seasonal stakeout

Foreign flowers, Rochester roots

by cathym on November 1, 2019

The Eastman Museum’s annual “Dutch Connection” show shares in the struggle against winter blues

Story by John Ernst; photos provided by the George Eastman Museum

Just a few of the potted flowers on display during the Dutch Connection

In 1895, 41-year-old George Eastman bicycled through Holland. “Two large fields that we passed were the greatest blaze of color I ever saw,” he wrote home to his mother in Rochester. “Reds, yellows, pinks, and white flowers three inches in diameter and the blossoms covered the ground. If we can grow them I will have a bed next year.” And he did just that. After his botanical bewilderment overseas, Eastman ordered tens of thousands of bulbs from Holland each year until his death. According to Eastman House landscape manager Dan Bellavia, “One of the reasons he built greenhouses is so he could have flowers in the house at all times.” Each year, Eastman’s live-in servants would transform his home into a Dutch summer field. After he built his East Avenue mansion in 1905, this meant constructing five greenhouses to prepare fifty rooms’ worth of floral color. Later, in 1917, he even dug a tunnel from a greenhouse to his house to prevent the winter cold from hurting plants when it was time to transfer them.

One hundred years after that loving letter to his mother, the Eastman Museum decided to bring the billionaire-philanthropist’s tradition to the people of Rochester. The event has continued to grow each year, and its twenty fifth anniversary is no exception. “It’s become almost a year-round job for me and my crew,” Bellavia says. “I have my orders in by June and they’re usually delivered in the last week of September.” After months of expert care in their greenhouses, the flowers are brought into the house for the Dutch Connection in February. “We almost always have extras that live longer than we expect, so it ends up going until the second or third week of March.” April through June involves cleaning and disinfecting fifteen thousand pots before it’s time to order again.

Bellavia only has two employees, so the event runs on volunteers and community engagement. “We’d be nowhere without them. We try and feed them breakfast and coffee, but we can’t thank them enough,” he continues. “We have anywhere from 12,000 to 15,000 flowers that need to be watered every two days.” From the beginning, the primary economic force behind the Dutch Connection has been local sponsors Gerald P. and Karen S. Kral. “The museum was just starting up in ’95, so we knew they were interested in helping with gardens and initially asked if they could help with just the printing costs,” Bellavia says. “Since then, they’ve donated and sponsored the show ever since. And each year they seem to find a way to help out more.” Each year the museum spends roughly $12,000 on the event—up to $8,000 on bulbs alone.

The kids program is a unique opportunity to learn about gardening during winter

Two years ago, Bellavia and his team developed a program for kids to plant their own bulbs and learn about gardening and community stewardship. “I really push education,” he says. “They learn a little bit about gardening, and they take it home to watch it grow and bloom. Then they can plant them in their gardens outside.” This year the openings have almost doubled from 2017’s slots. Bellavia notes that a lot of parents grow tired of “big germ factories” like some children’s museums in winter, so the Dutch Connection is a great opportunity to try something new. “But anything to get your kid’s nose out of their phone is great,” he laughs.

After the success of the kids’ event’s first year, the Eastman House decided to try something special for adults. “Learning to plant bulbs is just as enriching for grown-ups as it is for kids,” Bellavia says, “but we wanted to couple it with something trendy.” After partnering with Bushnell Basin’s Lost Borough Brewing Co, “Blooms and Brews” was born. “We allowed 60 people to come in, plant some bulbs, and try samples of Lost Borough’s new seasonal beers,” he says. Admission to Blooms and Brews includes a house tour and a series of appetizer pairings for each beer.

Overhead view of the conservatory
Display in front of organ in the conservatory

The Eastman House utilized Cornell University’s extensive archive of Eastman’s catalogs to determine his exact orders. “I still deal with one company he originally ordered from,” Bellavia says. “some of the varieties of tulips are no longer in existence, but we order the closest varieties we can.” Eastman ordered nine types of tulips, differing namely in the time that they bloom. That way, Bellavia says, he’d have flowers blooming far beyond the typical season— “especially when he’d plant them outside, he’d have tulips blooming for two months.” Eastman’s catalogs also show narcissi (daffodils and paperwhites), hyacinths, amaryllis, freesia, clivias, hellebores, English and German primulas, Rieger begonias, and azaleas. “Depending on availability, I like to add another annual or two,” Bellavia says, “but I don’t know what until just before the show.” Interestingly, George Eastman favored monochromatic displays— “so it would be all pink or all white.”

When you cut through the glamor and class, there’s a simple reason Eastman chose to decorate his home with flowers—to uplift spirits through the winter. “February, you know, is lovely around here,” Bellavia laughs. “But by getting people in here, we remind them that winter’s almost over. And there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.” As depression-fighting as the flowers themselves can be, watching them grow and develop adds a new level to the good-mood magic. “If you come in one day it’ll look gorgeous,” he continues. “But if you come a few days later, you’ll see the changes as bulbs open up and the flowers change color. You see the differences.” Bellavia notes that a membership to the museum makes it easy to return as often as you’d like.

“After working here fifteen years,” he says, “I still walk in some mornings and just go, ‘wow.’”

John Ernst is a writer and graphic designer based in Rochester. See more of his work at johnmwrites.com.

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story by Michelle Sutton; photos courtesy Ellen Krzemien unless noted

Sunrise over the flower fields

For weeks after my interview with Ellen Krzemien (pronounced CRAZE-men), the beautiful produce I bought from her and her husband Jon stayed crisp in my fridge. Growing vegetables with her father’s expert guidance, The Krzemiens are helping to preserve their century-old family farm in the village of Springville, southeast of Buffalo. In recent years, Krzemien’s flowers and her already-iconic Flower Stand have emerged as a key resource for the farm as well.  

In 2007, Krzemien moved back to the family farm to help her parents. Always interested in home décor, she formed the Home Staging Source, one of the few companies of its kind in western New York. She prepared occupied homes for sale by working with the homeowners on simplifying and beautifying their décor so that potential homebuyers could better see possibilities for themselves. In the early years of the business, she would also pull from her own warehouse of furniture, accents, and art to stage vacant homes on the market. In the off-season, she still does occupied home staging, but she let go of the vacant home staging, which proved too labor-intensive to be profitable.  

The Flower Stand’s logo with an ethereal view on to the flower fields

 An avid gardener since childhood, Krzemien began growing flowers on the family farm to supply her home staging business. “Eventually I started putting bouquets out on the veggie stand and found they sold out quickly,” she says. “Then I was asked to provide flowers for weddings and other events; that evolved into having a U-Pick, which we keep expanding, and beginning in 2017, we started offering CSA flower subscriptions.” A blog post about the Flower Stand appeared on stepoutbuffalo.com in 2018 and went viral, reaching more than 10,000 readers. “Things really blew up after that,” she says. 

Reliable gomphrena blooms well into fall
Daucus carota ‘Dara’ is Queen Anne’s lace, spun out into several colors

So successful has Krzemien’s enterprise been that last fall she was awarded a $25K Ignite Buffalo grant, part of a regional million-dollar Facebook Community Boost grant. As part of the competition, Krzemien presented her business plan (and showed off jugs of her flowers) to the grants panel and community members. She’s using the majority of the money to purchase a flower truck so that she can sell flowers at WNY markets, festivals, and other events and to make deliveries to CSA members and other customers.  

Running a CSA serves a practical purpose for every type of grower: subscriptions are purchased in the winter months, funding the acquisition of seeds and supplies at the time they are needed. “It also helps greatly with planning and infrastructure to know in advance how much income you’ll have coming in,” says Krzemien, a Master Gardener with the Erie County Cornell Cooperative Extension. 

The plywood black bear, a perennial fixture at the back of the flower fields, gets a double-take from new visitors. Photo by Michelle Sutton

Krzemien says she enjoys the CSA and U-Pick sides of the business equally. The CSA is time-consuming in summer and fall in terms of making deliveries, while the U-Pick is labor intensive in the spring. “The U-Pick is up to one-and-a-half acres of flowers and every seedling is planted by hand, so that’s all we do for the month of May and well into June,” she says. “We do staggered plantings every three weeks of things like sunflowers, zinnias, and snapdragons. We also have two rows of perennials (including ornamental grasses), a few shrubs (mostly butterfly bushes), and one whole row of tuberous plants like dahlias that have to be dug up in the fall. The latest addition is 350 perennial lavender plants that will be ready for U-Pick in 2020.”  

Krzemien chooses to plow up the U-Pick field (minus the shrubs and perennials) entirely each spring, creating rows anew and reseeding grass in the aisles. “We like to have wide pathways so that the rows can be accessed by tractors for watering, wagons, strollers, and wheelchairs,” she says. “It’s important to me that this be a place families can come, take pictures, and have a relaxing time.” To that end, Krzemien has a free “Little Library” outpost, where grandparents can select a book to read to kids while their parents are cutting flowers.    

Krzemien is herself a grandmother to her daughter Jessica’s kids, Milana (5) and Luis (Tre) (3), who live nearby. Her daughter Jordan lives in Italy with her new husband. “In early June we went to Italy for their wedding,” Krzemien says. “For obvious reasons, Jordan assured me she would not pick a date in July or August,” she says, smiling. 

Krzemien working at dusk … (and past sunset!)

When poring through seed catalogs in January and February and ordering seeds, Krzemien tries to ensure a selection of annuals that, along with her perennials, will give her flowers from Mother’s Day all the way to Thanksgiving. Penstemon, red hot poker, peonies, delphinium, and yarrow shine in June for early season bouquets, while gomphrena, snapdragons, and rudbeckia are fall stars. “Little bluestem, if picked before seeds dry out and start dropping, is nice as a filler for a fall bouquet,” she says.   

In picking which selections to grow, she looks for good stem length (like tall zinnias instead of compact ones) and finds good options—except for mums. “I do wish I could find a mum that has a decent stem length, but I haven’t had luck with that,” she says. “Also, I make sure to trial things on a limited basis to be sure that their stems grow as described. Sometimes our microclimate doesn’t suit a plant that would grow in a nearby microclimate, or our soil isn’t just right.” 

Celebration of yellow

Weather in greater Buffalo can indeed be a challenge, and Krzemien is subject to the weather-related stress of any farmer. Her biggest challenge, however, is deer damage. “One year they ate the whole 200-foot row of sunflowers,” she says. “It was distressing not so much because of the cost of the seed, but because of the lost growing time.” Repellents tend to be too smelly for a U-Pick setting, and she hasn’t found the perfect fencing solution. “If I use a tall fence, it would absolutely detract from the charm and beauty people come here for—they take pictures of the gardens with the rolling land behind them,” she says. 

Krzemien is proud to be part of the resurgence of locally grown flowers. “I embrace the principles of the Slow Flower movement,” she says. The customers do, too. “They like coming here as a family and knowing they are supporting a local farmer. They understand that buying local flowers is helping Western NY agriculture as a whole. Plus, most people find that fresh local cut flowers are superior in terms of beauty and longevity.”  

Dark velvet pincushion flower (Scabiosa atropurpurea) is prized for both flower and seedpod. Photo by Michelle Sutton
Scabiosa stellata seedpods are popular with florists. Photo by Michelle Sutton.

Having done her own experiments with flower preservation, Krzemien is a bleach fan. “I know that might make some florists cringe, but of all the industry and home methods, I’ve found that the vase with a couple of drops of bleach has the longest-lasting, healthiest flowers.” (She recommends that folks recut the stems and change the water every third day at least.) 

Currently, Krzemien’s excited about the ornamental qualities of Nigella seed pods (“I have local florists come pick from me”); Daucus carota ‘Dara’ (produces white, burgundy, and pink Queen Anne’s lace flowers); lavender; geum; and Calla lily foliage. She grows all her own seedlings except the notoriously fussy Lisianthus, which she buys in plugs. If you visit The Flower Stand this fall or next season, you can talk flowers with her yourself. 

More info:
theflowerstand716.com
instagram.com/theflowerstand716
facebook.com/theflowerstand716

A Few of Krzemien’s Tips on Staging Your Home for Sale:
Landscape and Flowers
– You need to be able to see all or most the house. If you have overgrown trees and shrubs, they have to be tamed. Take down trees and shrubs that are blocking the windows or big ball shrubs that are no longer pleasing to the eye.  

– When using fresh flowers inside the home, stick with whites, browns, and greens—they tend to mesh best with peoples’ belongings and with wood and fabric. White flowers are best to prevent clashing with the surroundings. If you choose a yellow daffodil or something colorful, stick it with lots of earthy green foliage and/or brown grasses or seedpods. 

– For outside curb appeal, whether you do a container planting depends on the house. If you have a big porch, you might want two pots flanking the entry. However, there’s a hierarchy of needs that comes first before containers: are the outdoor lights clean? Is the flag tattered? Is the doormat new and porch swept? Address these first, and then see if containers will enhance the entrance or not.

Michelle Sutton is a horticulturist, writer, and editor.

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A Visit to Ballantyne Gardens

by cathym on September 9, 2019

story by Valerie Shaw; photo courtesy Ballantyne Gardens

When you think of gardening, using your ears is one of the last approaches that might come to mind, but at Ballantyne Gardens in Liverpool, what you hear is just as important as all the other senses. There’s the sweet hum of happy, busy bees, bumbling from flower to flower with big, plump, pollen-pants. There’s the splashing of a beautiful pond and several water plant pools; and the swish of tall, strong perennials perfect for this climate. There’s even a contented cluck-cluck-cluck of vigilant hens, scouting along beneath flowerpots to eliminate pests. 

Bald-face hornet collects nectar from a doublefile viburnum 

My family and I discovered Ballantyne Gardens recently while on my customary birthday plant hunt. Although the nursery is not vast, we spent nearly an hour there, and left feeling we had enjoyed an adventure. From the moment you pull into the small parking lot, your eyes feast. The aesthetic of the gardens are inspiring, intriguing, and thick with the joy of life. Multiple little buildings are nestled along the winding rows of beautiful plants, and there are secrets to discover all over the place. These gardens do what many gardens aspire to: They delight. 

Unique signage

If you are looking for native plants strong enough to weather our summer humidity and frigid winters and create the kind of yard that people slow down for, here is where you can find them. Thanks to organic practices and an understanding of working with our weather, Tim and Lisa Ballantyne offer plants that will not only thrive here in upstate New York, but also encourage pollinators to flock to your gardens. If you need information, the folks there take the time to talk. I enjoyed Tim’s excitement as he pointed out a stand of milkweed growing by the rain spouts. He made sure we could show our children the cute, plump Monarch butterfly caterpillars. Both Tim and Lisa are Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners, actively engaged in learning the newest growing methods and gardening trends. With degrees in horticulture and landscaping, this gardening team has plenty of skill and knowledge and are on point for organic gardening. 

Pond plants

Started in 1997, Ballantyne Gardens has grown and flourished. With a “customers come first” attitude and a gentle, organic approach, Ballantyne is a nursery that local folks love. Even in the cooler months, the nursery is busy. There are houseplants of all kinds, statues, garden decor, seeds, and tools, in addition to a wonderfully whimsical—and plentiful—selection of fairy garden items. The Ballantynes work closely with the Liverpool library, offering classes like wreath making, terrarium building, and herb gardens. They also give presentations to local groups and have hosted bus trips to various amazing gardening adventures, including the New York Botanical Gardens, the Philadelphia Flower show, and other New England destinations. You can follow Ballantyne Gardens on Facebook or check out their blog on their website. 

Flower tower

What I enjoy most about Ballantyne was the overall loveliness. It is the kind of place that curious gardeners can get lost in, be inspired by, and discover treasure. I went home that day with some native plants for my pollinator friends; a vigorous, highly coveted rose plant for my birthday; and some warm, fuzzy memories of very friendly folks and their delightful gardens. 

Hens

You can visit Ballantyne Gardens at their website, ballantynegardens.com or, better yet, hop in your car, and take a drive on over. They’re located at 4825 Hopkins Road in Liverpool. 

Valerie Shaw is a long time garden-center aficionado. Valerie lives in West Monroe, NY, with her husband, two kids, Harvey the wondermutt, and a platoon of compost-making goats and poultry.

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