Local Flower Farms Bring Blooms to Virginia

Flowers are a blooming business here in Virginia, where local flower farms have proliferated by 80 percent over the past 20 years. Some call this bloom-boom the “slow flower” movement—a play on “slow food’s” know-your-farmer approach to eating. Others use the term “farm-to-vase” or “seed-to-centerpiece.” Either way, locally grown flowers are a growing field, pun intended.  

You’ll spot them at farmers markets, where some growers offer weekly bouquet subscriptions.  You can find them online, through local collectives. Or you can pick up a basket and pick your own. At Burnside Farms in Nokesville, you can wander the fields, clippers in hand, then pay for your fragrant haul.

Burnside’s proprietors Leslie and Michale Dawley, mother and son, are third and fourth-generation flower farmers, but growers today are as varied as their blooms. Some are retirees, tending suburban cutting gardens. Others hold full-time jobs and cultivate flowers on the side. Some growers supply grocers and wholesalers, others sell directly to floral designers, but most are happy to take your order, too.   

Photo credit: Kate Thomspn

The War on…Flowers?   

The choices weren’t always this bountiful. Local flowers were steady contributors to Virginia’s economy through the 1980s. But flower farms all but vanished from the landscape, as the War on Drugs escalated.  

In 1991, Congress enacted duty-free trade legislation, hoping to entice South American poppy growers to abandon the crop that fueled the drug trade. With this sweet deal, Congress sent a clear message to farmers in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru: plow under your poppies and grow cut flowers for the U.S. instead. In return, we’ll waive the import duty. 

What could possibly go wrong? Plenty. The move backfired when South American farmers took us up on this generous offer. Within months, the U.S. was flooded with inexpensive imported cut flowers. The effect on U.S. growers, who couldn’t compete on price, was devastating. “In the 1970s, 70 percent of flowers sold in the U.S. were grown here,” says Dee Hall, of Mermaid City Flowers in Norfolk, “that number has gone down to only around 20 percent, which is an extremely small share.” Hall estimates that today, the number of flower farms in the U.S. hovers below 1,000.  

Fortunately, Virginia’s growers are bouncing back. It’s unclear whether supply is driving demand, or the other way around. But one thing is certain, flower farmers love cultivating beauty and spreading happiness. “Flowers bring me so much joy, and I would like to share that with people,” says Beverly Lacey of Blue Heron Farm in Nelson County. From tulips and peonies in the spring to chrysanthemums and dahlias in the fall—and dozens of varieties in between—a field bursting with colorful blooms makes for a stunning sight, in any season. 

“My first memory of flowers is my grandmother cutting a daffodil and giving it to me with a paper towel to take to my teacher at school,” says Andrea Ferguson of Otter Bend Farm in Altavista. “It reminds me of being happy—to share that with somebody, and my teacher being happy to receive it. I don’t really have that attachment to lettuce or eggplant, but there’s something about seeing flowers and sharing them.” 

Meanwhile, flower buyers are now wise to the advantages of buying local. “People will seek me out specifically for locally grown flowers,” says Hall. “They are really hungry for flowers that make them feel connected—to others, to their community, and to the environment.”

Photo credit: Kate Thompson

Better for You

When you compare a Virginia-grown bouquet with one picked thousands of miles away, you can see—and smell—the difference. Flowers grown for international shipping are bred to be hardy. Their blooms tend to have little fragrance and the variety is limited (box of red roses, anyone?) “We lose out on some of the more sensory and tactile experiences when flowers are not locally grown,” says Hall. “Supermarket roses don’t really have a smell. But if you go to a rose garden, you can definitely smell those. Scent is typically bred out of those roses in favor of something that is going to last longer or bruise less.” 

The prettiest and most delicate flowers—like ranunculus and anemones—don’t ship well, either. So you’ll find a more varied selection locally, says Ferguson of Otter Bend Farm, who notes, “if I pick flowers today, you might have them this afternoon, or tomorrow.” And if you pick your own at a flower farm like Fields of Flowers in Loudoun County, they don’t get any fresher.  

Imported flowers are also more likely to be chemically treated, while local growers tend to avoid pesticides or herbicides. “You know what you’re getting,” says Lacey. “You can easily find out whether your flowers were grown organically—which ours are.” Many farms also practice regenerative farming, prioritizing the health of the soil. 

The benefits prove flowers are more than a pretty luxury. When we look at a pink peony or a sea of lavender, our brain produces its own happy chemicals—dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin—according to an article in The Science Times. In fact, multiple studies link flowers to our overall well being, including one at Texas A&M University that found flowers and plants in the workplace boosted creative performance, problem-solving, and overall productivity among employees. 

Photo credit: Kate Thompson

Better for the Community

Cut flowers accounted for $6 billion in U.S. sales in 2021 alone. But a whopping 80 percent of them are flown in from Colombia, Ecuador, the Netherlands, and Kenya. The majority of these imports enter through Miami International Airport, which processed 200,000 tons of flowers in 2021. “Imported flowers are one of the most carbon-intensive crops on the planet,” according to RootedFarmers.com, a site that connects customers with local flower growers. 

River City Flower Exchange, a farmers’ cooperative, belongs to the Rooted Farmers network. The group also welcomes buyers at their brick-and-mortar outpost in Richmond’s Scott’s Addition neighborhood. It’s a happy place to pop in for a fresh-picked posy that isn’t jet-lagged from traveling 4,000 miles. You can order arrangements, too, for local delivery, knowing that the birthday bouquet you’re gifting was fresh-picked. Plus, you’ll be supporting local growers. Look for seasonal workshops at River City, too, and on-site at farms including Tupelo Farm & Garden in Urbanna, Meadowood Farm in Swoope, Hazel Witch Farm in Mechanicsville, and more. 

Better still, buying local keeps Virginia’s dollars circulating at home—to the tune of $200 million in annual sales. Growers create jobs and contribute to the local tax base. “We make sure we’re paying our staff well,” says Blue Heron Farm’s Lacey, “and that means charging a price for the very hard work that goes into producing flowers.” 

And then there’s the obvious beauty of it all. Farms offer the opportunity to stroll through rows or ranunculus, peonies, or sunflowers in full riotous bloom. “It’s a spot for people to enjoy being outside and see something they wouldn’t find somewhere else,” says Nat Craley of Fields of Flowers farm in Purcellville. Farm visitors can take an armload home, where a vase of fresh flowers feeds the soul and the feel-good vibes continue, even after they fade. 

“One of the things I love most is when people tell me they gave someone my flowers and how much joy it brought them,” says Hall. “I love to get to be part of people’s lives. They tell me about a new baby that’s coming. I have one person who mostly orders flowers for pet condolences. There’s a very specific need that flowers fill, and I’m happy to be part of that. It’s not necessarily always positive, but it’s always meaningful.” 

Flower Finder 

Local flowers are closer than you think. Here, a sampling of farms statewide.

Northern

Bee’s Wing Farm, Bluemont

Fields of Flowers, Purcellville

Hope Flower Farm and Winery, Waterford 

Burnside Farms, Nokesville 

Bloom Flower Farm, Nokesville

LynnVale Studios, Gainesville

Hidden Gems Farm, Centreville 

Shenandoah Valley

Harmony Harvest Farm, Weyers Cave

Mary Jo’s Flowers, Harrisonburg

Farrish Farm, Weyers Cave 

Sonrise Flower Farm, Winchester

Tiny Fields Farm, Churchville

Thornfield Farm, Fincastle

Lark & Sky Farms, Troutville

Yonderyear Farm, Rockbridge Baths

Southwest

Stonecrop Farm, Newport

Central

Otter Bend Farm, Altavista

Blue Heron Farm, Nelllysford

Foothills Flower Farm, Charlottesville

Wollam Gardens, Culpeper

Bloom Bay Flower Farm, Culpeper

Sweet Greens Farm, Scottsville

Alight Flower Farm, Keswick

Liliharp Flowers, Crozet

Hummingbird Flower Co., Midlothian

Prospect Hill Flower Farm, Bumpass

Eleusinia Flowers, Madison

Pharsalia, Tyro

Irvington Spring Farm, Lynchburg

Laughing Crow Flower Farm, Maidens

Rosefield Farm and Flowers, Appomattox

The Freckled Flower Farm, Montpelier

Eastern

Mermaid City Flowers, Norfolk

Tupelo Farm & Garden, Urbanna

ONECommunity Museum & Micro-Farm, Norfolk 

The Petal Manor & Wagon, Virginia Beach 

Blumenfolk, Norfolk

Lakeside Blooms, Norfolk

Chatham Flower Farm, Painter 

So Many Flowers, Virginia Beach

Interstate 8 Floristry, Norfolk 

Wind Haven Farm, King William

To find local flower growers nationwide, visit Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers, Slow Flowers Society, the Floret Farmer-Florist Collective, or Rooted Farmers.

Photo credit: Kate Thompson

An Abundance Mindset 

Farmers share a collaborative spirit. As more flower farms open in Virginia, you’d think competition would intensify. In fact, the opposite is true. “I see it as an opportunity,” says Nat Craley, the seasoned farmer behind Fields of Flowers in Loudoun County. “We’ve noticed other operations coming online. While they might be considered competitors, I actually love the fact that they’re doing their own thing in the area as well.”

When Beverly Lacey of Blue Heron Farm in Nelson County was starting out, Foxie Morgan of Pharsalia Flower Farm became her mentor and collaborator. Lacey chose a subscription model, known as “community supported agriculture,” or CSA, to complement Morgan’s business. “I was trying to decide if I wanted to sell flowers at the Nelson Farmers’ Market Cooperative, I looked around, and Foxie was already selling gorgeous flowers. We collaborated, and I started doing the CSA, because she was not doing that, and it met a different need in our area,” Lacey recalls. 

Farmers swap seeds, share information, and pinch-hit for each other. If a grower can’t fill a large wedding order, they’ll recruit a partner to help. And if they can’t provide a specific bloom, a farmer will direct customers to the grower who can. “I really love the free-flowing exchange of information and how much people want to help one another and see each other do well,” says Dee Hall of Norfolk’s Mermaid City Flowers. “People are just so helpful, knowledgeable, and welcoming.” 

After 18 years, Lacey is now downsizing her business. “When we stopped our CSA, one of our members called a newer farm in the Charlottesville area. The farmer then contacted me to make sure she wasn’t taking my customers,” she says. Lacey now refers CSA customers to her.  

Farmers also band together through collectives and cooperatives. In Richmond, the members of River City Flower Exchange sell blooms grown in Central Virginia. The Tidewater Flower Collective links the area’s specialty cut flower growers. And Tidewater Flower Co-Op, led by ONECommunity Museum & Micro-farm, connects growers with buyers while also furthering the field-to-table movement. 

Photo credit: Kate Thompson

What’s Growing?

Each local bouquet is “a moment in time” reflecting the season, says Allison Lavigne of the Tidewater Flower Co-op in Norfolk. Here’s what blooms throughout the year. 

Spring

Anemone

Daffodil

Hellebore

Peony

Ranunculus

Tulip

Summer

Cosmos

Foxglove 

Hydrangea 

Lisianthus 

Scabiosa 

Sunflower

Fall

Celosia 

Chrysanthemum

Dahlia

Eucalyptus 

Marigold 

Zinnia

Winter 

Dried flowers 

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