Written by: Julie Cole Miller, managing editor
Erin Benzakein started Floret, a Washington-based flower grower, with the dream of celebrating the best of old-fashioned flower varieties, including their vibrant colors and uncommon aromas. We caught up with Erin to learn more about her background, philosophy, and inspiration.
So I understand you are both a floral designer and a flower grower. How did you get your start with flowers?
After my great-grandmother passed away some years back, I planted sweet peas in my veggie patch to remember her by. I got a little carried away and planted two HUGE rows. When they came into bloom it was impossible to use all of the flowers around the house. I gave bouquets away to everyone I knew but still had more than I could manage. A friend ended up ordering a few bundles for gifts. During one of the deliveries the coolest thing happened… the recipient started crying. All it took was one smell and she was transported back in time to happy memories and her childhood. I was so amazed to see something as simple as a jar of flowers have that kind of impact on a person.
That fall I tore out my entire vegetable garden and replanted it with flowers. It’s funny how a simple experience can completely change your life!
I definitely put more time into growing the flowers. In order to have a steady supply of material all season long we are constantly planting, seeding, watering, weeding, staking, etc. The garden requires an enormous amount of work. In my spare time and during the off-season I scour the internet, the library, and practice designing as much as possible. Eventually I will have a farm manager who oversees all of the growing so I can focus solely on variety selection, design, and sales.
Can you tell us a little about your organic farm?
Well, it’s best described as an insanely overgrown cutting garden! It started out as a few flowerbeds, then took over my yard and now has expanded into the neighbor’s soccer field and another neighbor’s horse pasture. We are frantically adding more rows, more plants, and more greenhouses to keep up with the demand.
With careful planning, I am able to have fresh garden bouquets from March through late October. With a bit of foraging from the forest, field hedgerows, and a stop at the local wholesaler, I’m also able to make up Thanksgiving centerpieces and Christmas wreaths in the off season.
You also supply organic flowers to other designers. Do you find that your clients are more interested in seasonality, beauty, sustainability, or variety?
I think most of them are excited by our wide selection of unique material. We grow a lot of things that don’t ship well, are highly fragrant, delicate, or are not commonly available in the trade. Brides and groceries are very attracted to our organic growing practices, whereas designers seem most impressed by the flowers’ freshness and our selection of unusual ingredients.
I LOVE full, lush, garden-inspired bouquets. I’m a huge fan of foliage and texture. I tend to fill arrangements with as many unique greens, grasses, vines, and berries as possible, often having to remind myself to leave room for flowers at the end! I want every bouquet to feel like a garden.
Where do you find inspiration?
Since 95% of the bouquets and arrangements that leave our farm are from the garden, I am always looking to it for inspiration. A morning walk through the field can be hugely inspiring. New blooms just cracking open, delicate grasses shimmering in the breeze, a nodding rose at the perfect stage for cutting; it’s impossible not to want to create after a stroll through the garden.
To read further about Floret and discover more of Erin Benzakein’s vibrant designs, visit her website.