A self-described “botanical activist”, Filipino-American flower farmer David Devery always held a deep affection for horticulture – so when he entered his 40s, he decided to follow his passion for flower farming.
“My grandfather came from the Philippines in the 1930s and became a successful farmer,” explains Devery. “I had always been interested and loved visiting my uncles’ farms, grandpa’s warehouse and fruit stands, but it was one career path that was out of the question, according to my parents.”
Listening to his heart’s desire for a career change, David began his farming apprenticeship in 2018. The following year, he decided to specialise in cut flowers. Today the BIPOC flower farmer operates a quarter-acre flower farm in Portland, Oregon called ‘Mabuhay Gardens’ (Mabuhay is a Filipino greeting, which translates to “long live” or “cheers”). His cut flowers are available for purchase at Pathways Farmers’ Market, BIPOC farmers creating farmers’ market access for the BIPOC community.
Describing a typical day on his small-scale flower farm, David explains, “The day before a market and community supported bouquet pickup days, I start early 6am to beat the heat, especially during summers. Harvesting early in the morning, before the bees pollinate and sun/heat hits, improves vase life.
“I then let the flowers hydrate for a couple hours to see if any blooms are wilting and then start making bouquets. Since I’m still small scale, I can be done with bouquets by midday-1pm, and then rest until pick up which is from 4-7pm at the farm.”
For bouquet subscriptions David harvests the flowers on the same day. For market days, the flowers are harvested the day before. On non-harvest days, there’s “a lot of weeding, planting, bed prep”.
If you have a love for blooms and want to start a backyard flower garden, David offers plenty of tips and advice for beginner flower growers.
1. Location matters
Ideally you want an area with good drainage and at least six hours of sunlight per day, David explains. He recommends conducting a soil test to help you determine the types of amendments and nutrients you will need to add to the soil to grow strong and healthy flowers. “Soil tests are affordable and also help you interpret the results. I get mine from my local cooperative extension.”
At his Portland farm, David works with a heavy clay soil and needs to add amendments to improve it. “I add 3-4 inches of compost on top of the soil and then broadfork that in to help break up the soil and help with drainage.”
Operating a sustainable “no-till” flower farm (a farming technique that focuses on minimising tillage and soil disturbance), David covers the plot with silage tarp during the winter. “We have wet winters here in Portland, Oregon and the tarp keeps it dry and warms the soil as well. The weed pressure at my farm is intense and the silage tarp helps with that.”
2. Plan ahead
Planning is crucial when starting a flower garden in your backyard. If soil is poor or has drainage issues, David suggests creating a raised bed. “Raised beds will make the garden easier to tend and you’ll have greater control over soil quality,” he says.
Take some time to plan out your garden. Do some research to see what flowers grow best in your climate before choosing flower varieties. Decide whether you will grow by seed or bulb (these are cost-effective options) or whether you will purchase seedlings or plants. Keep in mind the heights of your flowers too. “Avoid planting taller varieties where they’ll shade out shorter varieties,” says David. Spacing for flowers can also vary so it’s best to read the seed or bulb packet or plant tag prior to planting out. Don’t forget to consider the colour palette of our garden.
3. Deadheading is crucial
“Keeping the spent blooms from going to seed aka deadheading is vital,” explains David. “When flowers go to seed, it triggers the end of their lifecycle.
“I see a lot of flower gardens where people don’t deadhead and it’s hard for me to not do it for them because the plant would bloom all summer and fall instead of just 3-4 weeks. Pinching the first bud is important too because it makes the plant produce numerous stems rather than one main stem with a few blooms.”
4. Start with easy flowers first
To reduce poor outcomes and increase your flower-growing confidence, start with easy-to-grow flower varieties. According to David, the easiest (and foolproof) flower varieties to grow are zinnias, cosmos, sunflowers and rudbeckia.
5. Keep learning
Flower gardening is an exercise in continuous learning since there are many factors to consider when growing flowers such as climate, variety, watering needs, soil health and lighting. David recommends the following resources to help you further explore your newfound passion in flower growing:
- Cut Flower Garden Planner for Home Gardeners by Johnny’s Selected Seeds
- Floret Farm: “The Cut Flower Garden book and the Floret Farm website and Instagram page has lots of info.”
- Lisa Mason Zeigler’s Cool Flowers Book
- For Instagram inspiration, check out Swan Cottage Flowers
Like learning any new habit, practice really does make perfect and this applies equally to growing flowers. The key is to learn from your mistakes, be observant of your plants and keep trying. A bouquet of homegrown blooms on your dining table will be well worth the effort.
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Cover image by cottonbro.