Flower farms take root in New Brunswick

Kailtyn Blackburn’s daily routine has changed drastically over the past year.

In 2021, the Steeves Mountain woman gave up her career in human resources with a private health-care company.

She traded in the corporate life for tulips and dahlias when she opened Two Blooms Flower Farm near Moncton.

“I’m really excited about local flowers and the excitement that is being generated from others in the community about local flowers,” she said.

She is not alone. Flower farms are cropping up around the province.

Kaitlyn Blackburn is the owner of Two Blooms Flower Farm in Steeves Mountain. (Maeve McFadden/CBC)

Blackburn’s operations are small at this point. She is growing about 20 varieties on less than one acre of land right behind her home.

Her crops are primarily grown in the field, but she also has a hoop house, which is a greenhouse structure, to help extend her season.

Blackburn sells her flowers through a pre-order and pick up program and offers flower subscriptions. She also does custom orders and bridal bouquets for small weddings.

Her season begins in April and ends in October after Thanksgiving, but she offers wreaths and wreath-making workshops during the Christmas season. Pink flowers grow in an outdoor bed. Kaitlyn Blackburn describes her Two Blooms farm as a work in progress. (Maeve McFadden/CBC)

It’s a small operation, Blackburn said, but flower farming is also a serious business.

“Often, public perception about flower farms is that we have this pretty garden in the backyard of our house, and we cut a few things and put together a bouquet for our customers,” she said. “But really, there’s so much more than that.”

Blackburn compared the investment in flower farms to more traditional types of farming, such as food and commodity growing. “Flower farming is no different,” she said.

Trial and error

Alicia O’Hara discovered her love of growing flowers during the pandemic. She had “zero experience or knowledge” but “fell into it” in 2020. 

It started when she set out to reclaim the overgrown gardens on her property in Alma. “I went out and was kind of digging around and then just kind of really enjoyed playing in the dirt, which was not my normal,” she said. “It kind of morphed from there.”

O’Hara said without any local associations or professional groups to turn to in New Brunswick, she started searching the internet for information. 

A blonde-haired woman stands in her garden.Alicia O’Hara is the owner of Coastal Blooms in Alma. (Maeve McFadden/CBC)

She found an online flower farm workshop run by a company in the United States. It was all she needed. She opened Coastal Blooms in the summer of 2021.

O’Hara works part time as a social worker and the rest of the time she is in her garden. She has six large perennial beds and a plot for growing annuals, with everything flowering at different times.

“It’s a big trial or error for me,” she said, “and a lot of reading, a lot of connecting with other flower farmers in the area.”

O’Hara has built her own support network with other flower farmers she meets with regularly in the Sussex area. 

One of those farmers is Sophie Sharp.

Sharp Brook Flower Farm in Lower Millstream has begun offering a U-pick for customers. (Glow Media)

Sharp is a seventh-generation farmer from Lower Millstream, outside Sussex.

She started Sharp Brook Flower Farm with her sister Ellen Folkins in 2021 after a suggestion from her mom. “You love growing flowers and you love gardening. Grow some flowers and maybe you can sell them,” she said.

Sharp decided to give it a shot.

“We just kind of dipped our toe in to see how it would go and it was a smashing success,” she said. “This is a huge opportunity we have, and I think we should really continue to go for it.”

Since then, the sisters have added a U-pick to their business. 

A pretty pink flower is surrounded by green foliage.These floral entrepreneurs say they are bringing something unique, fresh and fun to their communities. (Maeve McFadden/CBC)

Sharp thinks the timing is right for the flower farm industry in New Brunswick.

“Agri-tourism is something that is really, really big right now,” she said. “People love going and experiencing things, and getting out and seeing where their food comes from and where their flowers come from.”

As this new industry grows in New Brunswick, there is a learning curve for customers too, especially when it comes to sustainability.

O’Hara said people are aware of the carbon footprint of food, but are only starting to question where flowers in the grocery stores come from. “How long did it take for them to get here, and how many planes and trains and things did they have to go on?”

It’s up to small growers to help educate people and encourage shopping locally for flowers, O’Hara said. “I think my [customers are] aware that these are Alma-grown, and I think that is important to them, but I definitely think there’s more education that we could be doing.”

Clear plastic covers metal hoops that form a greenhouse.The hoop house structure helps extend the flower growing season at Two Blooms Flower Farm near Moncton. (Maeve McFadden/CBC)

Blackburn says buying locally grown flowers means you are getting a better product, and customers are noticing the difference.

“They’re noticing that the vase-life is exceptional, that the quality of flowers is so much better than what they’re used to,” she said. “We’re bringing something really unique, really different, fresh and fun to our communities.”

But providing unique bouquets means customers have to adjust their expectations when it comes to marking special occasions such as weddings. 

Unlike the traditional flower industry, not every type of flower is always available.

Customers have to be flexible if they want locally grown bouquets or arrangements, Sharp said.

“The ideal wedding for us would be somebody who’s not looking for any particular flower,” she said, but “is happy with whatever is in season.” 

Pink dahlias covered with gauze bags.Alicia O’Hara of Coastal Blooms covers each of her dahlia blossoms with an organza bag to protect them from pests (Maeve McFadden/CBC)

Sharp also offers a do-it-yourself option for weddings which gives couples the opportunity to create their own bouquets and centrepiece arrangements. 

Sharp, Blackburn and O’Hara all have plans for the future, with new flowers, bigger crops, and better irrigation and landscape fabric to cut down on weeds.

Blackburn described her farm as a work in progress. “I’m always thinking of where I want this business to go for me.”

Sharp is excited about the prospects, but is taking it one season at a time. “I think that you just have to kind of grow slowly, and you just [have to] really work at it.”

For O’Hara, part of the key to running her flower farm is the informal support of other farmers who are quick to share tips and information with each other.

Two women stand talking in a garden of orange flowers.Sophie Sharp and Alicia O’Hara share tips and information regularly about flower farming (Maeve McFadden/CBC)

She said there is much to learn about pest control, harvesting seeds, soil conditions and spraying crops with natural fertilizers.

O’Hara believes supporting each other will help grow the industry in New Brunswick. “Rising tides raise all ships,” she said. “If one can do well, then that’s wonderful. Like, let’s help each other do better and share information.” 

She compares being a flower farmer with her career as a social worker. “Everybody helping each other, all working towards a common good, sharing flowers,” she said.

“Making people happy with beautiful things.”