Gardener Juli Perry harvests flowers mid-morning at Dan’s Flower Farm in Sedgwick. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY JENNIFER OSBORN

Rural flower stands worth the stop

It isn’t summer in Maine without fresh, vibrant bouquets of flowers scattered throughout your house or camp.

How about a slim glass of pungent sweet peas for a bathroom countertop?

Or for the kitchen, a bouquet of juicy, coral poppies with a few sprigs of herbs tucked among them? Maybe a tight cluster of bright pink ranunculus to brighten a bedside table is in order?

One can find all of these blooms and more simply by driving down the right road.

Erica Bernier and her two assistants, Bristol (left) and Gage arrange fresh bouquets at the Bernier Family Farms on Tunk Lake Road in Sullivan.

Part of the charm of coastal Maine is the ability to find roadside flower stands, ripe with bouquets, often run on an honor system.

Slip a $5 or a $10 in an old tin or change box in exchange for a bouquet cut fresh that day.

These stands embody Maine’s quaintness.

Starting over in western Hancock County, find Dan’s Flower Farm off Route 172 in Sedgwick.

From May to October, Dan Nygaard and his business partner Juli Perry grow an acre full of flowers from perennials to annuals.

Pull into the driveway and someone will greet you. You can walk with one of the two farmers into the field to choose which flowers you’d like.

In early spring, bouquets of daffodils are ready to go at roadside.

Nygaard and Perry are well matched as floral business partners.

“Dan loves getting into the weeds,” Perry said. “I love the harvesting and design and working with the people.”

Nygaard had operated a flower business in Boston before he and his wife, artist Leslie Anderson, moved to Maine.

Nygaard never intended to be a flower farmer. The enterprise was a casualty of falling in love with gardening after he bought his first house.

“It’s a hobby run amok,” he quipped.

Perry, originally from the Aroostook town of New Sweden, grew up around gardening.

“My mom kept a giant garden and always had scissors in her car,” she recalled. Any passionate plant person tends to keep scissors in a glove box for impromptu roadside flower cuts.

Nygaard and Perry do a brisk business at the area farmers markets as well as for weddings.

A few clusters of blooms from Dan’s Flower Farm are destined for the farm’s CSA customers.

But, customers are welcome to stop at the farm any time, although afternoons are especially good, for a cut-to-order bouquet from the field.

Among the varied options for your bouquet is Persian cress, which Perry said is a good filler material for bouquets. Johnny’s Seeds describes the greenery as “airy, yet sturdy branches filled with tiny, coin-like, silvery-green seed pods.”

Also entrancing at the Sedgwick farm is an annual variety of bachelor buttons called Blue Boy.

Perry said blue flowers are in demand for weddings and there aren’t a lot of blue flower varieties so they grow what they can.

Next up on our road trip is Salt Farm Flowers at 1406 Bayside Road in Trenton, where most days you’ll find a cart full of brightly hued clusters of blooms served up in Mason jars.

“I’ve always liked growing things,” said Mary Turner, who is a master gardener.

Turner has turned a pasture at the former Remick homestead into a sprawling perennial garden as well as rows upon rows of annuals and biennials.

Depending on the month, you might see bouquets of tulips, peonies or ranunculus.

In late summer, Turner will have the showgirls of the flower season: dahlias, including the dinner-plate size.

Not long ago, Turner found out her maternal grandfather, Michael Gaydos, had been an avid grower of dahlias and had also bred his own variety of pansies “for fun,” she said.

Turner’s offerings include exotic fare, such as Rooster Combs (Celosia cristata). There are dwarf varieties of celosia but Turner’s are a couple feet tall and last in the vase for weeks.

Flower farmer Mary Turner sells ready-to-go bouquets at her roadside stand at the 1406 Bayside Road.

Turner said she relies on a cover crop of Daikon radishes to prepare the beds for the next year’s growing season.

“They go deep so they break up the soil,” she said. “I use sustainable methods, but I can’t get all organic seeds.”

For example, Lisianthus is a stalwart for summer bouquets. But, the rose-like flowers take several months to reach maturity — a problem when you’ve already got Maine’s short growing season. So Turner will buy lisianthus “plugs” or seedlings, which aren’t available as organic.

This year, for the first time, Turner grew several hues of ranunculus in low tunnels. She sowed the seed for the delicate, multi-petaled flowers in March and they bloomed in June.

In addition to the tunnels and the pasture, Turner grows certain flowers in a passive geo-thermal greenhouse.

Turner’s niche is the do-it-yourself bride. She will escort brides through the farm and cut what flowers and greens they would like. The flower farmer will make bouquets, boutonnieres and corsages.

“They do the centerpieces,” she said.

“I invite them to come to the farm so they can see what’s blooming around the time of the wedding,” she said. “It also helps them to see that there are flowers other than roses and baby’s breath.”

Indeed, Turner’s inventory, all grown in Trenton, includes strawflower, Becky daisies, dianthus, statice, snapdragons, annual scabiosa, gomphrena, sword lily, Arctic Glow Echinops, amaranth, anemones, asters, ageratum, love in a mist, poppies and more.

Now heading on Route 1 through eastern Hancock County, taking a detour onto the Tunk Lake Road leads to Bernier Family Farms in Sullivan.

A newcomer to the region’s flower farm scene, meet The American’s own former sales rep Erica Hodgkins, who is now Erica Bernier.

Bernier keeps a flower stand stocked with fresh bouquets and eggs from her family’s flock.

Lilies are among the flowers Bernier is growing this year.

Stop anytime, but go slow if you’re pulling in the driveway. Bernier and her husband Matt have two young children and an enthusiastic Labrador.

“I’m trying to find my niche,” said Bernier, who has a couple of wholesale accounts as well as a customer for dried flowers. Bernier also is growing flowers this summer for a friend’s wedding.

Bernier has flower beds at home as well as on family property in Winter Harbor.

Like any flower farms, she appreciates most flowers but a tall variety has captured her heart.

“I love sunflowers,” she said. “There are so many different shapes and sizes and colors and purposes. Between here and Winter Harbor, I probably have 1,500 sunflowers.”

Bernier also grows strawflowers and zinnias and many other varieties.

Over the last winter, Bernier studied flower growing and marketing books, networked with other growers and watched online tutorials. Videos, particularly those produced by Floret, a Washington state flower farm, have been helpful.

“Last year was trial and error,” Bernier said. This year has brought more experiments and learning curves. There also was an unfortunate incident with chickens snacking their way through a couple of flower beds.

Brooklin’s Annie Smith has just begun putting out bouquets for the season at her stand located at 892 Bay Road. Since 2005, she has offered bouquets from mid-July into October. In spring and early summer, her greenhouse-started perennial seedlings also are available.

Washington Post gardening columnist and author Barbara Damrosch offers bouquets for sale on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Four Season Farm at 609 Weir Cove Road in the Brooksville village of Harborside.

Flower transporting tips

* Some roadside bouquets come with a vase or Mason jar. Others offer a plastic bag or swath of paper towels.

* You can stick stems in a water bottle. Or, keep a bucket in the trunk if you know you frequent roadside stands.

* A coffee cup can serve as temporary shelter for flower stems. Stick the bottle or cup or jar in your center drink console so it doesn’t spill.

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.

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