When Ashley Bolton decided she wanted to start a flower growing business on the chicken farm she owns with her husband in a rural corner of Alabama, she hit the books.
Her only gardening experience up until that time had been at the just-for-fun level, tending gardens on their 60-acre farm in Russellville, Alabama.
“When I knew I wanted to make this a professional thing, I just hit blogs and podcasts and books and every possible source of information that there was just to research it on my own,” she said. “I wanted to learn as much as possible to really figure out how it was different from just the home garden. Obviously, it’s a whole different scale.”
The result of Bolton’s efforts is The Posey Patch, a flower farm of about 300 rose bushes and 300 dahlia plants, along with an assortment of other blooms including daffodils, tulips, zinnias and sunflowers.
“I just wanted to give it a try and see if it was something that we could make feasible,” she said. “We live on a farm, so we’re familiar with that lifestyle. We thought it would be good to try to use the remainder of the property for something that could be productive.”
The Posey Patch is in the midst of its first season. So far, so good, Bolton says, especially considering the unexpected effects of the coronavirus.
“I didn’t have high expectations for the first year,” she said. “When Covid happened, I knew there wasn’t going to be anything crazy because all the weddings and events where a large amount our flowers would go to weren’t going to be happening. So, we’ve kind of adjusted.”
Bolton’s goal was to sell wholesale to florists and designers. But she has had to change up her game plan to offer more direct-to-consumer sales via her website. She also offers some bouquets on consignment at a shop in nearby Florence, Alabama.
She also wants to attract the home gardener by selling nursery-style plants.
“A lot of people garden around here and there’s a high demand for that. It’s very popular,” she said. “I want to bring in some unique roses for kind of a dual purpose: Show the cut flower and hope people will love it and want to buy the plant.”
Bolton has gotten The Posey Patch off the ground while holding down her full-time job as a technical expert for the Social Security Administration. She also has two young daughters, who like the flower-end of the business, but not so much the weeding, she said. Still, it’s all quality family time “whether they realize it or not,” she said.
For all the work of planting and weeding and fending off plant-eating pests, The Posey Patch has been a source of satisfaction for Bolton. On her website, she says, “I enjoy the manual labor in the flower field a million times more than anything else I have ever done.”
For Bolton, one of the unexpected benefits of The Posey Patch has been becoming part of the floral community. Everyone, she said, has been welcoming and supportive.
“I’ve made a lot of contacts through networking,” she said. “I just love the whole community of flower farms and growers and designers. They’re just so supportive of each other and I just really enjoy it.”
The Posey Patch recently became a Certified American Grown farm. Bolton says she sought the certification for marketing purposes but has found the community it has opened up to be just as valuable.
“It’s a good way to break the ice and talk to folks,” she said. “It’s been way more helpful than I anticipated.”
In her first season, Bolton has learned that growing flowers “isn’t for the faint of heart.” Coping with pests is particularly vexing.
“When you have a home garden, you might not pay much attention to it and just think, ‘Oh, they ate my garden a little bit. That stinks.’ Now it’s like, ‘No, those are my roses, that’s my livelihood!’ I call them very bad names.”
Still, the payoff eclipses those challenges.
“Anytime I come in with an armload of flowers, my husband laughs at me because he says I’m like a little kid, I get so excited,” she said. “You’d think by now I’d be used to it but I am excited every time I come in with more flowers. That’s a good thing. I guess it kind of keeps us young.”