Orland organic farmer Karen Volckhausen has a large variety of marigold she grows in the field for its color and scent. PHOTO BY JENNIFER OSBORN

Orland farmer delights in growing and arranging flowers

ORLAND — Before Karen Volckhausen became a flower farmer she made bouquets from the annuals and perennials that she grew at the house where she and her husband, Paul, live at Happy Town Farm.

The Volckhausens have been producing organic vegetables and fruits since 1981.

Karen loved flowers, but swore she would never do it as part of their farm business. One late summer day, however, the retired nurse practitioner stepped outdoors and realized she had quite the volume of flowers on hand.

So, Karen packed up some of her floral bounty to take along with the north Orland farm’s produce to sell at the farmers market. That was 2004.

Karen Volckhausen of Orland grows certified organic flowers at Happy Town Farm, a certified organic vegetable farm she owns with her husband, Paul.

“That captured me when I started selling flowers,” the 76-year-old flower farmer. “That’s how I became a flower farmer. It was never in the plans.”

Today, Karen sells certified organic flowers at the Ellsworth Farmers Market where she and Paul are stalwart vendors Monday and Thursday afternoons and Saturday mornings.

She also sells wholesale to florists and fills 21 community-supported agriculture (CSA) flower shares a week in season.

“But I’m not complaining,” the flower farmer stresses. “I love it.”

“I just got enamored of flowers,” she continued. “It’s a very spiritual thing to work with flowers.”

It also was a way for her to relax after work before she retired from the medical profession in 2009. Karen had worked as a certified nurse practitioner at the Center for Family Medicine in Bangor.

Karen has carved out a corner of the farm for creating bouquets. She has a potting table to hold vases and buckets of flowers. There’s another table where she arranges. Props include a wooden box with a Lazy Susan on top. The turntable is a new addition. Spinning the tabletop contraption makes it easy to reach every side of an arrangement.

On a recent morning Karen created centerpieces for a Main Street Bucksport event. She pulled out a measuring tape every so often to gauge the height of the bouquets.

At Happy Town Farm, flowers are grown in both a field and hoop house. All the plants start in a germination room then go to a greenhouse. From there, they are transferred to the hoop house or the field.

“Color is one of my favorite things about flowers and putting them together,” Karen said.

The hoop house offers a smorgasbord of flowers in various colors and shapes. Sweet peas in shades of purple, light blue, pink and white curl up a trellis.

The flower farmer’s passion for color shows in the vibrant flower arrangements she creates. These were for a Main Street Bucksport event.

Across the hoop house are lilies followed by long-lasting lisianthus in purple and white. Lisianthus is a favorite.

Nearby are clusters of pale pink stock as well as spires of eucalyptus. Statice (Limonium sinuatum) in purple, white and yellow grows in the hoop house.

Karen grows globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa) in bright hues, which almost resemble buttons at the end of wiry stems.

Then there are dahlias, zinnias, foxgloves, snapdragons and pale green bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis).

But, the field features even more flowers, including sunflowers, Rudbeckia, daisies, salvia, gladiolas and marigolds to name a few.

Ornamental basil, in a maroon hue, also is grown as filler.

“Flowers are ephemeral,” Karen said. “They don’t last forever. They’re local. Mine are certified organic. I’m proud of that.”

“A lot of people will say ‘so what you don’t eat flowers,’” Karen said. “But I live with an organic vegetable gardener. We would be very incompatible. It wouldn’t work.”

To that end, this season Karen has consented to sharing a bit of the hoop house for Paul’s basil.

Yarrow is among the flower offerings.

Karen said she was inspired to grow organically by an article in the Maine Times in 1972.

“Organic gardening just makes sense,” she said.

“It’s very frustrating when people buy a cheap bouquet of flowers,” she said. These imported flowers from Africa or Ecuador have a “hidden cost no one thinks about when they pay $6 for a bouquet.”

The former nurse practitioner says flower workers, many of them women, “work for peanuts,” in conditions where they may be exposed to chemicals.

Even though it’s late in the season, Happy Town Farm still has flower shares available.

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.
Jennifer Osborn

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