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Home Blog The Making of a Place: Designing the New Farm
May 22nd 2023

The Making of a Place: Designing the New Farm

Written by
Floret

Back in 2018, our neighbors approached us and asked if we’d be interested in buying their 24-acre blueberry farm. Chris and I were so surprised by this unexpected opportunity and had to really stretch outside our comfort zone to make it work.

But ultimately, we decided to go for it because farms in our valley rarely, if ever, go up for sale and we knew we wouldn’t get another chance like this in our lifetime. 

Up until this point, we had been farming a 2-acre plot of rented land behind our house and all of our experience and understanding was based on this small footprint. So the prospect of having more land was both exciting and also very daunting. 

From the beginning, I had this overwhelming feeling that our new farm, which at the time was just a wide-open field, was meant to become a place. But beyond that foggy impression, really nothing else about it was clear. 

Since I’m such a visual person, I have to see something to understand it. And here in the United States, there are very few examples of working farms that incorporate hedgerows, hedges, woodlands, and food for pollinators into a working production model that I could see firsthand.

So we decided to take a trip to England and spent 2 glorious weeks touring gardens and farms all around the country looking for inspiration. 

One of our stops on the trip was to visit the famed Chatsworth cutting garden where we met head grower Becky Crowley.

As Becky showed us around the garden, we got to talking about the new farm and all of my dreams for the space. I shared all of the bigger projects that I wanted to include in the new farm’s design, but that I was at a total loss for where to start. 

Becky had all of these really wonderful ideas, and to my surprise, had a background as a landscape designer and artist. As we parted ways, I half-jokingly whispered, “You should come to America and help me design the farm!”

I’m still not sure how we were able to pull it off, but we got Becky a visa, and 6 months later, she arrived at Floret. 

While we were waiting for Becky’s visa to be approved, I went to work sourcing as many plants as I possibly could for the project.

Unlike England, where they have an incredible selection of specialty plants readily available, here in the States, many of the family-owned nurseries have gone out of business in the last decade, which has made sourcing plants, especially on such a large scale, very challenging.

My goal was to essentially build an entire nursery to work from so that when Becky arrived we had all of the plants available that she might need and there would be no waiting for plants once the designs were finalized.

Between trees, shrubs, and perennials, I sourced over 40,000 individual plants (from small 50-cell plugs all the way up to balled and burlapped trees) for this project and had a running joke going with our local nursery (which I frequent often) that I was going to become their competition. 

We drew from this bank of plants for nearly 2 years as the farm took shape and I’m so grateful for all of the nurseries that grew such special treasures that are now living here on the farm.

I’ve put together a full list of all the places I sourced plants from for this project. If you’re looking for some really wonderful sources, I highly recommend all of these companies

Erin Benzakein and Becky Crowley hang up planning material for the new farm design.The first thing Becky and I did was to dive deep into all of the hopes and dreams that I had for the space, plus all of the more practical needs that would be required by the farm.

This list included getting water out to the farthest corners of the property, establishing roadways so that vehicles and equipment could have easy access to the growing space, setting aside enough room to store tools and supplies, making sure to include generous turn radiuses so that dump trucks with compost could easily make deliveries … so many essential, but not very exciting details.

In addition to all of the new spaces I wanted to create such as an orchard, meadow, woodlands, and a more formal cutting garden, the property itself was lacking any kind of structure or privacy.

Once the blueberries were dug up and given away to local school gardens, parks, and neighbors, the farm was essentially a wide-open exposed field with no trees, no shrubs, and no personality. 

When you were standing out in the open field, there was this strange sense of vulnerability, kind of like being a tiny little mouse standing in the middle of a meadow with eagles circling overhead. There was no place to tuck away or hide, and everything felt way too exposed. 

One of the first things we decided on was that we would use hedges and hedgerows to create “living rooms” within the farm to help break the property up into smaller, more intimate spaces.

Along the outside edges of all of our growing blocks, we planted a series of different hedgerow plant combinations to test out which varieties were most suitable for our climate and needs.

By definition, a hedgerow is a mixed planting of shrubs and small trees that grows together to become a living wall. These plantings have many benefits, but some of the most important are that they help to slow down the wind and prevent erosion and damage to field crops and provide a nectar source for pollinators and food and shelter for songbirds.

I’ve heard hedgerows described as a living corridor for wildlife, helping them safely travel from one place to another. 

Along the far back edge of the property we planted a large L-shaped hedgerow filled with native plants and as you move closer to the central hub of the farm, each series of hedgerows becomes more ornamental and less wild and scruffy. 

In addition to planting hedgerows along our field blocks, we also planted both evergreen and deciduous single-species hedges around some of the gardens. Unlike the hedgerows that are meant to create a beautiful tangle of life, these single-species hedges are quite different in appearance and in overall growth habit. This type of hedge is traditionally pruned to maintain a neat and tidy appearance.

If you want to learn more about the hedgerow plantings, what we’ve learned so far, and the varieties we used, be sure to read the Hedges & Hedgerows resource

One of the other big goals I had was to attract as many pollinators to our farm as possible. During the summer months when our flower fields are in full bloom, there is an abundance of food available, but during the spring months and into autumn the pollen and nectar sources are scarce.

After spending a good deal of time researching the perennials that are most attractive to pollinators, Becky went to work designing a series of pollinator strips. These are beautifully curated collections of perennials planted in larger, more naturalistic swaths, which provide a food source for wildlife along the edges of our growing fields. 

If you want to learn more about this beautiful experiment, be sure to read our Pollinator Strips resource. It includes a printable set of planting plans if you’re interested in creating one of your own.

When we moved to the country about 20 years ago, I planted an orchard filled with heirloom apple trees in hopes of one day starting a cider business. But as my flower hobby grew and I ran out of space, I ended up having to dig up my sweet little orchard to make room for my first seed-starting greenhouse.

I always felt sad about making that decision, but there was not enough room to have both in our backyard. Finally, all these years later, the big farm had room to plant a new orchard and I was able to replace all of the trees that I had given away, plus many more. 

Our new orchard now includes heirloom cider apples, cooking apples, crabapples, pears, plums, quince, and cherry trees. Last summer was our first real harvest and I found myself out there every day hunting for ripe fruit. The orchard is hands down Chris’s favorite spot on the farm and he’s always filling his pockets with snacks. 

One of my very favorite things we did in the orchard was to transplant all of our daffodils and narcissus into the grass pathways. In the spring when the trees are in full flower, the daffodils form a carpet of blooms at their feet. 

The Skagit Valley was once completely forested, and around the turn of the century, the whole area was logged so that the rich soil could be farmed. While this land is some of the finest growing ground in the country, I’ve always wanted to return a portion of our land back to forest.

At the very back corner of the farm, there is a low spot where water collects in the spring, and once the puddle fills and the frogs start laying their eggs, there is a chorus of frog songs every evening.

The tadpole puddle, as my kids call it, is bordered by a large field that we designated as a woodland. It is filled with maples, liquidambar, zelkova, hazelnuts, crabapples, and London planes.

As we wait for these trees to mature, we’ve planted a meadow all around them filled with a mixture of grasses and wildflowers, including daisies, lupine, clover, sainfoin, and yarrow. Of all the places on the farm, this spot is the most wild and unstructured and it’s where I find myself retreating.

On particularly difficult days, there is something incredibly calming about sitting in a field of tall grass and watching it blow in the breeze that somehow makes the stress of the day melt away. 

One of the biggest lessons that I learned when we set up our original little farm was to situate the highest maintenance/most used spaces as close to the main hub of activity as possible. So when it came time to build our new greenhouses, we decided to construct them next to the barn.

This way we would have easy access to the restroom, water, and all of the tools and supplies that are stored inside.

As my flower breeding hobby has turned into a full-time endeavor, we’ve added a series of smaller hoop houses that are used as individual isolation spaces to develop new flower varieties.

This fleet of 24 little hoops has been lovingly nicknamed the Shire because their unique gothic shape reminds me of little hobbit houses. These structures were purchased from Farmers Friend and I can’t recommend this company highly enough. 

 Across the road from the Shire is our original farm site, which hasn’t changed much over the years in terms of bed layout, but the plants inside have shifted into more perennials (which we’re trialing for cutting) and is now the home of part of our rose collection.

One of the most beautiful additions that we made to this space was to have a series of custom metal archways created by Metalistics, a local fabrication shop. These beautiful arbors line the central pathways and are connected in the middle by a glorious arching structure which will eventually be covered in rambling roses.

Along the other roadway is a series of tall metal pillars that will also have climbing roses growing up through the middle and cascading over the tops. The idea is that they will resemble fountains of flowers. 

For many years our backyard housed the business, including six greenhouses, my little flower studio, and a walk-in cooler. The new farm allowed us to finally move the business and reclaim the space as our own.

Of all the design projects that we tackled in the nearly 2 years that Becky was here with us, she felt this project was one of the most important. After so many years of not having any privacy, I could finally stretch out and have my own little sanctuary.

In every other planting we tackled on the farm, we chose small 1-gallon plants and bare root trees and shrubs. This approach made planting on such a large scale much more affordable but added a number of years to the property filling in.

However, in our home garden, we decided to do the opposite and worked with a local family-owned nursery that specializes in growing and installing nearly mature trees and shrubs.

The owner Terry Wiggins, one of the most solid guys around, jokes that his business is all about giving people the gift of time. Wiggin’s Nursery Co. has perfected the art of growing and transplanting specimen trees and shrubs that allow gardeners to have a fully mature garden installed in just a matter of days. 

We worked closely with their team on selecting a beautiful collection of plants, and over a long weekend, their hard-working crew installed the bones of our new garden.

In the beginning, I felt a bit nervous about making such an investment in our space, but of all the things that we tackled, our home garden is my very favorite. Becky was right. 

While we made a tremendous amount of progress on the farm in the last couple of years, there’s still a lot that I want to do.

Now that the bones of the space are starting to fill in, the farm is finally starting to really feel like a place.

The next big project on the docket is figuring out where all of the roses that we’ve adopted from The Friends of Vintage Roses and Anne Belovich’s garden will live. In all, there are more than 2,200 roses now here on the farm and I am excited about all of the beauty to come.

You can read about our progress in this Rose Project Update.

Lastly, a huge thank you to Becky Crowley for her incredible design and for humoring me with all of the many dreams and hopes I wanted to squeeze into this place. This project never would have happened without her talent or heart! 

And so much gratitude for our crew (especially Francisco) for the years of work they have invested in the transformation of this place, from planting thousands of baby plants in the ground to tending them in every type of weather to mulching, weeding, and pruning—what a feat! 


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24 Comments

  1. Kathy Ormiston on

    Home with Covid, so I just watched the first season of Growing Floret. I loved the last episode with Becky Crowley. It would be so interesting to see an update on how the design for the farm has filled in and evolved. It has given me ideas for my own garden/farm backyard in Davis, California.

    Reply
  2. Emily on

    I can’t get enough! Thank you for sharing. You are such an inspiration. You’ve given me courage to dream and pursue the dream.

    Reply
  3. Linda Partyka on

    I have been watching your dream of sharing for years….and it still keeps me focused on mine!! It has been a dream for me oh, I think since 2011 or so…….I have all your books. I take your mini courses, and have watched both season’s 1 and 2 of Growing Floret!!
    There have been so many things you have done that have continued to inspire me. But, I think the one that does the most…..is when I watch Growing Floret season 2 , “Preserving the Old”. . As I watched, I became overwhelmed by the story of Anne Belovich, her passion for the “Old Ones” , and her love for these roses! I could almost see myself there with you and wanting to do the same thing……”Preserve the Old”!!
    I have been gardening for most of my life…..mostly vegetable gardens. I had some roses in my front yard and love the smell every time I would walk by! I think at that moment, I knew that I would be a person who would grow flowers, a person who would remember the days in my Great-Grandmothers gardens…….both, vegetable and flower. I had always enjoyed those times and as I grew older and had my own home, that I would want to do the same, and I DID!
    As my gardens grew…..so did my passion for flowers. More and more it grabbed ahold of me like a sponge to water. I started designing and then doing a wedding here and there…..then, I seen your name and your small flower farm. I thought, I could do that……and it has taken some time, but I have started that dream of having my own small flower farm. I have made mistakes, gotten frustrated and almost quite last year, but I decided that I would keep trying. I lost almost all my dahlia tubers last year and was devastated! Planting flowers the past few years has gotten me through some of my darkest times….after losing my mom in 2019, my second oldest brother, January, 2020, both my uncle and older brother November and December of 2021, a niece and nephew the summer of 2021 and 2 of my beloved fur babies…..growing flowers helped me cope and feel that life goes on even when things get tough. Like life, the flower grows, blooms, then dies. But, there are the seeds (children) that keep growing, blooming…..and in the end, leave behind a legacy of the ones before us!!! Thank you for sharing all your knowledge and passion for preserving flower for others!! You have truly become a pioneer in the flower farming community!!

    Reply
  4. Susan on

    I so want to be immersed in your gardens!!!! Listening to your dreams is like listening to my own dreams ❤️

    Reply
  5. Kodi on

    Congrats on the new expansion!!!!! Keep pumping out content!!

    Reply
  6. Erin Ardoin on

    i love this so much. congratulations on everything. I can’t wait to take some of this inspiration to my own garden

    Reply
  7. Katie Pence on

    Your movie made me cry and cry. The words coming out of your mouth and Greg Lowrey’s were the words in my heart. The words I’ve tried to use when all my vegetable beds turn into flowers… people don’t always understand how beauty can be the food you need. The soul food. The food that keeps you sane and happy.

    Reply
  8. Flora on

    Very inspiring and thrilling to read. You have created this through your vision, hard work and positive outlook and openness to learn from others and to teach it forwards. Your grandmother would be so proud of you! (I recall reading of your fondness for your grandmother and her flower gardens. I had a similar experience with my grandmother.)

    Reply
  9. Kristi Hein on

    I was thrilled to see the start of your hedgerows in Season 1. The first planting we did at the Skagit home we bought (our first!) in 2005 was a native plant hedgerow — inspired by taking the Skagit Conservation District short course. The three serviceberries we planted as small saplings are now over 20′ tall — these three sisters take turns blooming and fruiting in a sequence. These and the snowberries, tall Oregon grape, salmonberries, twinberry, gooseberry, black hawthorn, dogwood, and slough sedge are all knitted together in a dream habitat for birds and pollinators; we see juncos and towhees bringing their fledglings out from the undergrowth. Another hedgerow, of ocean spray, mock orange, and more Oregon grape, is a favorite of bushtits when the ocean spray seedheads ripen.

    Reply
  10. Carina on

    It’s wonderful to see your farm dreams coming true. What a special spot it is and will be, for many years to come!

    Reply
  11. Shaunna on

    I’m overwhelmed seeing your dreams come true. Thank you for sharing so much with us!

    Reply
  12. Gerry Betz on

    We’ve watched you grow over the years, and you are such an inspiration to all who get to know you and your magical world. If your garden is in an acre, or just a small in city space, you can always find new and exciting ideas through your books, videos, and TV show.

    Reply
  13. Shara Dee McCaleb on

    This is the most inspiring article you have shared with the world. I have felt stuck for two years trying to visualize a plan for our acreage. This was exactly what I needed to help move forward with designing our garden. I can never say thank you enough for all of the knowledge and experience you have freely shared with me. When I took your course a couple of years ago, I considered it such a huge investment, but I quickly realized it was the best money ever spent. You are a resource that keeps on giving! Thank you for your continued generosity!

    Reply
  14. Eustacia on

    It’ so wonderful, having had the opportunity to visit the farm in it’s humble beginnings, to follow along with these bold transformations which are creating such quiet beauty and a safe haven for both people and nature. Congratulations!!

    Reply
  15. Ted Warren on

    An impressive endeavor indeed. Stay the course. You are becoming an example for us all to follow one’s dream.

    Reply
  16. Elizabeth Queen on

    PS warch and connect with the Biggest Little Farm family- another beautiful story with symmetry to your own- Apricot Lane Farms in California

    Reply
  17. Elizabeth Queen on

    Thank you for continuing to inspire and share good creative stories when there is a dearth of this type of news. Brava Floret! Becky, Bravo Chris, Francisco and the whole family/team! keep growing, keep sharing!

    Reply
  18. Kat on

    Thank you so much for sharing! I’m based in Australia and am keen to start up my own cut flower garden on my 5 acre property. I’ve been admiring your work for so long and its amazing to see this wonderful transformation.
    I love the plantings of daffodils along the tree line of the orchard. How do you keep the grass down directly under the tree though? Can you fit a mower in between the daffodils and trunks? Thank you!

    Reply
  19. Ally F. on

    I echo all the other comments and, especially, the landscape design book! What a beautiful sanctuary you have all created.

    Reply
  20. Shay Edney on

    This is the post I’ve been dying for!!! I am most excited to see how the farm progresses in this perspective and can’t wait to see how the design matures over time. Erin and Becky’s collaboration is so inspiring. I am trying to incorporate the same principles here in Georgia with the thought of biodiversity, and fascinated with “things that will outlive us.” So very cool and appreciate the update. Please continue to do so! Also agree with a landscape design book!

    Reply
  21. Kelcey Jones on

    Thank you for your generosity and sharing such a wealth of information. I love that when I have a flower or plant question I can check here first and it will lead me to more information I didn’t know I needed. I appreciate all you do!

    Reply
  22. Chanda on

    I’ve loved all the content you’ve shared for Season 2 of Floret, but I’ll be honest… this post fascinates me. Can your next book be about garden landscaping and design? I haven’t been able to find anything as a resource close to what you have here. I too love all the different elements you are bringing into your farm and would love to put something similar together. I was inspired by my visit to Mount Vernon last fall with their gardens and orchards. Stunning.

    Reply
  23. Marie Powers on

    It’s beautiful, Erin. Thank you for sharing your farm with us.

    Reply

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