Farmer Steph’s Favorite Flowers to Grow With Kids
Every year our garden crops rotate, our garden footprint grows, and new varieties are requested by restaurants and families. I love that people connect deeply with what we grow and that they care to learn the variety and see what other fruits and veggies inspire them. Another thing I love about growing & farming for my community is that if you listen, your customers are always telling you what they want. Through selling at farmers markets, the farm stand, direct on the field, and wholesale to restaurants, we are always getting feedback from our community about what people want from the farm. You know what the BIGGEST TREND has been over the last 3 seasons — FLOWERS!
Pre-covid, the flower industry was quietly buzzing on social and traditional media with growers and designers like Floret Flower Farm, Jeff Leatham, and Farmgirl Flowers. Once Covid set-in people really started turning to flowers as a sense of relief and joy. For me, daydreaming about growing, harvesting, and arranging flowers has been a very happy relief for me in stressful times. I so encourage you to play with flowers in anyway that lights your heart! Whether it’s growing a few sweet peas in your home garden, or potting a few snapdragons and asters on your porch, or planting a dahlia or peony that reminds you of someone – I hope you can find joy in the face of a flower.
At Farm to Table Kids Inc. we farm with kids. We are a non-profit educational farm camp for kids and families, and we have been growing with kids as our core focus since 2009. Our mission is to help children find what light’s their heart in Nature through organic farming, farm to table cooking and nature crafting. We farm on a 65 acre land-trust in N. Yarmouth Maine (zone 5b). We grow organic vegetables, fruit and flowers.
● The following recommendations are based upon seeds that I have personally grown for Farm to Table Kids Inc., so please ask questions and I’ll do my best to answer them.
● I purchase all my seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, an employee-owned company in Maine, and High Mowing (VT), and Floret Farm (WA).
● More information about growing organic veggies and flowers with kids can be found @ www.farmtotablekids.com
Below are my favorite FLOWER choices to grow with kids:
1. Teddy Bear (or Giant Sungold) – do I even need to explain myself here! LOOK AT IT!! No wonder it’s called Teddy Bear (!) you seriously just want to snuggle this flower! For kids that love textures, they will LOVE this fluffy flower. This is a branching sunflower (which means the flower will branch and produce several wonderful blooms to cut and come again to enjoy).
The Teddy Bear is the dwarf variety and the Sungold is the larger/mature variety. The
Teddy Bear produces stunning and unique heads full of brilliant orange petals from the ends to the center…a KIDS FAVORITE! Another wonderful trait of this flower is that if you plant it in a pot or container it will grow about a foot, but if you plant it out in the garden it will grow up to 4 feet. Making it a great choice for container gardens too.
The Teddy Bear will continually produce lovely cut flowers for months, as long as you continuously harvest the blossoms. If someone asked me for just one flower recommendation for kids – the Teddy Bear would be it.
2. Cosmos – Sensation Mix
Cosmos are flouncy flowers. For some reason the way they sway in the breeze and bounce on the borders of the fields remind me of wearing my favorite sun dress. They just dress up the garden in a simple, but elegant way. They are the perfect “farmhouse flower” everything about them is simple and beautiful. They have sweet soft curved petals and a bright yellow center. The petals come in a variety of colors and shapes – from sea shell (curved petals) to double-click (double headed full petals) you can find a variety and color that fits your garden’s personality. I always use cosmos in my garden borders because they will grow into a lovely big bush if you give them space. I grow about 300 cosmo plants at the farm and they serve as fantastic flower filler. My favorite varieties of Cosmos are: double click cranberry and afternoon white.
3. Snapdragons –
A New England cut flower must have. I say this because in New England our growing season can be short, the cold winter months can be long, and the snapdragon is usually one of the fist seeds I plant in the winter, and one of the first seedlings I plant out in spring. I love snapdragons because they start out with a seed the size of dust and end up a strong, cold-hardy, full-season producer. The plants are tall and add a stunning texture and pop of color to cut flowers. Snapdragons come in so many varieties and colors. You can source dwarf or full size plants. My favorite cut flower field producer is the Madame Butterfly variety in any color – but this season I went heavy on the Madame Butterfly Bronze (pictured left).
4. Zinnia – Benary’s Giant Series A classic. A New England farmstand would not be complete without buckets of bright-faced zinnias. Zinnias are easy to plant – the seeds are manageable for little hands. They come in a rainbow of bright colors, or you can choose colors you want for your garden. My favorite thing about zinnias are their star centers. Look closely, you’ll see what I mean.
Two pieces of advice with zinnias:
1. The stems of the zinna are naturally hollow so when you harvest with little kids make sure they cut with snips and do not pinch/strangle the stem and put them in water immediately. Zinnias are “dirty flowers” meaning they make the water murky so be sure to give them fresh water every day for extended vase life.
2. They will grow longer, strong stems if they are not crowded. Be sure to give the plants the space they need (as outlined on the seed package) and your stems will be nice and strong.
Pictured below: carmine rose & mixed bouquet of zinnias with dahlias. I love Carmine Red and Salmon Rose.
5. Strawflower – If you want to craft with flowers, you need to make strawflower your new best friend. I grow strawflowers for the absolute awesome joy of making people happy with FLOWER CROWNS. I LOOOOVE making them, wearing them, gifting them. People should wear flower crowns as a ‘regular’ fashion accessory everyday! So join me in this flower crown movement and grow some strawflower. Then go to the Farm to Table Kids YouTube channel and watch all the cool ways you can have fun with this magnificent gem. From seed to crown – she is a total joy to play with and grow.
Strawflower will produce all season long and is lovely to seed harvest from when you let the blooms open. Obv, hang to dry and then nature craft sweet farm friends!
Pictured below: strawflower drying @ farmtotablekids greenhouse & Farmer Steph in a strawcrown, her natural summer look (haha).
6. Sweet Pea – is such a classic fairytale flower. The way it vines and climbs makes it brilliant for areas where you want vertical coverage. You can plant these hardy plants out in early Spring and they will produce throughout the summer. The smell is heavenly and Sweet Pea will always be a flower that reminds you of someone that feels special. And honesty, just handfuls dotted throughout your house in petite jars adds a flavor and smell to your home you will cherish.
7. Asters – the newest addition to my “favorite list.” I love this flower because I grow for KIDS and we can all agree this flower is obviously where a flower fairy would live. And we wholly support garden fairy pollinators, and so we grow Asters! I grow Johnnh’s Seed King apricot & coral lavender. The colors are soooo whimsical and the vase life is terrific. You’ll have fun with this flower.
Farm Friends, I hope this list gets you excited to either grow your own flowers, or support your local farms that do.
Please remember the best way to ensure extended vase life is to give fresh water to your flowers everyday. Buying flowers at your local farmer’s markets or growers is a great way to support local agriculture.
For more information about organic farming with kids visit: www.farmtotablekids.org
Farm to Table Kids is a non-profit 501c3 Educational Farm Campus in Maine