North Fork Flower Farm blooms in Orient

Drianne Benner and Kevin Perry, co-owners of North Fork Flower Farm.

Drianne Benner and Kevin Perry, co-owners of North Fork Flower Farm.

The air is hot and humid as bees and butterflies flit from bloom to bloom at North Fork Flower Farm.

Located in the heart of Orient, the farm is hidden behind a tall fence and layers of brush and bramble. A narrow tree-lined path brings you to the middle of a large open field, where the farm sits like a secret garden.

That’s where co-owner Kevin Perry collects a bouquet of zinnias, as his wife and partner, Drianne Benner, inspects the dahlias.

“The dahlias and zinnias will go until the frost,” Ms. Benner said. “We’ll have plenty to continue harvest and we’ll see what else we can complement them with.”

Mr. Perry and Ms. Benner have had a house in Orient for 15 years. Both work in Manhattan, where he is an architect and she works in financial services marketing and investment management. It had been Ms. Benner’s dream to start a flower farm.

In April of this year they partnered with another Orient couple, Charles Sherman and Karen Braziller, to start North Fork Flower Farm. The couples met at a meeting of the Orient Association, where they discovered their mutual dream.

“Kevin asked what kind of work I did, so I told him I was a retired attorney and that I was interested in starting a flower farm,” Mr. Sherman recounted. “He did a double-take and said, ‘You have to speak to my wife!’ ”

The two couples currently grow flowers on the property of their neighbor, Keith Scott Morton, who owns Old Orchard Nursery on King Street.

A multi-layered zinnia at North Fork Flower Farm. (Credit: Monique Singh-Roy)

A multi-layered zinnia at North Fork Flower Farm. (Credit: Monique Singh-Roy)

“He lent us part of his field,” Mr. Perry said. “It’s only a tenth of an acre, but you can get a lot of flowers out of a tenth of an acre. You can also make your share of mistakes and victories and that is what this year is about.”

As they learn their trade, North Fork Flower Farm is also part of a new movement in flower farming: sustainably raised flowers grown locally, without the use of herbicides or insecticides. While the farm isn’t certified organic, the couple’s goal is to do things as naturally as possible.

“We want to use as much local sustainable materials, as we replenish the soil,” Ms. Benner said. “Our goal is to be more on the natural side of this.”

The locally grown aspect is equally important to them when it comes to the American flower market overall.

“There are a lot of flower farms in the Pacific Northwest. The temperature is perfect and they started the locally grown flower movement,” Ms. Benner said. “Debra Prinzing started ‘Slow Flowers’ — encouraging locally grown flowers — because so many flowers are flown in from all over the world, there’s very few locally grown flowers now.”

Ms. Prinzing is a Seattle-based writer, speaker and advocate for the locally grown flowers movement.

“There’s slow food and then there’s slow flowers,” Ms. Benner said. “That means buy seasonally, but locally  — and that’s what we’re doing. This is the season for zinnias and sunflowers.”

It’s late summer on the farm now, and along with zinnias and sunflowers, dahlias and black-eyed Susans are the season’s dominant flowers. But some unusual and exotic species are also growing.

An up close look at Nicotiana, a flowering tobbaco plant, grown at North Fork Flower Farm. (Credit: Monique Singh-Roy)

An up close look at Nicotiana, a flowering tobbaco plant, grown at North Fork Flower Farm. (Credit: Monique Singh-Roy)

“There are 130-plus varieties of zinnia, so we’re experimenting with different types,” Ms. Benner explained. “Some have multi-layers; others have one layer of petals but are a wonderful complement to the multi-layered ones.”

One of the exotic flowers they’re experimenting with is a flowering tobacco plant called nicotiana.

“There are a couple of varieties,” Mr. Perry explained. “But you can’t go to a florist shop and find nicotiana, by and large.”

Along with the unusual varieties and species, North Fork Flower Farm is also experimenting with scent, making bouquets that combine flowers with herbs like mint and basil, which work as accent plants.

“African basil goes well with any purple flower as an accent and gives out a little scent,” Mr. Perry said. “Our bouquets are not just about flowers, they’re also about mixing in scents from herbs on the farm.”

North Fork Flower Farm is already providing flowers for special events and selling its blooms to area bed and breakfasts and restaurants like Fork & Anchor. They’re also at the Greenport farmer’s market every Saturday.

As this season winds down, the farm’s owners say they hope to rent more land from the Peconic Land Trust next year. But they already have even bigger plans for the future.

“Ultimately, we would love to have our own farm, with a U-pick section and a little barn,” Ms. Benner said. “I have a whole vision, big ideas, but right now we’re just learning.”

For more information, visit northforkflowerfarm.com.

msinghroy@timesreview.com