The bees are buzzing in Native Poppy’s flower garden, where the sun is finally busting through the clouds of May gray and June gloom.
Lately our garden harvests have been bigger and better than ever. To celebrate, we’ve launched a new grand-sized garden flower wrap to our Daily Flower Menu, to compliment our classic-sized garden wrap, and our Garden Buddy arrangement. Each of these designs is filled with flowers grown right here in San Diego, whether in our own flower garden, or by one of our local partner farms, like BeeWorthy Farms, Psalter Farms, and Cielo Hills Flowers.
It’s been a while since our first tour of our flower garden! Now that the summer harvest is here, it’s a great time to reintroduce Native Poppy’s lead gardener Margaret, who manages our flower garden here in San Diego.
Q: Hey Margaret! How are things in Native Poppy’s flower garden?
They’re great – this is an exciting week for us! We just received our shade cloth, which is something we’ve been eager to get over our crops for a long time.
Our garden is in Zone 10 (according to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, a gardener’s standard to determine which plants are likely to thrive in a region), but our microclimate is unique: the garden is built on top of an old tennis court! The asphalt attracts more heat in August and September, it acts like a heat bowl holding the plants at higher temperatures.
One of the biggest challenges for us is managing the heat stress on the plants and extreme temperature swings that come in the fall. So this year, we’re mitigating some of those challenges with Aluminate 40% shade cloth – it provides shade and reflects the sun, which balances out the temperature.
The shade cloth will provide diffused light that will be beneficial to plant health during the hottest part of the year.
Last August and September were so hot – we hit triple digits most days. It causes lots of stress to the plants. We grow heat loving crops, but after certain temperature extremes, photosynthesis rapidly declines. We want to prevent that. Shade cloth can bring down temps 10 degrees. We conducted a trial last year covering one crop row, and found that even in the winter months when the temps are less extreme, the shade cloth balanced the temperatures and made the crops healthier and more productive. We strive to grow the healthiest plants we can so our talented florist team can create garden inspired works of art with fresh cuts from happy plants.
Q: What’s growing in the garden right now?
This morning we had a lovely harvest of gorgeous dahlias. The crop timing of these was a fun new trial for us, planted in December instead of waiting until the Spring, like we’ve done in previous years. It’s our healthiest crop yet!
Because we had such a cold, wet spring, our cool weather crop window extended late into the spring. Just as we have passed the longest day of the year, we are on our last round of harvests for crops typically expected in the spring like Chantilly and Madame Butterfly Snapdragons, Dalmatian Peach Foxglove and tons of Campanula Bells.
We’ve also been expanding our crop variety, adding more texture and filler flowers, rather than favoring just focal flowers. Ammi, Chocolate Lace Flower, Feverfew and Solidago are all coming into the shops now.
The Chocolate Lace Flower has grown every year in the garden. It started as a volunteer, popping up between the flower beds and at the perimeter in the garden, and every year without fail it appears again.
July is around the corner, so we’ll be entering our sunflower season soon! I’m also expecting to harvest Lemon Gem Marigolds, some new beautiful tissue culture Statice, our Lisianthus is budding up right now and the Cosmos, Celosia and Zinnias are on their way.
Q: How do you decide what to plant in Native Poppy’s flower garden?
I feel lucky to work so closely with our talented team. Their artistry and desires often lead my planting choices. The reason we have a Solidago harvest coming this year is because one of our Lead Florists, Hanna, admired it while I was shopping for plant plugs from Farmer Bailey – we were geeking out together about how much we love it, so we decided to give it a try.
Natalie, Native Poppy’s founder and CEO, is always texting me flower varieties she wants to try. When she tells me something is her favorite flower, as she exclaims about many, if I think our microclimate can handle it, I give it go. The Campanula Bells were her idea, and our customers are loving those too.
Q: What other garden projects are you planning this season?
The shade cloth is THE major project for this season. We’re aiming to have that built and set up by the end of June. During the garden low-season earlier this year, I’ve been helping out in other areas of Native Poppy’s business. I worked on the Art Alive installation alongside Natalie and the team, and installing that aerial flower exhibit gave me ideas about how we could engineer the shade cloth infrastructure at the farm.
At the first farm I worked on, we built a lot of our own infrastructure. Farming is typically a creative endeavor by necessity. Most pre-built infrastructure is prohibitively expensive, so to grow that part of a business sustainably requires some creativity and craft. Working part-time on engineering and installation projects for Native Poppy’s full service events has given me insights and experience that I’m now implementing at our flower farm.
Our perennial project on the farm is growing the soil, with lots of compost and love.
In terms of other projects, I’d like to expand into more perennials and dried flowers, but I think that might end up getting pushed until the fall or maybe even next year. This summer all of our seasonal turnover happened a bit later than usual, so July will be a lot of growth of our sun-loving crops: Amaranthus, Celosia, Cosmos, MORE Dahlias, Marigolds, more Lisianthus, and – my favorite – Zinnias.
Q: Why haven’t we started offering tours of the garden yet??
The flower garden is located on a private residence, and we want to respect their privacy – it’s their home!
While we’re stewards of their land, we want to make sure that we honor the gift they share with us, which means it’s a private space only at this time.
It’s tough, because we’ve had so many requests to visit, including from Native Poppy’s teammates, but it’s also just not a particularly accessible space. In the summer it’s uncomfortably hot, and there’s no public bathroom, which would… not be fun for most visitors. So for now, it’s not in the cards, but someday we hope to expand our farming operations where we can host events and tours – we just need to find the right space!
Q: What’s changed in 3 years of farming flowers for Native Poppy?
I’ve seen improvement in soil quality every year because we keep feeding the soil. We consistently feed healthy compost into the system with each crop turnover. We don’t use much fertilizer, mostly compost and worm castings to build up the organic matter, so that’s leading to better and better crops. The pests are perennial, so we’re always dealing with that. But as the soil improves, the pests are easier to deal with – the ecosystem becomes more in balance.
It’s super exciting that we now have three locally-grown flower designs available for sale on our website! It’s due in part to our own expanded harvests, as well as our successful partnerships with other growers (like Psalter Farms and BeeWorthy Farms) so we have lots of lovely varieties for the florists to use for most of the year.
Q: One last question: Is it good luck to find a bug in your bouquet?
Yes, I love that! We all know finding a ladybug is good luck – it also demonstrates that there’s a healthy ecosystem there. The ladybugs help keep aphids in check. You’re not very likely to find an insect, we check every harvest for stowaways, but if you do, it demonstrates that we’re not using poisons, and protecting pollinators in our region.