Some flowers are snipped with the morning dew still clinging to their petals, but those that come in last each day from the 19 acres of fields at Newbury’s Tendercrop Farm are different. These blooms don’t need to be rapidly prepared for the customers who flow through the doors at Tendercrop’s three farm stands. This harvest, as mangers Kathy Richmond and her sister Colleen Hamilton well know, is meant to go for the long haul.
Richmond figures her tenure at Tendercrop’s gift shop to be around 27 years. “I started when my daughter was in preschool,” she recalls of a career focused primarily on flowers. “My first job at Tendercrop was making bows for holiday items,” she says. “I was paid by the bow.” While her workshop is still based at the Newbury location, she manages the gift shops for all of Tendercrop’s locations—including the Wenham and Dover, New Hampshire, farm stands. Throughout the growing season, you’ll find Richmond upstairs in the Newbury loft, readying bundles to hang from the rafters of the old post-and-beam barn. When the fields are put to bed and the crop is all stored, she joins floral designer Margerita Escabar to create wreaths and arrangements, preserving the harvest for autumn, winter, and beyond.
Not many farm stands focus on dried flowers, but zeroing in on that market is just one examples of Matt Kozazcki’s foresight. Tendercrop Farm, dedicated to diversity from the moment Kozazcki bought the farm in 1986, does not follow the crowd. In a clear example of Yankee ingenuity, he saw an opportunity to extend the shelf life of his produce. Fresh flowers are a longstanding tradition at Tendercrop Farm. Bouquets that don’t sell in a flash are whisked away and when appropriate (many crops are grown specifically for dried destinations) recycled. Last year, the farm’s dried crop—a huge barn stocked full of inventory—sold out. In autumn, at the Newbury location, row upon row of colorful bundles beg customers to take them home and create arrangements, wreaths, swags, and other nature-inspired displays for the holidays. Literally, this craft is as easy as cutting the rubber bands off the bundles and matching the dried flowers with the right vases or tucking them into a base for display.
The ultimate smart investment, it’s no wonder dried flowers are popular right now. Unlike fresh flowers that linger for a couple of weeks, in a best-case scenario, Richmond figures that her dried flowers can enjoy a lifespan of five years or longer if the flowers are staged indoors and protected from bright light and moisture. When she reels off a quick list of favorite dried flowers, it’s a roll call of flora that has been popular for ages, including yarrow, wheat, hydrangea, lavender, cockscomb, larkspur, sunflowers, strawflowers, statice, globe thistle, sweet William, and German statice. Plus, the dried flower craft is not only about blossoms—chili peppers and dried artichokes are apropos, and herbs are also dried for their aromatic leaves.
In dry weather, the harvest comes in from the field daily, pre-bundled and ready to hang. The rubber bands that hold the bundles are tightened as the stems dry and shrink in size—a process that takes a few weeks. An opened paperclip is inserted into the rubber band to hang the bundles upside down on clothesline-like ropes. For best drying, the flowers should be kept in an airy location, away from bright light.
But that’s only the beginning. Most bundles are destined to fill vases or be woven into seasonal crafts. Arrangements are a no-brainer. For wreaths, simply snip the stems to an inch or two from the blossom and tuck that stem securely into a grapevine base. The Tendercrop team also makes bases of dried German statice or dried grasses, adding blossoms to create one-of-a-kind gifts. The resulting arrangements make thoughtful, unique gifts with a personal touch and lasting power. Protected from the weather, a dried flower display brings nature indoors long after the growing season has come and gone. These are flowers with a past and a long, colorful future.