The Florist Farmer: Petals Flower Co.
Melanthon’s Amber Swidersky creates lush bouquets with blooms just steps from her floral studio.
Brides booking a visit to florist and flower farmer Amber Swidersky’s 100-acre Melancthon farm probably know they won’t get a tight, spherical bouquet of identical roses flown in from another continent. And they’re not going to get spring flowers such as peonies and tulips if the wedding is in September. They might not even know a single flower they will be getting. And that’s precisely why they’re working with Amber and her on-farm Petals Flower Co. team, as 27 brides did last summer.
“They know they’re getting something gorgeous from the flower field,” says Amber of the one-acre plot. “But I can’t guarantee the exact bloom. I can’t say you’re going to get peonies or dahlias. It’s going to be whatever is beautiful and delicious in the field at the time in their colour palette in their style.”
Bouquets clipped a few hours before a ceremony that is a short drive away are now what reads as luxury. About 30 per cent of Amber’s brides also order buckets of local blooms and create their own centrepieces. “Our local following is growing. It’s important to people,” she says. “We have such a niche. We can grow things other florists can’t get at all. They can get dahlias at auction, but not all the varieties.”
Amber has a penchant for natural and sustainable practices. She uses no synthetic fertilizers, wraps deliveries in craft paper rather than cellophane, and replaces floral foam with chicken wire and sand to anchor arrangements when she can. She’s also a fan of repurposed and vintage vases, bottles and other vessels.
In 2015 Amber started her tightly planted flower rows on the farm where she and her husband, Mike, have lived with their two kids since 2004. Amber, who started Petals Flower Co. two years ago this April, has a master’s degree in swine nutrition and has worked in the farming industry her whole career. Mike’s work includes managing both the family’s livestock and 900 cattle for clients across Dufferin and Grey counties. “My background is in agriculture, not horticulture,” says Amber, adding that flower farming adds a dose of creativity to her science-filled brain.
The florist business is year-round, with Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day as further opportunities to push her buy-local story using stems and greenery bought from Ontario greenhouses and suppliers in months when her field is dormant. If you’re dead set on imported roses, she’ll happily recommend other florists, while gently making the case that a lush bouquet of Ontario-grown stems will be as, or even more, impressive.
One area in which she didn’t realize this would be especially true is celebrations of life. She has helped loved ones incorporate a late gardener’s favourite perennials into funeral flowers, added garlic scapes to an arrangement for a garlic farmer, and used honey buckets as vases for a beekeeper. “It’s an honour for us to be able to participate in our community like this.”
For these and all her summer and fall designs, she can step outside and clip up to 175 varieties, including dahlias, cockscomb, yarrow, cosmos and nigella from seed companies such as William Dam and Vesey’s. Some seeds will be started in rented greenhouse space on other farms, and some will be supplied by contracted growers whose crops can keep Petals’ inventory steady in busy times and act as insurance if a variety fails.
After success selling at the Shelburne Farmers’ Market and operating a floral CSA, the energetic grower is bursting with ideas on where to take her business (she has attended a workshop at Floret Farms, after all). She offers her own workshops and generously shares what she knows on social media. (One post explaining how to store peony buds in the fridge for later blooming is a revelation.)
Amber is also considering tours, photo shoots and even a dinner in the flower field, but her top priority remains a dazzling bouquet, wedding arbour or market bundle. “People say ‘Oh, the flower fields should look so beautiful,’” she says. “But I say, “If we’re doing our job right, only the yucky flowers should be left.’”