An arrangement of fresh cut flowers can have a magical effect. It brightens the drabbest of rooms and cheers up the dreariest of moods. A breakfast room table, a reception desk, a foyer credenza are breathed with new life when dressed with a vase of flowers. It takes time, creativity, and a bit of a green thumb to create a floral masterpiece.
Many people, however, choose to rely on someone else’s expertise and vision rather than try to tackle floral design. That vision, design eye, and unforgettable arrangement is exactly what three unique flower farms in Columbia aim to provide. Boone Fox Farm, Floral and Hardy Farm, and Purple Tuteur Farm deliver the freshest, most beautiful flowers to local markets, residents, businesses, and through subscription services. These three are proud to be among the few local growers in Columbia.
Donna Mills’ love of gardening began when she was very young. Two large hydrangeas that flanked her grandmother’s front door made quite an impression on her, seemingly in bloom all summer long. As a teenager, she began tending to her own plants. “I just loved growing things!” says Donna. After working for a florist as a designer, where she would also sell the flowers she grew, she realized she was happiest when her hands were in the dirt on her farm. Lucky for her, the florist was very gracious and became one of her biggest customers! This year marks the 25th year in business for Floral and Hardy Farm.
For Brinton Fox, operating her own farming business has been her dream since graduating from Clemson University in 2012. Her parents are both avid gardeners, and her mother ran an organic herb and flower farm for most of Brinton’s childhood. “It was engrained in me from an early age to respect and be fascinated by the world outside,” she says. When she learned about Clemson Extension opening an incubator farm, which aids in the development of new farmers, Brinton jumped at the chance to try out the business plan she had been cultivating. In 2018, Boone Fox Farm was established.
Linda Bradley is a farmer and the founder of Purple Tuteur, which she began in 2017 in Blythewood. A master gardener for more than 15 years and a lover of flowers her whole life, Linda was committed to continuing to embrace fully this passion of hers. Her grandmother was an avid rose grower and her father an astute gardener. Growing up, Linda was always working with her father in the garden. When she retired from her corporate job, she wanted to be able to focus her efforts full time on growing but realized she should not — and could not — just grow an abundance of flowers for herself; she desired to share the beauty and joy. Thus, she embarked on Purple Tuteur as a working floral farm.
At Purple Tuteur, all of the flowers are sustainably grown, using natural fertilizers and pesticides. Linda purchases bulbs from Holland and Israel and grows them untreated on her farm. Others flowers are grown from seed or plants purchased to grow. “There is an abundance of flowers that aren’t available unless you grow them locally, because they don’t ship well,” says Linda. “This includes many of the standards that people remember from their grandparents’ gardens.”
Because flower varieties are always changing, Linda is constantly researching new flowers and updating her farm accordingly. “For example, if you grow dahlias from seed, the flower produced from the seed will be different from the plant the seed came from,” says Linda. “There are breeders who create new dahlia varieties from specific seedlings. This is a slow process that can take years to complete.”
Other breeders travel to remote areas of the world looking for plants that have not been discovered that they could bring to market. They will grow them for a while to make sure they can define the proper growing conditions and then sell them. “I am constantly looking to see if I can find beautiful new flowers to grow and offer to our market,” Linda says. “Sometimes new varieties work in our climate and sometimes they fail but the discovery is a lot of fun for me.”
All flowers purchased through Boone Fox Farm have been seeded, grown, harvested, and arranged by Brinton and her team specifically to meet their customers’ needs. All of her flowers are grown with organic methods, ensuring they are safe to handle and compost without fear of pesticides or herbicides that are commonly present on store-bought flowers. Boone Fox Farm grows an array of fresh cut flowers from March through October.
“We mostly grow annuals due to the fact that the farm is located on temporarily leased land,” says Brinton. “March is full of ranunculus and tulips. April and May bring in the snapdragons, delphinium, strawflowers, foxglove, and campanula. June through August are known for lisianthus, zinnias, celosia, and cosmos. And fall is full of marigolds and dahlia.”
Seeing the beautiful grounds of Floral and Hardy Farm, some would be surprised to learn that it began quite literally from nothing. “When we moved into this field, my uncle said, ‘Nothing will grow here,’” says Donna. “He was almost right; it was so sandy there! But we were determined to grow something. We started with vegetables then eventually added flowers. We have worked very hard to build our soil to what it is now.” And today, that soil produces everything from anemones, ranunculus, and sweet peas to zinnias, stock, and sunflowers.
It’s critical to all that their flowers remain healthy. Linda turns dry fertilizer into the beds and adds compost to hold the moisture in. She is not able to produce enough compost for the entire garden, so she supplements with mushroom compost from local nurseries and ReSoil compost from Elgin. “For sandy environments, compost keeps the soil moist. In other areas throughout the region where the soil is mostly clay, the compost helps the water run through,” says Linda. “It really is a magical ingredient.”
Purple Tuteur offers bulbs and bouquets for purchase on an as-needed basis, as well as flowers by bulk for weddings and events. Whichever flowers are blooming at the time are also included in the order. At any given time, about 20 to 25 different varieties of flowers are available, ensuring the freshest cuts and the season’s most beautiful blooms. From the deepest purples and the boldest yellows to the starkest whites and lightest lavenders, each flower evokes a different feeling. And when put together in a stunning arrangement, these bouquets can conjure wonderful memories — perhaps the color of a wedding bouquet, the scent from a baby shower centerpiece, or the subtle vase sent during a time of grieving. Flowers can make a powerful impact.
During the spring, anemone, baptisia, bachelor buttons, narcissus, nigella, lily, tulips, and yarrow are but a few of the unique selections available. During summer, acidanthera, dahlias, and gladiolas sit among hydrangea, lisianthus, and dozens of other glorious selections. In fall, celosia, dusty miller, and rudbeckia sway in the breeze alongside many other fragrant varieties.
In addition to local markets, each of these farms offers a subscription service, making it easy for customers to have a fresh inventory of flowers on a regular basis. Different options are available to meet the individual needs of the customer.
Linda has seen interest flourish in sourcing fresh, sustainable flowers. “It’s kind of like the organic food movement in which people wanted to know where their food came from and began planting small gardens in their backyard,” she says. “Now, people want to know where their flowers are sourced and how they are grown.”
While all of the flowers these farmers grow bring their own unique colors and fragrances, some flowers tend to keep longer than others. In the spring, anemone and ranunculus do well, while celosia, lisianthus, zinnias, and sunflowers hold up nicely in the summer.
Everyone wants their bouquet to stay fresher longer. And for people who enjoy creating their own cutting garden or just purchasing a bouquet, several steps can extend the life of the flowers. First and foremost, ensuring the vase is clean will prolong the life of the bouquet. “This is the most important step in keeping flowers fresh,” says Donna. “Most people don’t realize that their vases should be bacteria-free, which means cleaning them with bleach or running them through the dishwasher every time you use them.”
No plant material should be in the water, only the stem, so stripping the leaves below the water line is essential. Linda advises using flower food that contains a little antibacterial agent to keep bacteria from forming. “Make sure to read the preservative package that comes with the flowers,” cautions Donna. “If you’re using a packet that is for a pint and your vase holds a half gallon, then that little packet isn’t doing anything.”
Cut the stems every two to three days as the stems will begin to collapse, and change out the water. “Changing out your water at least every other day ensures the best vase life,” says Brinton. “Retrimming your stems when you change out the water will also help to prolong your flowers.”
These small steps can have big impacts. And now more than ever, finding ways to bring beauty inside — and making it last — is so important. That simple vase of fragrant blooms can be just the remedy to add a little joy to the space.