Floral Farmer & Designer Olivia Terry Plants the Seed of Sustainable Flowers

If you think that being a farmer would be all roses—you're wrong. In this case, we're talking about a floral farmer and, trust us. It's not all roses in more ways than one. 

With over 400,000 flowering plants (don't quote me on that), there are a whole lot of beautiful options when it comes to flower crops. Although when you're part of the Slow Flowers movement, that number gets cut, but still leaves the potential for equally beautiful, regionally grown gold we know as flowers, but growing locally still leaves a unique set of challenges. 

This month, we met with Olivia Terry, who is a floral farmer and designer operating out of Colorado soil. Initially, her budding farming career started in Pennington, New Jersey at Chickadee Creek Farm in 2013. Now, she is based in Colorado experiencing one extreme to the next of growing sustainable flowers in an arid region. We picked her brain about the ins and outs of the Slow Flowers movement, working in the floral industry and discussed her favorite regional flower varieties to try this summer season.   

Very simply stated, why flowers?

Flowers are everything. They bloom from nearly all species of plants if you allow them to mature fully. They are a critical food source (did you know you can eat a Dahlia tuber like a potato?), they are medicine in many forms, they provide seeds and replenishment, they can boost your mood and make a place feel like home, but most of all, they are some of the most powerful yet delicate creatures and all of our lives depend on them.

What are the flowers you grow grown for?     

I grow flowers for various reasons, but mostly because I think we (farmers) just need to keep growing something, anything! My flowers are grown for florists, for weddings and other occasions, for herbs and edible purposes, and for the joy of providing beauty.

I know you’re interested in sustainable flower farm operations. Can you illustrate some easy examples of eco-friendly practices

I think growing local flowers and then providing a local source of flowers, in itself is a super sustainable practice. In a time where flowers are readily shipped around the world in days and then driven all across this country, I think that the biggest service I can provide is reducing the carbon footprint on anything that can be done in a local region. It's a win-win for the consumer, for the farmer and the environment. 

You’re also a floral designer. What have you found to be the most significant challenges to getting more floral designers to use domestically-grown flowers? What about consumers in general?

I think the biggest challenge that I deal with as a flower grower and designer is that florist and consumers both want what they want and right now. We have been trained to have endless amounts of whatever varieties we want and can have them shipped from across the world to replenish their desires. I think convincing consumers and florist why it is important to think of everything having a time, and a season that the plants thrive in and will naturally grow in is so hard for me. Everyone always wants what I don't have in season, or what is impossible for me to grow in Colorado. Weddings are very challenging in that aspect because customers get it in their heads they want to have everything local, but realize that looks different from the photos of the bouquets that look wild and rustic, that were all made from the wild and rustic things that grow in Africa.

Let’s talk flower varieties! What are some of your favorite native flowers to grow in Colorado and why?

Oh where to start, my love has been long and matured for Yarrow. I loved growing it in New Jersey, and I have loved growing it in Colorado. It is native and super prolific, also a perennial, which a such a win! Sweet peas are also just the sweetest little delicate blooms and delights that you can find in various parts of Colorado. One that I haven't grown as cut flowers but adore when I am hiking and find it out on the trails is the Sego Lily.

On that note, how do you decide what crops merit space on your farm?

I do think the future is going to be more and more dependent on perennials, so for my flower pursuits I am hoping to continue to establish more and more perennials for the profitability aspects and also the environmental benefits. A balance is nice, so I choose things that are close species to ones that you find here, and also things that seem to grow well here without a lot of effort.

What’s your most crucial crop?

That is a tough question because each season has its victories, but I feel like the most successful flowers that I have become dependent on here in Colorado are my euphorbia (snow on the mountain) bushes, people love love love them, and I am continually having to up my growing space for them. Some other honorable mentions are Queen Anne's lace, Zinnias (specifically the queen lime variety), snapdragons, sunflowers, strawflowers and the different grasses.

What has your “experiment” wins and fails been?

Some of my experiment wins have been growing a new variety to me called "Honeywort" last season, it was super quick to grow, and lasted such a long time. Very gorgeous and people really just loved them as much as I did! A fail for me was experimenting with growing Eucalyptus in Colorado, which does not happen, probably unless you were willing to produce them continually in a greenhouse. I love Eucalyptus but can't seem to figure out the conditions for it here.

Can you tell us a bit about any exciting upcoming projects you’re working towards?

A project that I have for this season is growing some flowers with an educational farm. It is definitely an experiment in itself trying to grow plants with children around learning (mostly wanting to play), but it is an excellent opportunity for them to learn how this life works, and how they can be a part of bringing these seeds to life and seeing them through to their final stages and days.

Another really cool thing that is happening this fall is that my partner Josh and I are getting married! I have been working with designing flowers for nearly a decade, and finally, I get to design my own wedding day! It is going to be a lot this season, and we are having it in September, which feels like such a crazy time for farmers who are getting the final harvest out and when a lot of other weddings are happening. It will be a priority this season though, and we are happy to take care of that need for ourselves.  

Photographer: Jimena Peck,

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