The Green Thumb: Broadside Flowers
Terra Cotta landscape gardener Amanda White’s own garden is brimming with foxgloves and dahlias.
On a recent February afternoon in the sunny dining room of her home near Terra Cotta, flower farmer Amanda White is giddy about a hunk of metal that looks like a giant stapler or industrial hole punch.
The device is a soil block maker that replaces plastic plant trays for germinating seeds. Amanda is trying it out as she prepares for spring planting in the flower field that takes up about half of her one-acre property. As she presses the block maker into a wet soil mixture, it forms ¾-inch brownie-like blocks, each with a tiny indent in the middle where a single seed will sit. Eventually, the seeds will germinate and the plants will be transplanted outside to the 50- and 100-foot rows she started in 2017.
“It’s so satisfying,” says Amanda as she punches the block maker, her short sleeves revealing a riot of tattoos that include roses, but no flower-farm stalwarts yet. She will start about 3,000 seeds this way and plant others directly in the ground after the last frost this spring. Her spreadsheets and garden diagrams sit on a sideboard, along with packets of seeds from William Dam and others. “Every year, you get too excited and order too many,” she admits. But the way the floral industry is going, she might be wise to plant them all.
With a background in fine arts and 10 years as a landscape gardener in Toronto, Amanda seems born to the tidy, earthy farmhouse she and her partner, Steve, moved into four years ago. The rooms are lined with books and filled with handmade wooden tables and stools made by Steve, who also works as an electrician.
Until last year, Amanda commuted full time to gardening gigs in Toronto. Last summer she worked part-time in Toronto and sold her flowers through the Local Flower Collective, a Junction-based trade organization. “I love perennial gardening in all my free time,” she says. “I just want to be here.”
This summer, she’ll continue working part-time in the city and spend the rest of her time nurturing the babies she’s starting today, as well as new-found loves such as the ‘Almost Black’ deep purple sweet peas she found through Unicorn Blooms in Peterborough, and the magical-looking trailing green amaranthus.
This year, she won’t be with the Toronto collective but will focus instead on sharing her growing lists and taking orders – especially for pale wedding flowers – from florists she has come to know, such as Cedar & Stone Floral Studio in the Alton Mill. She’ll also be at the Georgetown Farmers’ Market. (During the winter months, she sells tightly woven wheat wreaths and wall hangings.) In the future, she’s hoping to offer brides buckets of flowers and workshops throughout the year.
Like her flower-farming colleagues, Amanda has figured out what works for her plants. She has ditched the standard landscape fabric in favour of straw mulch and relies on an organic farming trick to prevent earwigs from feasting on dahlia buds – drawstring organza gift bags, the kind often used to package jewelry and small gifts. “I’d seen sunflower farmers do this, so when a dahlia buds, I pop a bag over it until it flowers. It works,” she says. “I needed jumbo bags for the ‘Café au Lait.’”
All this is helping her meet an insatiable demand. “Flowers are having a moment. People are buying local,” she says, buoyed by the knowledge that Floret Farm’s Erin Benzakein also started her reign on a single-acre property. “I got into it at the right time.”