Uncommon flowers attract bees and butterflies to a likewise non-traditional farm in Orient.
North Fork Flower Farm, located north of Route 25, is hidden from street view, just beyond a long dirt driveway on a two-acre lot now in full bloom for summer.
The property is divided in two distinct designations — annuals to the west and perennials to the east — totaling hundreds of varieties of flowers, native grasses and herbs.
North Fork Flower Farm is a relative newcomer to an agricultural community comprising venerable farming families that have been working the local land for centuries. The venture started two years ago, born out of the chance meeting of two Orient couples who live on Village Lane.
Kevin Perry and his wife, Drianne Benner, have owned a house in the hamlet for more than 15 years. Both worked in Manhattan, he as an architect and she in marketing and finance. It had been Benner’s dream to start a flower farm.
Timing was fortuitous when the pair struck up a conversation with Charles Sherman and Karen Braziller at an Orient Association meeting, where they discovered a neighbor shared their dream.
“Kevin asked what kind of work I did, so I said I was retired. I was a lawyer in my former life, and I always loved gardening and my dream has been to start a flower farm,” Sherman recalled. “He said, ‘You have to speak to my wife!’ ”
The couples began collaborating on the farm in April 2016. It started small. The partners leased a tenth of an acre lot from neighbor Keith Scott Morton, who owns Old Orchard Nursery off of King Street. North Fork Flower Farm relocated to its current parcel last year.
The increase in acreage translated to more experimentation with the unusual plants the farm is becoming known for. Each season, visitors can discover unique finds that include sunflowers in shades of red along with daffodils that resemble tulips with three layers of petals — most only have one.
“We are always playing around with trial and error,” Perry said. “We look for plantings you can’t find when you walk into a regular florist.”
The majority of plants are grown from seed. It is a sticking point for the owners, who’ve become immersed in the “slow flower movement.” All the plantings are grown locally and sustainably without the use of herbicides or insecticides — though the farm isn’t certified organic.
“Fifty years ago, Long Island used to be full of fresh flower farms,” Perry explained. “Today, most of the ones on the market are grown on [international] industrial farms and imported. It is just like what the slow food movement has encouraged. People want to eat local. There is a demand for locally grown, seasonal flowers.”
Zinnias, sunflowers, dahlias, cosmos and black-eyed Susans are in full bloom at the farm this month.
The farm sells its flowers pre-cut or for transplant into your own garden. Sherman shared this handy guide for growing and welcoming the outdoors in with some fresh cuts.
Dahlias are the most popular bloom at North Fork Flower Farm. The stand carries about 10 varieties in a wide variety of vibrant colors and sizes — ranging from button-sized all the way to dinner plate-sized.
Dahlias come into bloom midsummer and stick around until the first frost. In the ground, dahlias thrive in full sun and warm temperatures.
The tubal perennial can also be easily stored inside during the winter months and replanted each spring. Store it in a coldish space so the plants go dormant without freezing to death; Sherman suggests a basement.
These annuals are commonly found in North Fork gardens. The blooms are typically white, pink or red, but multicolor varieties with more robust flowering shapes can be found at North Fork Flower Farm.
Cosmos start cropping up around June and last through the frost. Sherman staggers the blooms through succession planting — seeding a new batch of cosmos roughly every two months to ensure a hearty bloom lasts all season. They also like full sun.
These colorful flowers bloom from mid- to late June until the frost. Similar to cosmos, these annuals are best planted in succession (four to six weeks, Sherman recommended) to guarantee an entire season of robust blooms.
Zinnias also like full sun and are well known for attracting pollinators into the garden.
There are two basic varieties of sunflowers: one that branches out with multiple blooms and one produces a single stem with a single bloom, Sherman said. North Fork Flower Farm has both — and not just in yellow. The farm’s sunflowers come up showcasing uncommon maroon, orange and even multicolor petals.
Sunflowers like to be grown from seed and don’t handle transplantation well — it’s best to get them pre-cut this year. You’ll be able to find them starting in mid-July until around the first frost.
Black-eyed Susans started budding in June, bringing with them vibrant bright yellow and orange blooms that remind us summer has arrived.
The tender perennials enjoy full sun and will stay round through the fall. Tip: Deer tend to avoid black-eyed Susans.
HOW TO ARRANGE THEM
The perfect bouquet is largely in the eyes of the beholder. But whether you’re getting the fresh cuts from a farm stand or snipping at home, there are a few pro tips for designing a good-looking arrangement with staying power.
Sherman recommends choosing a variety of colors and textures to keep things visually intriguing. Select large, brightly colored blooms (think: sunflowers) as a focal point and add in lush, mostly green filler plants (such as feverfew) to create balance. Sherman also recommends including herbs — a hallmark of North Fork Flower Farm’s bouquets — and plants with different shapes, placing ones that droop down next to sturdy upright stems, for instance.
Prepare your flowers by cutting the bottom at a 45-degree angle and stripping all the foliage from the stem beneath the waterline. This will discourage the growth of bacteria and help preserve the flowers.
Keep the flowers healthy by changing the water and cutting just the very ends of the stems every few days. Sherman also recommends adding a bactericide, which can be found in any garden store, to prolong its shelf life.