Flowers for the Soul
Meryl Gartside spent her career doing what she needed to. Now, she spends time at her flower farm doing what she wants to do.
“A flower blossoms for its own joy,” said Oscar Wilde, but what about the gardeners who garden for their own joy? Since 2016, Meryl Gartside has quietly tended her farm on leased fields, providing the most stunning variety of flowers to local florists and designers, and brightening up lives across the Cape. With Blue Lobster Flower Farm, Meryl has spent her time experimenting and perfecting the unique and eye-catching flowers she grows. A washashore, Meryl was born in Philadelphia, but spent a big part of her adult life in Boston, with many vacations on the Cape. “I retired when we moved here, which allowed me to do what I wanted to do, rather than what I needed to do,” she says. “That’s how the farm got started. I was orignially trained as a graphic designer, but for over 20 years I worked in horticulture, primarily with perennial plants. I knew nothing about growing specialty cut flowers for production. It was a steep learning curve for me, but I have a strong background in plants and I’m a master gardener, so it wasn’t a total leap. But I entered a whole new area of growing I wasn’t familiar with.”
Working on two fields, adding up to less than one half acre, Meryl splits the space, with one field acting as her perennial and “trial” field where she tests new flowers, and her larger field that contains the majority of her operation. And what is her operation? “Since I don’t own the land, I can’t bring many people on the property, but I have strong relationships with local florists and designers,” she says. Working with them, she provides blooms for a variety of uses, including weddings and events. In 2020, her work changed slightly, due to canceled or postponed weddings, but the flowers grew anyway. “Last year, because of so many cancellations of events and weddings, I started doing flower subscriptions. I was able to connect more directly with the public instead of selling my flowers only wholesale.” But selling wholesale isn’t the only way Meryl puts her gorgeous flowers to work. “We do a big installation at the end of the season every year someplace local, with longtime friend and ‘Flower Soul Sister’, floral designer Kate Formichella, of Flora Chella Design. We do an end of season installation, which is sort of our gift to the community. Potential locations are always on our radar, because we haven’t decided year by year where it’ll be, but people are always thrilled by it. This will be our sixth installation coming up.”
For Meryl, the joy of growing flowers outweighs the challenges of nurturing her farm on Cape Cod. “I don’t own my own land or greenhouses, so our work is very specific to the season. I have tunnels I put up that give me a little extra time at the beginning and end of the season, but I’m primarily subject to weather on the Cape, which means most things, other than some cool season flowers, aren’t even in the ground until May,” she explains. “I grow roughly 60 varieties of dahlias and they can’t go into the ground until the temp of the soil is up to 60 degrees. There’s no tricking mother nature in that department. And you have to wait until all danger of frost has past before planting warm season flowers.” That seasonality is a key aspect of Meryl’s planting choices, and keeps things fresh and interesting, for Meryl and her customers. “When you buy flowers that I’ve grown, they’re not going to be the same throughout the season. Varieties peak and wane and then we move on to the next part of the season, when other flowers come into their prime. We’re constantly pulling up rows when a crop is finished, then we replant in the hopes of getting another succession before the frost. It’s all about timing and making the most of the season in the small area where I farm.”
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