Published 9:20 am Monday, August 1, 2016
Bluff Park resident uses passion for gardening with Fig and Fern Flowers
Written By Grace Thornton
Photos By Dawn Harrison
It wasn’t really flower farm dreams that got Kate Graham on the path to being a local grower.
It was largely that she had a large yard.
“We live deep in the middle of Bluff Park in a house with a lot of space outside, and we love it here,” she says.
That love only grew when she found herself home more during daylight hours after the birth of their first child six years ago.
“Our yard looked like a football field, and I picked up gardening. It wasn’t long before I realized it was something that I just really enjoyed,” Graham says. “Everyone has that thing that brings down their blood pressure, and I quickly figured out that this was my thing.”
She started with vegetables, but soon she was adding in some flowers for her friends. That part grew into something a little bit bigger every year until flowers edged out the vegetables altogether, she says.
“It was a gradual evolution,” Graham says.
And she loves where she’s found herself now as Fig and Fern Flowers, a small-scale urban flower farm that provides seasonal-cut flowers and weekly, bimonthly and monthly seasonal bouquet subscriptions.
She also does freelance flower design and customized arrangements for events from showers to engagement parties.
“I realized that I enjoyed a utilitarian garden, the kind where I could cut things and have them in my house,” she says. “Over time, my yard became a very large cutting garden.”
And she found she loved arranging just as much as the gardening.
“If I only grew it all and either left it in my yard or sold it to others to arrange, I’d miss out on a lot of the creativity of using the elements together,” she says.
So what’s her style?
“I grow a lot of things that are supporting elements of a large beautiful flower, things that can make beautiful and creative and interesting looking, like a lot of texture and greenery and different smaller supporting flowers,” Graham says. “That’s just something I’ve enjoyed experimenting with — what does well in Alabama, what doesn’t and what continues to just bloom and bloom.”
One of her favorite flowers to hold down that central spot in the arrangement is the dahlia, a flower you almost can’t get if you don’t know somebody, she says.
“They are something that to get beautiful ones, you really have to know a local grower,” Graham says. “You can’t go to the grocery store and buy them. You almost can’t even go to Whole Foods and buy them. They just don’t transport well.”
But there are 50,000 varieties of dahlia, and they look totally different, she says. “Some are one-inch ball-shaped ones, and some of them are 12 inches and have ruffly petals and don’t look like they’re in the same family,” Graham explains.
English roses are another popular one at Fig and Fern.
“They’re a little more sought after because they are just a little more rare — they’re another one that doesn’t transport well,” she says.
But she has a bunch of other flowers growing in her backyard too, from Queen Anne’s lace to Chinese forget-me-nots to amaranth, which look “like long strings of a pink wig.”
She’s got a little bit of a lot of things, but that’s just the way she wants it.
“I’ve learned to maximize the space,” she says. “Things are great for the life stage where we are. I love doing this and sharing it with my kids. It’s just a really sweet season and a lot of fun.”
It’s all an experiment that Graham really can’t get enough of.
“I really feel like myself out there in the garden, and I just really feel God in my gardening and see His creativity playing out in the richness of creation,” she says.
So far, their expansion plan hasn’t extended past her husband, Will, tilling up another small section of the yard each year and expanding the garden by about 20 feet or so.
“A pipe dream maybe would be to have a flower farm, but we’ll see. For now, things are great in the life stage where we are. We do life with the people in the community we live in,” Graham says.
Maybe a more realistic dream would be that their entire half-acre would grow flowers, but then her children — now 6, 4 and 1 years old — would lose their space to play.
“I think I would get overruled,” she says with a laugh.
But the family loves the business. Her 6-year-old daughter has taken over the lone vegetable garden since mom’s distracted with the flowers — and she likes taking ownership of that project.
And Will says he’s proud of what his wife produces.
“When you realize Kate has been coaxing and nurturing her flowers to maturity for months or even years and that she is joyfully relinquishing them to you in their finest hour, you see her arrangements differently,” Will says. “You glimpse the beauty of the artist in the art. I love that.”
And there’s a benefit for him too, he says.
“The more she gardens, the less grass I have to mow,” he says.
For more information, visit Figandfernflowers.com.