A salute to growers who specialize in crops that nourish the soul. From tulips to peonies, get our picks for the best New England flower farms.
By Kim Knox Beckius
Feb 21 2019
The fragrant fields of Connecticut’s Lavender Pond Farm.Photo Credit : Romy Lee
Like fine cooking, flower growing requires well-honed technique, the right ingredients, a willingness to experiment, and a lot of love. It’s a formula that flourishes at these family-run farms, where acres of flowers are sown not for commercial-account sales but for you, the visitor. Spend carefree hours among the plants, take home mood-boosting blooms, and restore your faith in the softness this earth can produce.
There’s a metaphor in the bumpy dirt road that leads to “Peony Heaven,” where a sneak preview of what lies beyond the pearly gates awaits each May and sometimes into mid-June. Everyday worries fade at this Connecticut woodland farm, where the six-acre display garden’s pathways and picnic tables are accented by jaunty umbrellas protecting blossoms so massive they hardly seem real. For 30 years, the Furman family has nurtured rare and extraordinary tree peonies and their perennial cousins, which are sold on-site and via catalog. Add these camera-loving bloomers to your own garden as a reminder to seek heaven here on earth. Thomaston, CT. 860-283-1042
Walk with Karen Clark along the neatly planted rows at her Maine farm, and you’ll gasp when she grabs a seemingly gorgeous dahlia and snaps off its head. Only perfection is accepted at this 22-year-old family enterprise. Luckily, dahlias are “a perfect flower,” says Karen’s husband, Phil, and from late July through October, new ones open as fast as the older heads roll. Each spring, the couple plants more than 4,000 of these robust, in-your-face flowers that crave relentless sun. Each fall, they harvest up to 20,000 tubers to store for spring shipments to customers. In between, hummingbirds, monarch butterflies, leaf peepers, and dahlia devotees take joyful refuge—at no charge—amid more than 100 creamy-to-jewel-toned varieties available for cutting. Camden, ME. 207-236-8752
Rebloomers, doubles, spiders, a six-foot-tall anomaly named “Notify Ground Crew”—the 2,000 varieties of day lilies are the obvious stars at Elaine and Carl Wickstrom’s back-road farm in eastern Massachusetts. But it’s the galaxy of other, often seldom-found plants on the grounds that have made garden geeks giddy for 20 years. Native species like nodding pink onion, intriguing aquatics and succulents, nocturnal bloomers, peculiar herbs, a dozen heathers, woodland rarities like cobra lilies, and 400 … maybe 500 hosta varieties thrive (the Wickstroms are too busy propagating to count). From roughly May 1 through Columbus Day, with the densest mass of day lily color making July prime time, you can stroll, picnic, or paint en plein air at this plant zoo. Berlin, MA. 978-838-2471
Breathe in air perfumed by 9,000 breeze-ruffled lavender plants at this little slice of Provence in Connecticut, which is open free to anyone needing a lavender lift from around Mother’s Day until Christmas Eve. At its peak visual splendor in July (and most intensely aromatic whenever 60 pounds of fresh-clipped stalks are fed into a copper still to extract essential oil), Chris and Denise Salafia’s farm has grown faster than weeds since 2014. A sightseeing train, a bistro serving lavender-flavored treats, a hand-built covered bridge, and an Airbnb apartment have been added to the property. In the gift shop filled with purple delights handcrafted on-site, you can flip through Miss Rumphius, a Barbara Cooney children’s book that Denise read to her mom in hospice. Like the title character, the Salafias strive “to make the world more beautiful.” Killingworth, CT. 203-350-0367
When spring is finally ready to pour sunshine on New England, more than half a million tulips erupt in layer-cake rows of saturated color at Wicked Tulips—so many that you actually notice their fragrance, perhaps for the first time. It’s a privilege reserved for the wicked smart who have stalked this Rhode Island grower online for opening-date news and advance tickets to wander through fields afire, snapping photos and gathering perfect blooms by the pailful or armload. Ever since a Netherlander and a New Englander—Jeroen and Keriann Koeman—gave a historic farm parcel the Monet treatment, sold-out crowds of happy flower hunters have been the rule. Exeter, RI. 401-297-3700