Bulbs Off the Books

Experienced flower growers give seasoned (and surprising) advice

Brett Adams and Heather duPlooy have grown flowers on several continents.
Photo by Rachel Pressley

Just as there is no rose without a thorn, there is no flower farm without moles, voles, flash floods, and budworms. 

“We were a little naïve,” Brett Adams says of establishing More Tomorrow Farm, a local provider of fresh-cut flowers, wedding bouquets, and table arrangements. In 2013, Adams and partner Heather duPlooy uprooted their lives in Florida, where they both worked at the Naples Botanical Garden, and moved to Hendersonville. 

“Brett got this farming idea in Florida,” duPlooy says. “He read about everything from chicken farms to vegetable farms, but flowers emerged as the most attractive option.”

Then came the learning curve. Both Adams and duPlooy are well-seasoned botanists, having grown flowers for Belize Botanic Gardens, the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland, and other world-class institutions. “But growing crops is different than growing specimen plants,” admits duPlooy. “And at the time, all of our experience was in tropical plants.”

Vulnerable bulbs can fall victim to frost and many kinds of vermin.
Photo by Rachel Pressley

But the couple lumbered forward, scratching out a living from the ground. Florists soon emerged as their bread and butter. After developing a relationship with Pam and Bob Hedstrom, then owners of the Flower Market on Fifth Avenue in Hendersonville, Adams and duPlooy took yet another leap of faith, assuming ownership of the Flower Market. In January of this year, they transitioned from field to retail.  

And though More Tomorrow Farm has taken a backseat to the storefront, the botanists-turned-farmers-turned-florists still plan on growing to supplement store supplies. Chiefly, their crops will satiate the expanding demand for bulb flowers —tulips, lilies, blazing stars, gladiolas, ranunculus, daffodils, and “others we’ve forgotten,” duPlooy jokes.

Bulb flowers can be persnickety, attracting voracious pests while demanding a certain tenderness during the overwintering process. But with patience, even the most restless of backyard gardeners can master the likes of dahlias and lilies. 

“They’re just worth it,” duPlooy says about nurturing dahlias, which come in an ever-evolving array of hybrids.
Photo by Rachel Pressley

How late can you sow a fall bulb for springtime bloom?

duPlooy: Theoretically, our first frost is early October, but in practice we don’t get a frost until late October, early November. So, we push the season pretty far. Some flowers are more forgiving than others, too. Ranunculus, for instance, can’t be pushed past mid-September. But alliums can be pushed a little later. It’s all about weighing risk.   

Adams: Right. In the fall, as long as the ground is still workable, you can plant. December might be the latest. In the spring, we’ve had years where we’ve planted as early as March. 

Tell us more about saving bulbs for replanting. What does the process entail?

duPlooy: The process mostly involves digging them up, cleaning them, and storing them in a cool, dry place where they won’t rot. You don’t want it too damp, too dry, or too warm. A lot of people wrap dahlia bulbs, but we don’t. 

Adams: Besides fungus, one of the reasons you don’t want the bulbs too warm or moist is because they can start growing out of season. You don’t want your bulbs growing while in storage. Some people even place the bulbs in peat moss or coconut core for extra protection. 

Can all bulbs be saved for next year? 

duPlooy: The majority of flowers can be replanted. Some can even be left in the ground. The drumstick allium, for instance, can be left in the ground. It’s like a super-cute chive flower but with bigger blooms that gradients from green to purple. We also have a patch of liatris [“blazing star”] we will be cutting for years and years. Tulip bulbs, on the other hand, are at their peak when you purchase them. They will continue yielding flowers, but the flowers will be smaller. 

Do you have any cautionary tales for the home gardener?

duPlooy: Most of our challenges have little to do with the poor plants. For us, it’s moles and voles. They are constant. I tried every kind of trap imaginable. Liatris seemed to withstand more of their antagonizing. Maybe they just aren’t as tasty. Maybe they are tough as nails.  

Adams: We started growing lilies in crates to avoid the moles and voles. You can leave them in the cooler and take them out on a staggered schedule. Then, you have lilies all season.

Did you stumble across any swoon-worthy hybrids?

duPlooy: The cafe-au-lait dahlia. People go crazy for them. The flower is creamy with a light blush and is very blousy looking. You can get carried away with the hybrids. There are 80 bazillion dahlias. Same with tulips and daffodils.

Why are bulb flowers so popular, considering their growing quirks?

duPlooy: They are just worth it. You can plant them in the fall, which takes away from spring work. That’s always a bonus. You almost forget you even planted them. Daffodils are no fuss. Liatris is the perfect addition to a cottage garden.  

The Flower Market is located at 625 5th Ave. West in Hendersonville. For more information, call 828-696-4884 or visit hendersonvilleflowermarket.com