June/July 2014 Cover Gal

Organic flower farmer Erin Benzakein finds country life is bloomin' beautiful.

Erin Benzakein holding crate of flowers

June/July 2014 Cover Gal

Erin Benzakein pushes petals to their prettiest potential on her family's organic flower farm in Washington state. Photo by Chris Benzakein.

Erin with Cafe Au Lait dahlias

Erin With Dahlias

Cafe Au Lait dahlias grow to dinner plate-size in one of Erin's 10 greenhouses. Photo by Chris Benzakein.

Couple in blooming flower field.

Chris And Erin Benzakein In Flower Field

Erin and husband Chris survey their colorful crop at the peak of harvest. Photo by Michele M. Waite.

Mother, daughter, bouquet and cat

Erin And Elora Benzakein

Graceful bouquets take shape under the practiced hands of Erin and animal-loving daughter Elora. Photo by Michele M. Waite.

Erin with purple delphiniums

Erin With Delphiniums

Delphiniums thrive with plenty of pampering in Erin's sun-soaked greenhouse. Photo by Chris Benzakein.

 

By Sharon Selz

Bury your nose in a bunch of Erin Benzakein’s blossoms and you’ll catch a fresh whiff of nostalgia. The self-taught organic farmer has a growing attraction to flowers, including many with a colorful past.

“Our specialty is old-fashioned charmers like peonies, sweet peas, rambling roses, lilacs, snapdragons and dahlias,” she says from Floret Flower Farm (floretflowers.com), the scenic acreage she cultivates with husband Chris and their children in Washington’s Skagit Valley. “We put a ton of effort into our soil and really baby our plants.” In turn, they produce huge, healthy blooms with vibrant colors, long-lasting beauty and a fragrance that smells like heaven on earth.

A Seattle-born city girl, she’d wanted her own plot of land as long as she can remember. In her early 20s, she indulged her dream, starting a landscaping business with a friend. But helping others nurture their lawns and gardens made her green thumb itch even more.

“After our daughter, Elora, was born, the urge to have my own land was so strong, we finally moved to the country,” Erin says from their homestead outside Mount Vernon. “We put in berry bushes, fruit trees and a big vegetable garden. But the most memorable crop turned out to be a double row of sweet peas I planted in remembrance of my great-grandmother.

“A friend ordered a bundle of them as gifts—and I’ll never forget my first delivery. When I handed the woman her flowers, she took one sniff and tears welled up in her eyes. She was transported to childhood summers in her grandmother’s garden.

“Seeing such a simple thing have such a profound impact, I knew I’d found something worth doing. The following summer, I tore out the vegetables and planted every flower I could get my hands on!”

A Budding Ambition

Seven years later, Erin tenderly tends 2 acres of eco-friendly field flowers and 10 greenhouses—abloom March through October with hundreds of seasonal varieties. Customers for their fresh-cut bounty include specialty grocery stores, local wholesalers and small flower shops, plus couples with their hearts set on a green wedding.

“I have a lot of fun tucking unusual elements into wedding arrangements—everything from chili peppers to carrots and peas on the vine,” Erin says. “Nature also inspires my designs. I love bouquets that look like they’ve just been scooped up from a meadow.”

A passion for flowers has grown on the rest of the Benzakein family, too. “Chris oversees our soil work, composting, irrigation, greenhouse building and deliveries,” she says. “Elora, now 13, helps me make bouquets and is a master flower packer. And Jasper, who’s 10, does tractor work, fills flower buckets at harvest and labels our flower sleeves.”

Her children are the main motivation for her organic practices. “Our home is in the center of our little farm, and our children live outdoors among the flowers during the growing season,” she says. “They build forts and make doll picnics out of bits from the garden. I’m aware that anything I use on our crop will be in direct contact with Jasper and Elora.”

To have a steady supply of materials all season long, “we’re constantly planting, seeding, watering and weeding,” Erin says, describing workdays that stretch from dawn to well after sunset. “But there’s something magical about wading through waist-high flowers and sharing the view with butterflies, hummingbirds and bees.

“It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done, but it’s also the most rewarding. And as much as I love flowers, I love sharing them even more.”

Check out Erin’s tips for growing your own cutting garden and suggestions for flowers that make beautiful bouquets.

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