Making the Cut

Photo by Tim Robison
Photo by Tim Robison

When Elaine and Bryan Young, owners of Urban Farm Girl Flowers in Black Mountain, left Birmingham a few years back, a blossoming flower-growing business was not part of the plan. The couple, both architects, owned a company that manufactured concrete countertops, sinks, and fireplaces. But when the economy took a turn for the worse in 2006, they sold everything and moved to Western North Carolina. “We had Birmingham friends who preceded us, and we thought WNC would be a nice place for our son James, then six, to grow up,” Elaine says.

They leased a workshop for a new concrete countertop-manufacturing site in Riceville, where they discovered their knack for growing flowers. “Our landlord allowed us to play with the yard,” says Elaine. “Every year we added more and more, and then got accepted to sell at the Black Mountain Tailgate Market. We sold there for a year before we started picking up wedding work and the business snowballed,” she explains.

The Youngs’ signature style reflects their design-oriented professional pasts. “We like using lots of different, dramatically scaled varieties in our arrangements — I might combine a huge dahlia with zinnias and celosias. I also like to get stuff from the wild, like vines, a wild white clematis called ‘Virgin’s Bower,’ and grasses and seed pods.”

Urban Farm Girl Flowers provides flowers for weddings, floral arrangements for realtors who use them for home-staging, and has the esteemed job of providing all arrangements for the green rooms, VIP lounges, and dining areas at the Lake Eden Arts Festival.

Elaine, in the midst of her busiest season, reveals she’s just planted 1,000 zinnias (though not single-handedly). “A gardener’s work is never done,” she says.

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Elaine Young’s tips for a varied, colorful, and productive cutting garden

Pick the right site. You need well-drained rich soil and good sun. You can “let loose” a bit with a cutting garden and not worry so much about a plan because the point is to cut bouquets all season long.

It’s OK to mix it up. You can grow your flowers with vegetables and plants you don’t plan to cut. There’s no need to create a special site if you’re pressed for space.

Keep it blooming. Plant to allow for continuous availability. Young suggests, “sew zinnias in succession, in all colors; they bloom all summer long. And, this method also fends off diseases like blackspot.”

Choose carefully. For example, say you want sunflowers. Big branching varieties offer many flowers and add drama — some grow to 12 feet. Others, however, allow for only one cutting — not ideal for a cutting garden you want to last all season.

This is just the beginning. Young notes that “after you plant, the temptation is to think you’re done, but the more you pick and prune, the fuller they get and the more blooms they put out.”

Don’t be afraid to experiment from year to year — with flower varieties, filler flowers, and color.

A cutting garden doesn’t end with the bouquet: “I’m always picking and hanging flowers to dry and later use them in the many wreaths I make.”