Growing up on the coast of South Carolina, Flourish Flower Farm owner Niki Irving climbed the giant magnolia tree outside her dad’s office and picked flowers from her mom’s garden. During an apprenticeship on an organic farm in Georgia, she fell in love with farming. With such a history, it’s no wonder she grew up to be a flower farmer in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Along with her husband William, Niki runs an organic flower farm in Asheville, North Carolina, that doubles as an event space for growing workshops, photo shoots and wedding parties. The business requires her to have great knowledge of her land — not only to grow her flowers from its rich soil year after year, but to also use landscaping techniques to make the farm aesthetically appealing to a wide variety of visitors.
Out Working caught up with Niki to discover where farming and landscaping meet, and what it’s like to truly flourish.
OW: Your farm is deep in tobacco country, and you are slowly transitioning the land to a sustainable flower farm. What are some of the strategies you employ?
NI: Our nine-acre farm was previously just lawn and hayfields, so it has been a work in progress to convert the soil into a workable tilth. We grow our flowers on about three of those nine acres, and each year we do a little more to increase the organic matter in our soil. Cover cropping each field once per season, using only organic methods of growing and minimalizing tillage are the main ways we protect the health of our soil. We do not use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or sprays because we want all living creatures — especially the beneficial insects, birds, bees and earthworms — to flourish alongside the flowers. We are happy being part of the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project because it connects us to the larger agricultural community. Preserving this land and ensuring that it remains as farmland is important to us.
OW: You have Ariens mowers and snow blowers on your flower farm, can you talk about what the landscaping on your farm is like and how the equipment benefits your work?
NI: Our farm is unique in that we are situated on a huge hill — this is great for drainage, but potentially dangerous for operating equipment. The low center of gravity and maneuverability of the Ariens Ikon mower makes me feel so safe while mowing. The zero-turn functionality makes mowing around our fields more precise and efficient, and efficiency is key when operating a farm! We have a relatively mild climate (USDA zone 7a), so our mowing season spans from April through October, and we typically receive a high amount of rainfall, meaning our grass grows quickly and requires weekly mowing. Another win for the efficiency of our Ariens Ikon!
We have not yet had many opportunities to use the snow blower, but as soon as we have a deep enough snowfall, I think that my husband and I will be fighting over who gets to use it. I love that Ariens created equipment with a wide We have not yet had many opportunities to use the snow blower, but as soon as we have a deep enough snowfall, I think that my husband and I will be fighting over who gets to use it. I love that Ariens created equipment with a wide range of adjustability to suit all bodies. I also really like that Ariens offers the efficiency, comfort and durability of commercial machinery for everyone.
OW: Approximately 80 percent of the cut flowers sold in the U.S. are imported. Why is that? And can you talk a little about the benefits of buying locally sourced flowers and how you and your team are working to raise awareness of the buy local movement?
NI: Importing flowers from other countries means they have traveled thousands of miles to reach your table, often cut weeks before you even buy them — and they are typically drenched in chemicals to help them survive the journey. The U.S. imports such a high percentage of cut flowers for two main reasons; the first is climate, as many South American countries are closer to the Equator and provide a longer, year-round growing season, or they have the right conditions for growing bulb crops. The second reason is government subsidies given to South American countries by the U.S. government.
Like the growth of the local food movement, conscious consumers are catching on and choosing local and American-grown flowers. Our local flowers are harvested at the proper stage to provide customers with the freshest, most long-lasting, beautiful bloom possible. We harvest flowers only in the early morning or late evening and immediately transfer them to hydrate in our walk-in cooler. Most local flowers reach the end consumer within 24–48 hours after they are harvested. Being a member of organizations like Slow Flowers and the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers is important, too, because not only do they provide me with community and education, but they also help spread awareness about domestic and small-scale flower farms like us.
OW: Your workshops are regularly sold out. Can you talk about the workshops themselves and your goals for sharing the magic of flower growing and arranging?
NI: Our workshops are about inspiring creativity, having fun and learning basic floral design skills while enjoying the picturesque flower farm. Because our home is situated in the middle of the farm, everything is connected. This allows our workshop and private session guests to enjoy the full experience of our property and landscaping. We take a lot of pride in the appearance of the property in general, but especially before events. The guests walk across our lawn to reach the flower fields, so making sure the lawn appears tidy and trim is always at the top of our to-do list. The Ariens Ikon zero-turn makes this "chore" so easy and enjoyable.
OW: You published a book called “Growing Flowers: Everything You Need to Know About Planting, Tending, Harvesting and Arranging Beautiful Blooms.” In the book, you mention that you help aspiring growers make the most of the growing conditions they have, even if they are less than ideal. What additional takeaways do you want for your readers?
NI: Each parcel of land comes with its own strengths and challenges, and few people have the ideal growing conditions for creating a garden. Climate plays a huge role in gardening, and while it is possible to grow the same flowers in almost any climate, timing and seasonality vary greatly. I wanted to write a book with systems and principles that could work across a wide variety of locations and conditions — from tiny backyard gardens to flower farms on a few acres. The exact same systems and plans that we use at Flourish Flower Farm to grow high-quality, professional-grade flowers are laid out in the book. My hope was to provide a flower growing template that can be customized to help anyone grow a successful garden and to share enough of my own trials and errors to encourage folks not to give up.
OW: The name Flourish Flower Farm has special meaning, tying into your desire to flourish as people by doing something meaningful for you, your employees and your customers. Can you elaborate on that?
NI: Flourish as a verb means “to grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way, especially as the result of a particularly favorable environment.” When we were deciding on a name for our farm, we wanted something simple and meaningful to our business and our lives. Flourish Flower Farm was created during a time of transition and deep personal longing for something more in our lives — we wanted to flourish as people and to do something heartfelt and important. Our goals are not only to provide a favorable environment for our plants to flourish, but also for everyone who is a part of Flourish Flower Farm to flourish and grow in a healthy way.