Have you got what it takes to be a serious flower farmer? Not a gardener, but an actual ‘I do this for a living’ kind of person. Liz Cardella does. Liz is pretty much a one-woman business when it comes to Collie Flower Farm in Woodstock, IL.
What has Liz got that perhaps you don’t?
1 – A John Deere!
Let’s start with a John Deere tractor. Yep, Liz got a John Deere tractor a few years ago. I would say that was when Liz arrived. It was when she said she was in the flower farming business for the long haul. (Let the bad puns begin.)
2 – Carpentry Skills
What else does she have that you don’t? She has 20-plus years of experience as a carpenter. Liz was a carpenter in a down-turned economy in 2008 who then took her gardening skills to a new level. She also repurposed her carpentry skills to build what she needed for her ‘growing’ (sorry, pun intended again) business. She built hoop houses by bending chain link fence rails on a special jig and screwed them together. She built drying racks that could be used as shelves in the winter. Mike had lust in his eyes when he saw those drying racks. He thought I didn’t see that, but I did. I’ll get over it.
3 – Ingenuity
Here’s a cool one. (Another bad pun, sorry.) It’s a pseudo-air conditioning unit for the trailer. Take one cooler, one small fan, a piece of PVC, and some gallon jugs of ice. That’s enough to get her flowers to florists and the Barrington Farmer’s Market without heat damage. Liz has a link to instructions for a smaller version on her Pinterest site.
4 – Focus
Long days. Lots of them. Days filled with heat, constant physical labor, and sometimes a head-to-toe mosquito suit. There isn’t time for anything else. Its rumored she cooks all of her meals in the winter and doesn’t clean her house till gardening season is over. And for someone who does the most to extend the gardening season, that is a long time. Liz can plant batches of Oriental lilies in the hoop house at intervals and harvest through November. .
5 – Business Acumen
Liz has to grow what florists and farmer’s market customers want, not what makes her garden pretty. It’s not about design at all. It’s about mass production. She can grow unique daffodils the florist can’t easily get. When the daffodils are done, she can put landscape fabric on top and plant crate-fulls of canna lilies on top. She can bring budding peonies into the walk-in cooler and sell them four weeks later when they are now harder to come by and sell for more. Liz’s business smarts have to be as strong as she is.
6 – Land
Liz farms about 1 1/2 acres of her 4 acres, and has also started farming on another property. Rows and rows of plants to tend and harvest. You can see here how she is using rounded conduit and netting for plant supports. They can be covered with frost fabric or plastic as a season extender too. Always function over form.
So are ya ready? I’m not. I certainly gained a new appreciation for what it really takes, as did the other members of Central States Dahlia Society who visited. I want Liz’s business when all she does is snip snip here and snip snip there, artfully placing the beautiful blooms in an overflowing basket. I just may have to wait a bit.
It seemed like such a simple task. A rainy day. A little painting in the basement before work. Just a few signs and a small fence. The operative word here is ‘seemed’, because I have once again proved that everyone needs an editor.
Now keep in mind that I do Instructional Design for a living, in particular editing and improving other people’s class materials. Perhaps that is a fact I shouldn’t share. Too late. Yes, I too need an editor.
I did better on the next sign, the one for my zinnia garden.
Perhaps the dahlia sign with the typo was subconscious, as Mike and I have a running competition each year between HIS dahlia garden and MY zinnia garden. He always wins, and I will repaint the sign so as not to appear disparaging. Perhaps I will even spell ‘dahlias’ correctly.
Granted, Mike’s dahlia garden isn’t much to look at yet, but it will be. He will win. It will be an in-your-face kinda win, as you can see here from a past year dahlia that is as big as my face.
I can live with that.
I put out my hummingbird feeder today. It is early, but I suffer from intense positivity. I also suffer from internet exposure. Fortunately, the internet resource is a reliable one. You too can go to Journey North to see that the first hummingbird in our Chicagoland area was reported on April 16th.
Journey North noted “Hummingbirds surge north on the winds, making 2016 an early migration season.” So out went my feeder. I get credit for even finding it this early. I filled it with one part sugar to four parts water. Of course, I didn’t add any red dye. I did heat the water enough for the sugar to dissolve easily. The extra mixture went into the fridge, where I can keep it for up to 2 weeks. I won’t have to change it often during this cooler weather, but in the summer heat it can spoil outside in just a few days.
Journey North was a learning experience. Whooping cranes crossed into Wisconsin last week, monarchs are nowhere close to Illinois, and whale babies are in the final phase of migration in California.
A link on the Journey North site took me to Explore, which turned out to be quite the cool site. Literally cold according to these polar bears that we watched on Cape Churchill, within Wapusk National Park (NP) in northern Manitoba.
Hmmm…the hummingbirds aren’t here yet, but then neither are the polar bears. I’ll gladly wait a bit for the one and enjoy the other vicariously while appreciating the relative warmth of our Chicagoland spring.
There. I have your attention. We all like saving money and $4.00 off the admission price for the Chicago Flower and Garden Show is attention worthy.
After all, the fragrance of 1000 hyacinths will be intoxicating. It has been an easy Chicago winter, but winter non-the-less. I am so ready for the show at Navy Pier. I will again be the On-Site Seminar Manager, this time for Saturday March 12th through Wednesday. The show continues without me through Sunday March 20th.
A few of the seminars I am especially looking forward to are:
“PLANTS WITH ARCHITECTURE”
Sunday March 13th at 3:30 pm
Add architecture to your landscape without constructing a thing! In this seminar, you will learn how plants can define a space, guide your eye or bring a sense of order to the garden.
“PLANNING YOUR SMALL SPACE GARDEN”
Monday March 14th at 11:00 am
Melinda will cover simple ideas for packing a lot of garden into a small space and creating an intimate garden within a large lot. She’ll share tips and techniques for designing and maintaining gardens with year-round interest in every layer of your landscape—from the ground to the roofline.
I’ve also decided my favorite garden at the show is likely to be from Brookfield Zoo. Though I may not be able to recreate the Zoo Blooms exhibit with an 11-foot peacock, a 33-foot snake, a butterfly with a 14-foot wingspan and a stunning fountain, I sure look forward to seeing it.
About those discount tickets…
Check out the Proven Winners site. You can save $2 off adult weekday or weekend online tickets. Purchase your tickets prior to March 12 and save a total of $4 off box office pricing.
See you at the show!
See that smile on Mike’s face? That is what happens when his dahlia tubers make it through the winter and he can start propagating. 53 pots of dahlias planted last week and still counting. The plan is for each of those to send up sprouts, and for each sprout to become a plant. Most of the tubers will agree, and some already have. There are 5 pots in our basement that had tiny sprouts even as he was removing them from the cardboard boxes.
The Belle of Barmera that you see below is one that Mike is growing for our friend Daly. Looking at the bloom from last year, you can see why she wanted to over-winter it. Likely, we will get 5 or more plants from the tuber. By then, the tuber is exhausted and we won’t plant it. Sad but true. Don’t tell the Belle.
I’ll admit that the dahlias don’t look like much just yet.
Give these a few weeks and they will start sprouting. A few more weeks and the sprouts get cut off to each become a plant. May will arrive (really) and there will likely be 400 ready for our yard, our friend’s yards, and even relative’s yards.
Many will go to local plant sales:
- The Central State Dahlia Society’s sale at Chicago Botanic Gardens on May 7th and 8th.
- The Elk Grove Garden Club plant sale on May 14th.
- The Central State Dahlia Society’s sale at Friendship Park in Mount Prospect on May 21st.
Just in case 400 isn’t enough, we’ve got 6 more tubers on order from Ritchie’s. Ok, you caught me, it’s not because 400 isn’t enough, it’s because they are so hard to resist. For example, we saw Gay Princess at Ritchie’s last year, and now we are adding her to our garden.
It just doesn’t end … and I like it that way.
“Those who can, garden. Those who can’t, color.”
Perhaps that is not exactly how the quote was originally written, but it is still true. So though it’s a bit chilly (OK, frigid) in Chicagoland, I can still add color to my not-so-real garden. Coloring books for adults are a big thing right now. Really. I got my Secret Garden (Johanna Basford) coloring book at Angelina’s in Barrington, and coloring books for adults are popping up everywhere – even Costco.
I spoke on Creativity at the Buffalo Grove Garden Club a few days ago, and asked if anyone besides me had a coloring book. I’d say 6 others raised their hands. Then I get home and see that my friend Cathy posted on FaceBook about her coloring book, Meditative Coloring.
This trend is also good for marker sales, though not necessarily your pocketbook. I bought Pitt artist brush pens at Blicks. They weren’t cheap at $3.29 each, but the points are very fine, and so far they are staying that way. I could have spent way more than that, but you can see that these are doing the job beautifully. My 6 year old granddaughter, Allie, was very envious. We colored together last week in Fresno, but at those prices, Grandma’s markers were off limits to her. She was still kind enough to let me use some of her colored pencils. I gotta get me some of those. They’ll be cheaper than the markers, so I can get a whole bunch! You can also see in the picture I’ve been playing with my scissors.
Cathy has both markers are colored pencils. You can see in her picture below that she has gone for a softer look, and has done some enviable blending on the orchids.
Officially, the 15th is the day that garden bloggers post about their garden blooms. I’ll admit mine were a bit sparse, so I’ve instead provided this art therapy option to get the garden-needy through the winter. Do you want to see what is going on in the January garden? Visit May Dreams Gardens – Bloom Day for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom day entries.
How quickly things change. My little friend is not ready for this weather.
I’ve been going through my recent photos, and I was struck by the vibrant colors that autumn brings. The explosion of color vibrated through each photo, from the last of the dahlias, to each supposedly last bike ride I’ve taken for the year, to the last of the leaves now flittering down. This autumn, color has been God’s gift. So if you are thinking the seemingly plain old blue sky to the right is plain and old, don’t. I have repeatedly enjoyed that blue sky this autumn. No, the sky didn’t have the words in it when I was taking the picture, but it might as well have.
What the sky did have that day was a magnificent view from Peninsula State Park in Door County.
Other times, the sky blue has been obstructed by a spattering golden leaves, like these, but that’s a good thing.
It’s like our dahlias even know to bloom in brilliant fall colors. Our last dahlias seemed to scream autumn. This one is Normandy Sweet Lucy, and sweet she was.
Lucy may have screamed autumn, but I think some of our dahlias simply screamed. Utter destruction. I would have screamed too.
Back to our regularly scheduled program, you know, beautiful colors. I try to plan my Busse bike rides so that I get to this spot when the sun is shining just right. Sparkling water just gets to me. How in the world does water change color like that? I don’t really want you to answer, we are right back to its a gift.
Even the sky in Door County was magnificent this year. We have the pleasure of planning our days around what time the sun is gonna set. Sure, I’m used to sky blue, but sky pink?
Pink skies? Shimmering water? Perhaps we are a little jaded. After all, I simply expect the leaves to change color, and I rarely stop my daily activities for a sunset. Yep, a gift. Thank you God!
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
Bella! That was Paula’s exuberant description of our dahlias. Paula is visiting from Italy. Fortunately, she is visiting a neighbor, not us, as we don’t speak Italian. But I knew it was good when she opened her arms wide in our dahlia garden and said ‘Bella’. Again and again ‘Bella’. And I knew it was good when Mike gave her a dahlia. Seeing her smile made his day.
I googled Bella, and she is the most beautiful girl you will ever see. Every feature that she possesses is engraved in your mind from the second you lay eyes on her. You wonder how it is that a person this extraordinary can exist, but find yourself just appreciating the fact that she exists, and even better yet, that you know her.
Paula is right – our dahlia garden is Bella! She is beautiful. So let’s get up close and personal. She will put a smile on your face too.
Thank you Mike, for all the smiles your dahlias grow.
This is the time of year I always make new friends. Our garden club helped folks make 65 new friends last week, and I personally made 2. Here they are, happily greeting passers-by on this (dare I say it) first day of autumn.
Kinda scary isn’t it? Autumn – already. And just when I almost finished my spring gardening tasks! I now its autumn even without the calendar. I wimped out and turned the heat on for a bit when it plummeted to 67 degrees in the house this morning, and I have hot tea brewing right now.
Oh well, it was a lovely summer for us. So lovely and fun filled that I hardly even blogged. My apologies. We were enjoying ourselves so much with Kevin’s wedding, which included growing the flowers. Work did interfere with my social media time as well. We even took a magnificent trip to the Grand Garden Show on Mackinac Island, which I haven’t even shared with you.
Ah, but all of that is over now. Memories and dahlias are what remains. Fortunately, lots of both!