Retired women reach new success via their gardens
Part 1 -- Flower Farming Power
Many people garden, but the lifestyle is especially suited for the nurturers, caregivers, and agents of change. With a strong natural instinct to care for and provide, nurses in particular seem to thrive in this environment. In Lake Country, there are two women, both retired from careers in nursing, who now use their time and energy to garden. A Greene County vegetable grower shares her herbs with local restaurants and a Hancock County flower farmer sells her fresh-cut market bouquets at local farmer markets. After visiting their farms and learning about their special connections with the land and their gardens, I was inspired to order seeds for my small garden. Their stories serve as inspiration to grow, share, and connect with others during the bounty of this season and beyond.
Belinda Peebles’ farm that is now home also started as a weekend getaway for her and her husband, who both worked in the medical field in Augusta. They bought the property in 1997 and named it Mary-Anna Farm after their two daughters. On weekends, they would drive to Sparta and stay in the old, rustic farmhouse. As the girls left for college, Belinda and husband, Jimmy, knew they wanted to be at the farm permanently.
Belinda’s brother had kept bees on the farm, so she joined the Lake Country Beekeepers Association, which provided welcomed friendships and connections with other beekeepers, gardeners, and growers in the region. Belinda continued to pursue education through the UGA Extension programs and became a Master Gardener, Master Composter, and Master Naturalist. In the following years, this base knowledge helped her tremendously as she ventured into the world of flower farming. Last year, Belinda sold her flowers at the Harmony Crossing and Sandersville farmers markets, and online through Augusta Locally Grown.
Growing specialty cut flowers for the market involves planning months before planting to obtain specific seeds, bulbs, and shrubs that make beautiful, lush, fragrant bouquets week after week in the growing season. The flowers grown at Mary-Anna Farm are grown organically from seed started in the greenhouse on the farm.
Market bouquets purchased on a Saturday morning at the market are cut early Friday morning, conditioned throughout the day, wrapped with care in the evening, and delivered to the market in a conscious, sustainable way to ensure quality blooms and vase life for customers. Within a 24-hour period, the flowers g directly from Belinda’s hands in Sparta into her customers’ hands.
Brenda hopes the recent addition of a high tunnel hoop house will extend her growing season so she can sell flowers at the Harmony Crossing Market earlier this year and through the fall. When I visited in mid-January, she was completing the Floret Online Workshop for her fourth time, a practice she finds valuable as a flower farmer. Floret is a flower and seed company in Washington State that offers educational courses as well as seeds and gear for aspiring flower farmers.
The market bouquet, a customer favorite, is an orchestration of colors, scents, and textures of flowers and foliage. Belinda showed me the barn and table space where she puts together the bouquets. She starts with a focal flower, such as a sunflower or hydrangea, and incorporates four or five additional floral or foliage qualities like spikes, discs, filler and air as she works her way down the table. At the very end, she likes to incorporate herbs to ensure the bouquet speaks to all senses. Last but not least, a little “sparkle” is added by weaving in some Jewels of Opar, a foliage with tiny pink, star-shaped flowers.
Belinda is considerate of techniques to ensure proper harvest time and ensure maximum post-harvest vase life. She encourages customers to trim stems and change water for a longer vase life, but most of all, to make sure they take time to enjoy the flowers. She said she was honored and humbled to know her flowers were used this past year for virtual baby and wedding showers and brought much joy into customers' homes during the pandemic.
Story and photos by Katherine Lacksen Mahlberg.
This article appeared in the March-April 2021 issue of Lakelife Magazine.