Joan Thorndike is changing the way we buy cut flowers, one locally grown bouquet at a time
Editor’s note: This is part of a series of stories about Rogue Valley planters.
Photo by Rhonda NowakJoan Thorndike’s daughter Isabella, left, inherited her love of plants from her mother. Isabella has a flower design business and spends some of her time collecting flowers with Joan.
Photo by Rhonda Nowak Joan Thorndike grows garden roses in one of 12 greenhouses she maintains at Fry Family Farm in Medford.
Photo by RThonda NowakJoan Thorndike harvests flowers, like these buttercups, in the morning so they’re as fresh as possible for her customers.
Photo by Rhonda NowakDelphiniums are one of Joan’s best-selling cut flowers.
Photo by Rhonda NowakThese beautiful pink ranunculus are popular for spring bouquets.
“Why can’t we have flowers that come from local fields? Or [flowers] that express the cycle of the seasons? Isn’t that a more natural and sustainable way to bring flowers into our lives? »
– Debra Prinzing, “The 50 Mile Bouquet”, 2012
When Joan Thorndike and her husband, Dan, moved to Rogue Valley in the early 1990s, no one questioned where their cut flowers came from. If people had remembered to ask their florist, they would have learned that most of the flowers come from overseas, where they were grown in warmer climates and then packed into boxes on one of the 75 planes that fly into the United States every day filled only with flowers for the “fresh” cut market.
The exotic flowers that arrive by plane are pretty, but they have a huge carbon footprint and they feel a bit lifeless – like porcelain dolls on a shelf, still wearing the same expression on their pretty painted faces.
But in the early 1990s, Joan didn’t ask about cut flowers either. She had studied biology and international economics in Chile, where she grew up in Santiago, but at the time she had two young daughters, Isabella and Camila, and she wanted a job that would allow her to bring the girls with her. . There weren’t many of these types of jobs available.
One day, her friend Margaret Kaiser approached her with an idea: “I have a pasture that is not being used. Why don’t we grow flowers and sell them?
Suddenly, memories of Joan’s childhood spent in her mother’s garden in Santiago resurface. “My mother had a classic English garden, and she would take me on tours, showing this plant and that one,” Joan recalls. “I hated it back then, but I guess gardening got into my bloodstream.”
Joan decided to join Margaret on a floriculture adventure, and she soon discovered that the climates of southern Oregon and Santiago are similar, with cool, rainy winters and long, dry summers.
“We are lucky to have a long growing season, which allows us to grow so many different types of plants here,” she said.
Growing flowers was one thing, but selling them was another. “Growing and selling flowers locally was an outrageous concept at the time, but I felt I had nothing to lose,” Joan told me. “I found that I liked knocking on doors and pushing the idea of buying flowers grown right here.”
Spurred on by the Slow Food movement, Joan set out to teach Americans to love local flowers, just as they were beginning to learn the benefits of eating locally grown, seasonal produce.
She convinced the manager of a grocery store to lay out a few bouquets of fresh flowers, and they sold out right away. One of the florists in town ordered a few buckets of flowers, then asked for a few more.
That was 30 years ago, and since then Joan has only looked to the future as the Slow Flower movement has gained momentum in Rogue Valley and other parts of the United States.
Slow Flowers encourages consumers to support their local economy by purchasing cut flowers grown locally, seasonally and ethically, rather than buying flowers imported from other countries or grown with chemical pesticides.
Joan has always grown her flowers organically because it gave her daughters the safest environment to play in while she worked.
As greenhouse gas emissions and their effects on the climate are of growing concern, more and more Americans are buying flowers that have not been transported thousands of miles before reaching the dining room table. Many couples choose to buy their wedding flowers from local flower growers like Joan, who presents freshly harvested flowers in buckets for her clients to choose from just days before the wedding ceremony.
Joan provides a list of flora that will be available at different times of the year, and customers can visit the farm shop in Medford to see the beauty, fragrance and vitality of locally grown cut flowers. The comparison is a lot like a tomato picked right off the vine in the summer and a winter tomato grown in Florida and bought from a supermarket in Oregon.
For many years Joan grew over 100 different plants for their flowers and foliage on two acres of land at Ashland and in 12 hoops at Fry Family Farm in Medford. Over the years, she has learned which flowers grow best in each location’s unique microclimate. Joan said last year’s water shortages made her more efficient for irrigation.
Growing flowers she has an affinity for is important to Joan, but her business acumen pushes her to think about which flowers will sell well.
“I have to consider how labor intensive it is to grow certain plants and who is going to buy them,” Joan said. She said some of her biggest sellers are delphiniums, sunflowers, lisianthus, eucalyptus and ferns.
Joan and her business, Le Mera Gardens, were one of the flower farms featured in Debra Prinzing’s book “The 50 Mile Bouquet” (2012). Joan has been recognized as an early adopter of organic floriculture practices and for changing the way our community purchases flowers “one locally grown bouquet at a time”.
I asked Joan to pick a favorite flower and she said, “It’s like asking someone to pick their favorite child. However, she said cutting the first anemones in the spring is always a pleasure.
“It’s like the joy you see on a little child’s face tasting the first strawberry of the season,” she said.
Here are the fresh-picked strawberries and fresh-cut flowers growing right here in Rogue Valley. Thanks, Jane.
Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher, and writer. She is the founder of Bard’s Garden at Hanley Farm in Central Point. For more information, go to www.literarygardener.com and email Rhonda at [email protected]