Flower farmers & florists navigating uncertain time this Mother’s Day

By on May 4, 2020

Mother’s Day and flowers seem to go hand-in-hand. This year – despite COVID-19 – that doesn’t have to be any different. Flower farmers and florists are still working and depending on customers to help them stay in business.

A wrist corsage of white and cream-colored flowers with a white bow.
McKinnon says corsages are not popular for Mothers Day anymore, but she has seen a resurgence of wrist corsages used in weddings.

While the doors are closed at florists right now, most are still taking orders and making adjustments to be sure employees can keep an appropriate distance from each other while working. Barbara McKinnon at Preston Flowers & Gifts in Cary says she doesn’t get very many – if any – requests for Mother’s Day corsages these days. That’s a tradition that seems to be fading away. Nonetheless, many southerners especially may remember corsages at church on Mother’s Day morning – red or pink for a woman whose mother was still living, white if her mother was deceased. (A little history and etiquette of Mother’s Day corsages can be found at flowershopnetwork.com and mannersmentor.com. Check out the blog at proflowers.com for the history of corsages in general.)

Instead of corsages, flower bouquets are the norm these days. McKinnon says she and her designers have worked out a way to keep fulfilling orders without coming in contact with each other or customers. It’s all contact-free delivery or curbside pickup this year. Call-ins or walk-ins are usually about 70 percent of her business, with online orders making up the other 30 percent. This year’s lead up to Mother’s Day is much different. With no walk-in customers, she hopes the phone continues to ring and that many more people will order online.

A large bouquet of flowers includes pink, white and yellow peonies and other flowers, arranged in a large white pedestal vase.
A recent flower arrangement from Preston Flowers and Gifts.

“It could really go either way,” McKinnon said. “Even if this situation weren’t going on, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day carry us through the summer. I hope in this time more people will decide to send their love in flowers.”

The holiday is even more important since all of her business from weddings and other special events evaporated when those events were canceled. Being optimistic, she’s still ordered a lot of flowers from her suppliers, including local flower farmers. She said one reason she continued with big orders despite uncertainty is to support those local farmers – to be sure they still have income.

“It’s all a guessing game because once we order we can’t send them back,” McKinnon said.

Chris Batts and Amy Giglio of Thymeless Blooms have also made an extra effort to support the North Carolina farms where they usually order flowers. Their business is almost exclusively wedding and event florals, so their business dropped to nothing because of COVID-19 cancellations. In response, they are offering Mother’s Day bouquets directly to individual customers with no-contact delivery. Delivery is something they’ve never done, but Batts said a major reason they wanted to run the special and try something new was to support flower farmers.

“We already had preorders with flower farms across North Carolina [for our April and May events], and they had already put in the effort to be sure they were growing flowers to meet those orders,” Batts said. “We sat down on a Sunday afternoon and said what can we do to make up for our loss of income but also help our flower farmers.”

Batts says getting flowers from North Carolina farmers means the flowers are fresher. Just like seasonal fruits and vegetables, everything may not be available at just the right time for Mother’s Day, but locally grown flowers will have a lot more variety, textures and colors.

“[When we order only from local farms] your mother may not get her favorite flower, but she’s going to get something with a story – that’s been grown on the backs of North Carolinians with great care,” Batts said.

The uniqueness of flowers grown in North Carolina is something Emily Copus also hopes people will think about, especially during this time. She operates Carolina Flowers, a farm in Madison County north of Asheville.

“The quality and freshness you can get right here in North Carolina can’t be beat, and it’s so fun to discover new flower varieties and experience the seasonal changes that happen throughout the year,” Emily said. “There’s something really special about North Carolina peonies in May — and only in May! Getting in touch with the cycle of the seasons gives you so much to look forward to, just like the holidays themselves!”

This year she’s taken her flower sales almost totally direct to consumer via her website. So far she says it has worked out great.

Rebecca Sorenson is another flower farmer who’s been surprised by how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected her business. She and her son run Blawesome Flower Farm in Orange County.

“We were devastated when all this happened,” Sorenson said. “We had several big contracts with UNC [for example], but everything was cancelled.”

Her business has previously been only providing flower subscriptions to businesses such as restaurants, plus special events. When all of that went away she expected some rather bleak times, but instead a totally different customer demand has emerged.

Blawesome is now doing residential deliveries – something they’ve never done before. It’s a direct result of offices and individuals in the area wanting to send flowers to others who are at home right now. Sorenson said many people also just wanted to support farmers in the community.

“I’ve never felt so lifted up and supported by the community,” she said.

At this point, Sorenson has stopped taking more orders for Mother’s Day, but she knows other flower farms and florists would be happy to get the support she’s seen.

Back at Preston Flowers, McKinnon says she’ll probably be able to meet whatever demand comes her way, but she may stop taking orders from the big national ordering services. She says it’s always better to order directly with a local florist or flower farm because it ensures your money goes directly to that local business. Especially, with the uncertainty surrounding this Mother’s Day, florists and flower farmers are hoping for that support just as much as ever.

If you’re looking for a local flower farm, many are listed at localflowers.org. NCSU Cooperative Extension has also posted a list of some cut flower growers at
https://cutflowers.ces.ncsu.edu/nc-cut-flower-growers/

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