ORLAND — Florist and flower farmer Cullen Schneider is in love with flowers.
She loves flowers for their beauty, of course, but also their brevity.
“It’s this lovely thing for a moment then you watch it change and ultimately die,” Schneider said.
She pointed to a stem of Orlaya, similar to Queen Anne’s lace, which had begun to age and lose a few petals.
“It’s nice to see all those stages and appreciate all of them,” she said.
Schneider, 35, has owned Fairwinds Florist in Blue Hill for 10 years.
The shop’s lush summer and fall bouquets are born about nine miles away down Route 15 in Orland. That’s where Schneider owns a home and plenty of land with husband Corey Paradise, owner of Paradise Tattoo, also in Blue Hill.
The couple have cutting gardens as well as two greenhouses on the property with a third to follow in the next year. They are producing 3,000 stems a week to supply the Main Street shop.
“We do start everything from seed,” she said. “From mid-July to the end of September, we are able to supply 65 percent of our own product. It’s crazy when you think about it.”
This summer is the seventh growing season. “Three years ago, I started to have help other than Corey and I.”
Help started with a couple of teenagers who would weed. This year, Schneider has an estate gardener working 10 hours a week as well another gardener working 10 hours weekly.
The florist said growing flowers was initially a way to fill the “June gap,” when the bulb flowers and flowering branches have gone by and the annuals are not yet in full bloom.
The Bangor native started working in a flower shop in Florida as a teenager.
“I got my first job working with flowers because it was creative,” Schneider said. “I would identify first as an artist, not a businessperson.”
“I started growing flowers for lots of reasons but mostly because I knew local product was a need in the area,” she said. Schneider said she couldn’t find local flower growers who harvest at the right time and hold the flowers the right way until market. “So I decided to try myself.”
As a florist, Schneider has intimate knowledge of a flower’s life span. People usually wait too long to harvest, she said. “A flower should look like it’s effervescing water.”
Fresh flowers should also be refrigerated after harvest. Refrigeration will halt the growth cycle and make flowers last longer.
While the usual suspects can be found at the greenhouses, such as dahlias, zinnias, lisianthus, sunflowers, snapdragons and snow on the mountain, there are other things growing.
There is “love in a puff” or cardiospermum halicacabum, which is a green vine with little papery balloons similar in appearance to tomatillos.
“It is really fun,” Schneider said. “Something that’s vining and has this cool green puff is unusual.”
She also grows hyacinth bean plants, which produce a flower similar to a hyacinth but last longer.
Dahlias are her favorite flower.
“I think there’s nothing like a dahlia cut that morning,” she said. “They’re just so vibrant. They come in every color except blue.”
“They’re a ton of work,” she added. “Digging them up and replanting them every year.”
“Dahlias are a flower that ship terribly,” said Schneider. “They’re a dirty flower. They make the water go bad really quickly.”
But, dahlias are beautiful — and edible.
Schneider says all the parts are edible: foliage, tuber and bloom.
“Bells of Ireland are another one of my favorites,” she said. “I love the shape of the foliage and the way it’s variegated. It’s such an interesting color combination.”
“I pay a lot of attention to color trends,” she said. “For better or worse in Maine we tend to be a couple of years behind.”
Blue is a perennially popular color for Maine weddings. But, there aren’t a lot of blue flowers.
“One of the hardest cut flowers to get is blue, so I grow a lot of blue,” she said.
Schneider grows blue ageratum, which she says will keep producing all season.
“What’s amazing to me is I cut it this hard every week and it keeps coming back,” she said. “If you let these go, the whole patch has a really nice blue hue to it.”
The plants are fertilized with organic compost and fish emulsion. The soils are usually tested annually.
“It’s like the best thing you can do for your garden and it costs peanuts,” she said. “Sometimes, the additives aren’t peanuts.”
In a corner of the largest greenhouse, which measures 30 by 72, are trays of flower seedlings nearly ready for planting for fall bouquets. “With any luck I should have a batch of sunflowers for Thanksgiving.”
“One of the things I love most is using things that you might not think about,” Schneider said. She might include sprigs of sage, fennel or mint in a bouquet.
Or something farther afield, like a broccoli plant.
“My CSA shares this week are going to include broccoli greens,” she said.
Using produce in flower arrangements is something people might not consider but they add interesting textures and structure.
“Anything can be beautiful if you think it is,” Schneider said. “If it’s working for you, use it.”
For people who dream of having their own cutting garden, Schneider says “it’s best to start with something that will grow so you don’t get discouraged.”
Sunflowers, zinnias and cosmos are all good choices for beginners.
Earlier this month, Schneider became a certified floral designer and was inducted into the American Institute of Floral Designers. There are 1,500 such designers worldwide. The mission is to promote education and professionalism in the industry.
She pursued the accreditation, in part, for marketability.
“I want people planning their weddings from far away to seek me out,” Schneider said.
Fellowship with other designers was another reason to join the institute.
“I bought my business when I was 25,” she said. “I work in a bubble. Sometimes that can feel lonely.”
“I think it’s important to educate people about quality,” she said.
When shoppers buy flowers from a florist instead of a grocery store or a roadside stand, they’re paying for “a lot of knowledge and skill,” she said.
“I like being able to make people happy through my work,” Schneider said. “I’m really proud of what I’ve done here.”