Alberta flower producer thinks like a farmer

Lisa Jans’s tulips are just poking out of the ground on her flower operation near New Norway, Alta. | Mary MacArthur photo

On the Farm: Lisa Jans chooses her varieties based on a number of traits, including stem strength and length of stem

NEW NORWAY, Alta. — Lisa Jans is combining her agronomy skills and the global pandemic, which disrupted the flower market, to become a flower farmer.

“I love flowers,” said Jans from her central Alberta farm.

Each year, her flower beds grew larger, with an equally bigger workload and more weeds to deal with. Then she quit thinking like a gardener and started thinking like a farmer.

The hundreds of annual and perennial flowers are now planted in large cultivated areas in the family’s two farmyards. The annuals are planted in holes cut in landscape fabric to minimize weeding. Landscape fabric is laid down between the rows of perennials to reduce weeding.

“That is the only way it would be feasible,” said Jans, who took her agronomy training from Olds College and the University of Lethbridge.

Like a traditional farmer, Jans chooses her flower varieties based on a variety of traits, including stem strength and length of stem, ideal for vases. Others are chosen based on colour and their showiness to attract attention in bouquets.

“Lots of varieties look good in the garden, but not in vases.”

Some flowers she has chosen only have one bloom while others bloom continuously throughout the season; some are early bloomers and others don’t start blooming until later in the season.

Inside her greenhouse is an “exploding chaos” of annuals, perennials and vegetables. She started growing some of the flowers in her garage in January, will plant others directly in the flower field and transplant others after the last frost.

“I can use my plant knowledge and my energy and, because it’s outside my door, I can do it with my kids.”

Jans farms with her husband, Brett, and his parents and grew up on a farm near Clive. Flower farming was a natural fit.

Jans waters plants in her greenhouse, which has a mixture of annuals and perennials for her subscription flower business. | Mary MacArthur photo

This season will be Jans’s third season flower farming. The birth of her second child last year paused her garden expansion, but the interest in gardening caused by the pandemic has created an increased interest in gardening and a desire for flowers to ease the isolation from lockdowns.

Jans sells her flowers through a subscription service, to local florists and at a farmers market.

“This year it exploded.”

With worldwide flower deliveries halted because of COVID-19, florists looking for local flower sources found Jans’s Flaxen Acres farm.

“The pandemic made that very apparent in a lot of businesses.”

As a long-time peony lover, Jans had a yard full of the showy flowers for years when people started asking to buy bouquets of the flowers from her yard, sowing the seed for the business.

“It feels like flower farming is kind of trendy right now. It seems to be becoming a thing.”

She loves peonies so much she even posted a peony rescue on her Facebook page looking to dig up the peonies others were tired of having in their yard. She managed to nab about 30 bunches of peonies and now has more than 300 peony plants, which will be additions to her flower subscription.

More than 400 dahlias will soon be planted in the garden. | Mary MacArthur photo

Jans has a range of subscriptions from weekly to monthly flower bouquets sold through her Flaxen Acres website. They are picked up from the farm or at designated drop off locations. Like community shared agriculture groups, the flower subscription fee is paid up front to offset the costs of growing the flowers and her expenses.

With the demand for garden seeds, Jans needed to buy her seeds in December and January to ensure a supply for spring planting. She has already bought her tulip bulbs for seeding this fall.

She has also ordered a larger greenhouse to keep up with demand and will be adding a drip irrigation system to ensure the flowers have the best chance of making it into the vase.

“I want to make it more efficient so I can have high-quality flowers. I am trying to make a little investment each year to get to the main goal.”

In the summer her garden is bright with dahlias, peonia, asters, snapdragons, echinacea, eucalyptus, yarrow, lupins, delphinium, tulips, daffodils and showy grasses.

“I am a flower fan and tend to grow what I like.”

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