Wild at Heart

Katie, husband Mike Adams, and son Garnet farm a remote piece of land in Sandy Mush. Photo by Tim Robison

Lady Luck Flower Farm is dazzling and remote. It looks something like The Sound of Music, but the land is full of exhilarating quiet: the “sound” of thousands of blooms thrusting skyward. Katie Grear and Mike Adams started with rented valley land in Candler in 2008 and purchased their own farm four years later, almost 80 acres in the Sandy Mush region of Leicester, in northwestern Buncombe County. In January 2014, they had their son Garnet.

The farm’s U-Pick business runs intermittently in the warm months. During midsummer through the dog days, it’s all about sunflowers, dahlias, and zinnias, although the total list of flower types growing May through October is up near 40.

But the business harvests much of its crop for trend-conscious brides. The sterile still-life bouquet isn’t the thing: arrangements are freer, wilder, with effusive tops and leggy stems, and Lady Luck wins this aesthetic. Recently, Grear dipped away from a hectic season to talk to Carolina Home + Garden about life in the rows.

Photo by Tim Robison

How has your business grown, as far as new challenges and opportunities, since you began working your own land in a bigger space?
Local flowers are more popular than ever right now, so that has definitely been a major bonus for us. Having a space to call our own has been so great. It’s definitely not without its own challenges, of course … I liken it to being married, or having another child: it’s so beautiful and magical, and also takes up so much of your life and heart. It really is an incredible amount of work, and to make it all worthwhile financially, we’ve had to get very savvy as to honing in on what works for us and what doesn’t. We started out trying all the outlets for sales — farmers’ markets, grocery stores, florists, U-pick, floral design, and plant sales. Now we are down to selling to one small grocery store, The French Broad Food Co-Op [in Asheville]; a handful of local designers; a limited pick-your-own calendar; and mostly “a la carte” weddings, where folks hire me to make their bouquets, corsages, boutonnieres, and perhaps do the ceremony décor, and then get buckets from us to do their own table/reception décor. It’s a great balance. Currently we’re working on making our barn a space for workshops, music shows, and perhaps special events, but that’s a whole other can of worms.

What are the most difficult flowers to grow commercially — which are most sensitive to the seasons, weather, and/or need the most tending? Do you think the answer might surprise people?
Right now our dahlias are giving us a bit of a headache. We left them in the ground this winter, thanks to advice from our friends and mentors at Flying Cloud Farm, and it’s been so wonderful to see their early blooms. But we have our first round of pests — thrips — that are tearing up the flowers before they open, and it’s really hard to witness. So we’ve been spraying with organic-approved pesticides and looking into these mites that like to eat the thrips. They also just don’t last that long, like 3-6 days depending on the variety. The dahlias are a perfect example of the fleeting beauty of nature — you want to hold on to it and bottle it, capture it somehow, but that’s not Mother Nature’s plan. So getting complaints about that can be hard, but generally if you cut the stems and give them fresh water in a clean vase and keep them out of the direct sun, they are such a delight, and fabulous for floral-design work.

Lady Luck Flower Farm found a niche growing a wide array of free-form blooms. Photo by Tim Robison

I don’t remember seeing “chocolate sunflowers” up until a few years ago. They’re amazing. Are there any new varieties of sunflowers or dahlias (or any other midsummer or late-summer flower) that you’re excited about?
We love the deep-red sunflowers, particularly “Moulin Rouge.” I love all the dark flowers, really. They’re so nice for their contrast with blushes, tangerine and apricot shades, greenery, or with other dark shades. The dark sunflowers in particular take that kind of cheesy ’90s sunflower to a new level, yet they have all the great qualities of sunflowers — they last, and smell so fresh and luscious. And yes, there are some exciting new varieties we are trying this year — there’s a new sunflower called “Pro-Cut Plum” that’s kind of a pale purple with creamy edges. We’re also excited about an even darker-red sunflower variety called “Red Hedge.” I can’t wait for our Lisianthus to bloom; we are trying out some really spectacular shades that I’m so excited to design with — a deep amethyst, a rosey-blush, and a vibrant cobalt blue. The gem tones are very inspiring for me.

Designing for weddings must be an important part of your business during summer and early fall. What are some trends you’re seeing in colors, types of flowers, and style of arrangements? 
We are so grateful that seasonal blooms and foliage are on trend right now. The hope is that the trend becomes a lifestyle choice — supporting local farms, honoring the flow of the seasons — that can outlast this current explosion. We’re still seeing a lot of requests for blush and green, lots of foliage, so we’ve been cutting a lot of willow, snowberry, apple and witch-hazel branches, as well as mint, rosemary, and sage for greenery. Compote designs [seasonal flowers in a dish vase] are here to stay too, I believe, and for good reason: they are really so elegant. I love having something low that brings so much nature to the table. There is rumor that deeper gem tones are going to resurface, and that — yikes — tropical foliage and blooms trends will make their way to the South sometime soon.

Do you ever get flower requests for more unusual types of gatherings? 
We have done “blessingways” [Native American pre-birth ceremonies], bar and bat mitzvahs, and second marriages — which are really great. But I love providing flowers for “Decoration Day” [adorning the graves of ancestors] because it’s a beautiful Southern tradition.

Do you keep flowers in the house, or are you tired of seeing them after working in the fields all day?
I don’t ever get tired of them, but I am sometimes just too tired to make another bouquet! From April to May, we’ll snag a couple tulips or peonies or garden roses for the house, then sunflowers, zinnias, dahlias — so usually just single blooms of anything we have extras of or are feeling called to. They brighten up our space and also let us experience what our customers are experiencing.

Lady Luck Flower Farm is located at 55 Lanzi Ledge Road, off Leicester Highway northwest of Asheville. For more information, see ladyluckflowerfarm.com or call 828-683-3200.