Home Blog Floret Originals: An Update on our Breeding Program
May 22nd 2023

Floret Originals: An Update on our Breeding Program

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Over the last 17 years, I have grown and trialed thousands of different foliage, filler, vegetable, fruit, and flower varieties in search of the best ones for cutting. If it has any potential as a cut flower, I’ve probably grown it!

Through this process, I discovered that there was a huge disconnect between what florists and designers wanted and what local farmers were able to grow. While there are many beautiful new flower varieties coming onto the market each year, nearly all of them have been bred with large-scale production and global transportation in mind.

This is because most of the cut flowers that you see in stores and in wedding designs are grown on massive farms near the equator, sprayed with many types of chemicals, and once harvested, spend days if not weeks in a box out of water traveling to every corner of the world. 

I have talked with so many huge seed companies, brokers, and plant dealers over the years, sharing my insights about the industry and encouraging them to invest more energy into breeding varieties for the local market because the seasonal flower movement needs their support.

Those meetings and visits were always cordial, but they never really amounted to anything. After years of begging the big corporations to take action, I started to ask the question, is there any way I could figure out how to do this myself? 

While the path forward was not very clear, I was convinced that there must be a way to help solve some of the big problems in the floral industry at the ground level.

I would say the hardest part about this journey so far has been how little information there is available on the subject. Having to learn everything from scratch through years of trial and error has been quite challenging.

Even if you could have access to all the resources in the world, breeding new plant varieties is still a slow, complex, and oftentimes discouraging process that spans many, many years and while it’s been one of the most challenging things I’ve ever taken on, I have learned so much along the way, both about plants and nature.

In an effort to make more information about this topic available, we’ve spent the last year carefully documenting all of the processes around seed saving and what we understand so far when it comes to flower breeding. My hope is that this project will eventually become a book, or possibly a course in the future. 

One of the most important lessons that I learned early on, is that if you don’t have a really clear set of goals when it comes to breeding, you’ll never get anywhere. Every day there are so many beautiful, interesting, and unusual flowers that emerge in the field and it can be really easy to want to keep them all. If you don’t have a clear set of criteria to measure new discoveries against, things can quickly get out of control.

If I kept every variety that showed any amount of promise each year, it would be impossible to grow and care for them all, so I try and be as selective as possible which sometimes feels impossible!

When breeding new flower varieties, I’m always measuring against a set of strict criteria. They must have beautiful coloring and a unique form that will lend itself to flower arranging. Long stem length is a must. I want them to thrive in a wide range of climates (especially those that are hot or humid), and be both vigorous and healthy so that even beginning gardeners will have success with them. 

To ensure that local growers have the advantage over imported blooms, I am focusing on breeding flowers that don’t ship well so if floral designers or wholesale flower sellers want to get their hands on them, they will have to buy locally.  

There are three main groups of plants that I’ve been focusing my breeding efforts on, the first being zinnias.

These flowers have so many wonderful qualities, including being heat tolerant, easy to grow, quite resistant to pests, and an incredibly productive cut flower—the more you pick them, the more they bloom.

And anyone, no matter their skill level, can have success growing them. 

But for many years nearly all of the zinnias on the market have been bright, bold primary colors, and while beautiful, there is a huge lack of softer, more feminine colors available. Back in 2016, I started working on my very first zinnia variety, a soft palomino-colored beauty I named Golden Hour (pictured below). 

Golden zinniaIn the years since, so many incredible varieties have emerged and this year I have more than 100 unique zinnias in the works here on the farm ranging from large, tufted beauties to miniature, marble-sized blooms (that look like little macaroons) to densely packed domes in a range of pastel shades to tiny cactus types and everything in between.

What they all have in common is unique coloring, beautiful flower forms, and long, strong stems, making them ideal for cutting. 


The second group of plants I’m working on are celosia. They are vigorous, free-flowering, easy to grow, and love the heat. But the best part are their fuzzy, velvet-like flowers that come in a distinct range of shapes, including fans, plumes, and brains.

While they have so many wonderful qualities, there are very few varieties on the market that have more soft, subtle coloring. 

Over the years I have learned how to isolate the softer colors I love including shades of blush, dusty rose, champagne, peach, and icy lime. This season I’m working on about two dozen new varieties, plus continuing to improve some of the mixes we currently offer. 

By far the largest group of plants in the breeding program are the dahlias, and while I have a complicated relationship with these flowers, I just can’t seem to give them up!

They have so many wonderful qualities, including being easy to grow, unmatched in terms of production, and coming in so many shapes, sizes, and colors—plus they multiply each growing season. 

Over the last few years, as I’ve gotten deeper into the process of breeding, I’ve found that I’m most drawn to the novelty varieties, including collarettes, anemones, and single flowers with an open center. These types seem to be the most attractive to pollinators and add such magical quality to flower arrangements.

When it comes to breeding open-centered varieties, one of the more challenging things is that many don’t hold onto their petals very well after being picked. Finding varieties in these forms that are both beautiful and long lasting has become my mission.

This season, we’ll be growing nearly 200 breeding varieties and really putting them through the paces to ensure that each one meets my strict criteria. I’m excited to see how they perform and continue to refine this beautiful line.

If you want to learn more about the dahlia breeding project, be sure to read this blog post

Last season I had such high hopes of having enough of some of these treasures to share with the world. But we experienced the coldest, wettest spring on record and lost more than 50 percent of our plants before the season even started. The losses were devastating.

Our poor stressed plants struggled throughout the growing season but thankfully by autumn, we were able to collect enough seed to continue on. A gift I don’t take for granted. 

Despite the setbacks, we are forging ahead and have built a new little fleet of hoops to help give plants more protection from weather extremes. So far this spring is off to a great start and I’m thrilled to see all of my plant friends returning for another season.

My hope is that the work we’re doing here will eventually make its way out into the world and help open up a whole new world of possibility for the seasonal flower movement.

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  1. Jade Roberts on

    What a captivating journey you’ve shared! Your dedication to reshaping the floral industry from the ground up is truly inspiring.🤗 The focus on local, sustainable blooms and the meticulous breeding criteria show a deep commitment to both beauty and practicality. I couldn’t help but be reminded of my own experience with lavenders from The aromatic twist they’ve added to my garden mirrors your quest for unique and sustainable varieties. Learning about lavender growth patterns and the delicate balance of aesthetics and adaptability has been a rewarding journey in itself. The setbacks you faced last season resonate with my own gardening challenges, and it’s heartening to see the resilience you’ve shown in overcoming them. Keep blooming and sharing your amazing insights! 🌸🌿

  2. Amy on

    I’ve watched and learned from your breeding process for as many years as I can remember. Probably since the beginning of Instagram. 😂 I would die if I received some of your seeds. And take such care of them. I’m already growing every variety you sell on the site. And they are so beautiful! Thank you for all the hard work!

  3. Amy L on

    It is wonderful what you are doing! I think it is important that more of the flowers are grown locally and less over seas. I would love to be a test garden for this project. In upstate NY, we get a lot more rain than your area. I would be willing to grow only say the pink celosia and no other or do a side by side comparison for your study. I have a few acres I could donate to this project!

  4. Martie on

    I can not wait to keep seeing how your breading progresses. It is so amazing and I find your persistence and hard work just inspiring. Thanks for everything you are doing. I am following your news letter and I hope to see you sell dahlias again too. You pastel and linen color zinnias sound dreamy. I just can not wait, but will. ;). – Martie

  5. Sherry on

    Your work is very inspiring and I am anxious to grow such gorgeous and romantic beauties!

  6. Tina schaller on

    Hello. I would like to be on the list for dahlias if you r selling soon. Thanks for all you do. Tina schaller

  7. Lezlie on

    Your zinnia breeding is soooo fascinating. Following it is introducing me to a totally new kind of thinking about flowers. The possibilities! Beauty, imagination and PATIENCE. Thank you Erin.

  8. Sheri Ponegalek on

    How wonderful and exciting to be able to produce such unique and unusual colors of zinnias and celosia. I can’t wait to see the dreamy new varieties that you come up with. It’s also fantastic that it will be helping local flower farmers.

  9. Loretta MARIE Willard on

    Thank you for the continuing updates and your ongoing efforts with new varieties suited for the northwest. What type of fabric do you use for the tents inside the tents of your grow houses? Looks like a type of netting. Again – thank you for your pioneering with new varieties.

  10. Christa on

    I’m trying not to binge watch Seadon 2. Watched the first two episodes twice. So much inspiration. I’ve always loved zinnias snd I’m excited for the day when your new varieties are available. I took the plunge with Dahlias this year and have been blessed with abundant buds. I’m also cultivating patience in waiting for them to bloom.
    Thank you for contacting to inspire with your stories and knowledge. I see a vintage rose in my future – love the preservation lesson in this story. Thank you to the entire Floret Team!

  11. Sandra Tritt on

    Hooray that you’re advocating for local growers! It’s a movement that consumers want to support. Thank you for staying the course on being a pioneer on this path.

  12. Mrs Fabulous on

    Thank you for your extraordinary work to make our world a more beautiful place. Grateful to watch you grow and inspired by your tenacity and “I win and learn” attitude.

  13. Heather on

    I LOVE zinnias and feel like they don’t get the love they deserve. Thank you for the breeding work you are doing!! I’m excited for the day these wonderful pastel colors are on the market.

  14. Heather on

    I watched the episode where you pulled and the out so many and all I could think was “oh noooooo”. And then as I watched the episode about the seed sale and all the work that went into harvesting, packing, selling, and shipping those seeds that I bought I felt so bad that I killed some of the plants. Nooooooo. Such is the journey of the gardener. I SO enjoyed Season 2 and love all of the supplemental information you’re creating and sharing. Team Floret, you’re rockstars. 💗

  15. Kristi Hein on

    I hear you about the cold, wet, miserable spring of 2022 in Skagit. I watched in growing horror as my zinnia seedlings, so green and perky, grew wan, bent at the waist, and collapsed. I must have lost 50% as well. This year I started them later, hardened off later, and cocooned them in a mini hoop house of frost cloth when the heat wave ended and the icy wind roared! So far only one loss. And my two precious Golden Hours from my last two seeds (the packet wasn’t empty after all!) are doing well. Fingers crossed! Of 44 overwintered dahlias, 41 are coming up, so I’m challenged where to put my 27 new varieties! (Five of my perennial dahlias are fourth-year from Bee’s Choice seeds, and one’s third-year from the Discovering Dahlias extras.)

  16. Rebecca on

    At the risk of this comment floating off into the big, wide world of internet comments and never once being read (which I COMPLETELY understand with how much work there is to do on a flower farm): thank you Erin and team (would love to name all of you) for the hard work you are putting into this breeding program.

    As with a million other flower farmers, I’m excited and look forward to these new varieties making it into my mailbox and then into my field one day! The colors in these photos are stunning!

    Floret Class of 2021
    Ingadi Flower Farm

  17. Stacey Diehl on

    This would make an amazing book and be accessible for the world over to read & learn from. So exciting!

  18. Lauren Richardson on

    I’m so looking forward to your seed saving book! Really nothing exists!

  19. Lynne on

    Your information is always educational. The local bee club has started a pollinator garden at the apiary, it is the first year so trial and error is required to learn what will do well in the space. Biggest issue is getting water to the garden. But the club thinks outside the box, so we ask people for donations and they respond, we now have rain barrels and a water tank that members will fill when they come to the apiary! Can’t wait to see what does well and what else we can learn. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

  20. April on

    I didn’t realize you were specifically breeding those that don’t ship well. Thank you so much for protecting, strengthening & encouraging us small flower farmers. Local support is so crucial. My heart broke when I was watching episode 2 of you pulling out those zinnias but I admire your decisiveness & tenacity to forge forward despite the setbacks🧡

  21. Kim on

    Erin you are a true inspiration for so many. You’re gardens are truly a dream to me. I’m enjoying watching your show.

  22. Rylee on

    This is so inspiring, and very exciting for flower farmers everywhere. What was the device Floret was using to seperate the Zinnia seed from the husks in episode 2?

  23. Elisheva on

    Stunning flowers!!! I started growing a (very) small cut flower garden two years ago (in my third season) and I’ve been so inspired by what you guys do! Are there any resources you suggest for getting into breeding as an absolute newbie? Here’s to a great growing season!

  24. Heid Klammer on

    It takes such patience and fortitude to wait for the stunning results you are after! Keep on doing the work. I know it will result in more beauty, strength, and stunning diversity in the flower world. Thanks for sharing some of the process with us all.

  25. Tammi G. on

    Thank you so much, Erin, Chris & everyone at Floret, for your breeding program and what you’re doing to help advance local, seasonal flowers! I know there are many others, like me, who would rather have a bouquet of locally grown flowers that are fresh from the field, than a bunch of stale flowers, covered in glitter shipped from thousands of miles away.

  26. Marla on

    Oh my heavens! These colors are exactly perfect. So exciting!!!! You are simply amazing beyond words.

  27. Leah McDonald on

    I am just in awe!! This is so amazing!! What a talent you have for creating new beautiful flowers!!! Love the colors!!!

  28. Shirley on

    Thank you, Chris and your whole team for all your wonderful and beautiful work!♥️

  29. Ashley Tooley on

    What an incredible project! I can’t wait for the day you are able to share them with the world. I love the idea they all need to be grown locally and not shipped! I hope this season is the best one yet!

  30. Robyn on

    I love zinnias thanks to my grandfather and love when I too get a random new look growing. I look forward
    To hearing your advice on selling local with trusted variety’s . I may just become a farmer yet!

  31. Lina on

    Phenomenal work and vision. Thank you!

  32. K on

    Love the softer coloring – appreciate your efforts!

  33. Abigail on

    Do you get all of your hoops from a certain supplier?

  34. Melanie on

    Your breeding program is so cool and inspiring.


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