As we turned off the highway on to a narrow dirt road I could see it in the distance. A patch of land overflowing with flowers of all types; rows and rows of them planted in straight lines but growing out of bounds and wild. It was nearing the end of the growing season and I was so happy to have been invited to tour this one acre piece of paradise created by Travis and Meara of Kokoro Flowers in Belgrade, Montana. (Kokoro means "having heart" in Japanese) You see there aren’t too many flower growers around these parts, in fact they are few and far between, so to have found a couple who were producing hundreds of blooms every week on a one acre patch of leased land seemed like a bit of a miracle to me.
As we pulled in, I saw them carrying buckets of flowers into a small building. Everything was rustic and charming and felt exactly like a small country farm. My fourteen year old daughter , Faith, had come with me, not on purpose, but because she wanted to do some shopping for school clothes “in town”. I told her I would take her, but she would have to join me on my flower farm tour. She reluctantly agreed, saying she would wait in the car, but when we arrived, she was as drawn to the beautiful plot of flowers as I was.
I had met Travis and Meara, briefly, at the farmers market a few days earlier when I picked up my “growers choice” buckets of flowers. They were incredibly busy selling their blooms to a never ending line of enthuiastic shoppers, so we didn’t have a chance to talk that day. I was excited to get some time with them to learn about their business and see what they were able to grow in this sometimes difficult gardening environment.
I now fully understand where the term “down to earth” comes from, because these two embody that demeanor. They had clearly been working on the farm that day and were taking a break to visit with Faith and me. I asked them several questions about how they got started and learned that Meara had originally worked on an organic vegetable farm in Colorado and eventually decided to strike out on her own in Montana.
What began as a plan to grow vegetables quickly, changed after realizing that there were a lot of veggie growers around, but not many flower growers. It was obvious that the business of “growing” was a passion for these two, but they also described the long hours and physical labor involved. It had been a long season already and they were looking forward to the break that would come in just a few weeks.
I asked if we could walk through the farm and they enthusiastically started toward that beautiful patch of land. They apologized for the overgrown weeds in the garden, explaining that they just didn’t have enough time to tend everything, especially since the helper they had planned on for this year had fallen through at the last minute.
To be honest, I didn’t notice the weeds. All I saw were rows of flowers as visions of beautiful arrangements, centerpieces and photo vignettes danced in my head. Oh how I would love to walk out my door and have my choice of gorgeous blooms to cut!
We talked and toured for about an hour as they explained their planting strategy, how they overcame the issue of a very short growing season by using greenhouses and hoop houses and succession planting techniques. We discussed at length what flowers grow best in this climate and the hardiness and fragility of certain plants. (For those of you who are interested Belgrade, Montana is in growing zone 4B.)
I saw several flower varieties I had never seen before and was fascinated by the “local and seasonal” aspect of their farm.
Faith and I were overwhelmed by the hollyhock patch that towered above us and amazed by the sweet pea hoop house that had been shaped into a crazy tunnel that we had to stoop down to walk through. And the scent was absolutely intoxicating!
They also shared another grower’s greenhouse that we all agreed was like walking into a rainforest. It was filled with apricot and nectarine trees, dalias that were almost mythical in their size and a fig tree that held a fascination for these farmers. We laughed about the fig tree that grows wild in our yard in southern California and about how many oranges, tangerines and lemons we harvest in one season without even trying.
I had always taken for granted the ease with which things grow in a climate that is warm and sunny for a majority of the year, but my visit to Kokoro Farm gave me a completely new perspective and appreciation for the care and time it takes to grow flowers in a less than ideal conditions.
Each bloom that these two harvest is hard won and something about that makes them even more beautiful.
As we said goodbye, I was sorry that I had not meet them earlier in the summer. I would have loved to have gotten a grower’s bucket every week to play with in between house guests and entertaining. Faith and I asked if we could wander back into the garden for a few last pictures before the sun set, and they said we could stay as long as we liked. So we did…we watched the sky turn pink in the distance, marveled at those hollyhocks one more time and snapped far too many pictures.
This ended up being one of my favorite memories of our summer in Montana and I will look forward to returning next year when the flowers begin to bloom.
If you would like to read more about Kokoro Flowers, click HERE.