Nestled between the booming metropolis of Seattle and Portland just east of the I5 corridor on the scenic byway of Highway 12, resides a little town in Lewis County called Ethel, Washington. With a population of a little over 3,000, Ethel is the kind of place where hard work and dedication share equal respect, and the wave of the hand to an oncoming car is as good as a handshake.
Ethel is only 68 miles north of Portland and home to Ojeda Farms, the first on my 2015 Summer Farm Tour. Though closer to Portland, Ojeda Farms is very rooted in the floral community of Seattle. You see, the Ojeda Family is well known for their prized peonies.
I wasn’t going to mention it…. BUT…… can you actually say that about imported grocery store varieties????
I don’t think sooooo!
This crucial step in flower farming and probably agriculture in general, is just part of the everyday grind flower farmers face. Yet, there was something so special and personal about Ojeda Farms, I had to know more.
When I asked Gonzalo how he knows what peony colors to grow, he timidly said, “Well, I choose the colors I like best.” If that’s the case, Gonzalo has excellent taste in colors! The peonies can range from white to deep burgundy, and of course my favorite… pink! From pale to soft to firey hot pink, the colors are gorgeous!
Now talk to any florist or wedding event planner; they will tell you the peony is the number one requested flower of all flowers out there for brides and grooms to choose. And who would blame them….not a single person! Peonies are STUNNING! There’s just something about them. They carry an elegance and grace that almost demands acknowledgement. Peonies are like royalty entering a room; everyone must stand and bow. Peonies seem to make any arrangement go from average to simply amazing.
Like anything with luxury qualities, peonies can be a little fickle and high maintenance. It’s best to choose blooms just about to open, which look like a ball on the end of a stem. Next, temperature is key. Peonies open very quickly with warm temperatures. Exposing them to warm air too soon and the peony show might be over before the event even begins. I keep peonies in a dark place and give them about a day to open before I start my work, but it could be in as little as a few hours. I’ve also had challenges with the necks of the peonies. Yes, they have necks! Sometimes the blooms grow to be bent over, almost like the head of the peony was too heavy to hold its neck up. Though still beautiful, these peonies can be a little tricky when it comes to arranging in vases. The best peonies are those with stems and necks that are straight.
Peonies also have a limited growing season, usually May through June. If only they would grow year round… oh well. A florist can dream, can’t she?! I, sadly, visited just after the peak of peony season. I missed the splendor of the peonies!
As my tour with Gonzalo came to a close, I couldn’t help but think about the responsibility I had as a florist, an American florist for that matter. When I arrive at the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market* each Wednesday, I’m welcomed with buckets and buckets filled with the most beautiful flowers imaginable! Presentation and marketing of the flowers is critical for buying, but there’s something much deeper I had not thought about before my first farm tour. Those flowers don’t just magically appear out of thin air for me to drool over. Someone placed those flowers there. Someone drove 2 hours in the early morning for those flowers to arrive at the market before 5am! Someone woke up at the crack of dawn to pick those flowers from the field or worked extremely late the evening before. Someone watered and cared for those flowers, often in the blaring sun, when they were just plants in perfectly planted rows. Someone spent hundreds of winter hours in a greenhouse nurturing those plants when they were just seedlings. And someone planned a year in advance as to what flowers would be available and blooming gorgeous blooms for us right now, right this very minute.
As a local and sustainable florist, it’s not only my responsibility to share what practices I uphold in my eco-friendly business. It’s also my responsibility to share the story of the flowers. And that story begins with the hard working values and dedication of the American flower farmer.
In closing, I want to share a little story that hopefully shows just how deeply kind and generous the Ojeda Family is.
Going back to the beginning, when we started the tour around the farm, two of the younger sons joined along for a few minutes. They were ages 4 and 9. Immediately on the walk, the 9 year old offered me a bottle of water. I thanked him but declined because my hands were full. I said I would take the water at the end of the tour. Of course, 5 minutes into the tour, I sure wished I had that bottle of water in the blazing sun! After we walked the perimeter of the large field, we made our way back to my car. Passing their large garage were both Gonzalo’s sons waiting with eager smiles on their faces as if something was in anticipation. There was something; of course, a large box of blueberries waiting for me to take home. The boys had picked the blueberries that morning… just for me! I was very touched.
But then as Gonzalo carried the box of blueberries to my car, there his sons followed and the 9 year old extended his hand with that bottle of water I had declined earlier. He had not forgotten. It was such a touching moment, which made it very clear to see how deep family values were planted in the Ojeda Family. That was special.
A big thank you to the Ojeda Family for opening their home to me. It was truly an honor.
If you would like to learn more about Ojeda Farms, you can visit their website at http://www.peony-bouquet.com/.