and photographer who is a previous guest of this podcast, came from her home in New Haven, Connecticut and brought Michael along. I was so enchanted with their long friendship dating back to high school and college, as artists and former public school art teachers, both of whom both took early retirements to pursue new creative ventures.
Trout Lily Farm is indeed Michael’s creative outlet. Even though it began as a mostly edible operation, Michael’s floral design talents were not to be ignored — and he confided to me that dahlias continued to gobble up more farm space, as well as annuals, perennials and foliages for his wedding floral work.
So I convinced Michael to join Slow Flowers — he truly fits the profile of our membership. And I promised to visit the farm on a future visit to the East Coast.
That opportunity happened a few weeks ago when I was able to add the NYC-Connecticut stop on my way to teach at Holly Chapple’s Flowerstock outside Washington, D.C.
Without Ellen’s help or the companionship of my dear friend Nancy Finnerty who accompanied me on the train from NYC to West Haven, I don’t think the whirlwind 24 hours would have been as effortless and successful.
Michael and Raymond hosted us for a Slow Flowers Meet-up and about 15 wonderful flower farmers and florists in the area attended the Saturday afternoon gathering. We toured the farm with Michael and Raymond, including the charming out-buildings, growing fields, studio, potting shed and the new Summer Kitchen. Our social hour included my short Slow Flowers update and a chance to hear from everyone about their floral businesses. I loved watching the interactions, connections, promises of tuber and seed swaps that took place that evening. A true meeting of kindred spirits — please enjoy the photographs of that event here!
Here’s how to find Trout Lily Farm’s social places:
Trout Lily Farm on Facebook
Trout Lily Farm on Instagram
You may wonder about the name Trout Lily, so let me share that before we turn to the interview:
When the property was purchased in the late fall of 2003, not much was in bloom. The landscape at that time was mostly deer ravaged patches of poison ivy covered evergreen trees left over from it’s Christmas farm days and some meager foundation plantings. But come spring that following year, along the sloping terrain of the property that borders Lake Quonnipaug , were drifts and drifts of bright yellow Trout Lilies. The Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum), also known as Adder’s Tongue and Dog Tooth Violet is a native spring flower. It’s foliage resembles the skin of a fish, the blossom’s stamens a venomous reptiles tongue and it’s corm that of a canine’s tooth! Although the description of the plant is rather strange and sounds like an entry from a medieval Bestiary, the plant is a cheerful, ephemeral wildflower and a welcome harbinger of spring . It signals the beginning of the growing season here on TROUT LILY FARM.
Thanks so much for joining us today! I continue to be inspired by the people I meet and get to interview and I hope you are equally inspired! The Slow Flowers Podcast has been downloaded more than 245,000 times by listeners like you. Thank you to each one of you for downloading, listening, commenting and sharing. It means so much.
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Thank you to family of sponsors:
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. And If you like what you hear, please consider logging onto Itunes and posting a listener review.
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.