Growing together: Southerly Flower Farm brings couple closer to their dreams and each other
Sarah Ervin combs through her flower rows, clipping dahlia stems with her right hand and collecting a bouquet in her left. Beyond the trees on the horizon, she sees black clouds grumbling. Her husband, Matthew, is two rows ahead, running his fingers over each leaf, checking for june bugs and beetles.
By the time rain starts to patter on the couple's Graysville, Tenn., log cabin windows, the flowers are nestled in a pewter pitcher on the windowsill.
Owning a flower farm isn't as romantic as it sounds. There are insects. There are hot days. There are rainy days. And there is dirt — dirt in the ground, dirt in your gloves, dirt in your eyes.
To place an order from Sarah and Matthew Ervin, visit southerlyflowerfarm.com.
But when Sarah and Matthew are in the field together, laughing and pruning chest-high blooms at Southerly Flower Farm, the job feels romantic — at least a little bit.
But there are headaches, too. And delays.
"We're literally learning as we go," Sarah says. "When we encounter a problem, we just have to stop until we figure it out."
The couple began growing flowers here this spring, five years after Mathew's parents left them the 5.6-acre property. This is where Matthew grew up, where his father built this log cabin, where his mother once tended this garden.
They wanted to grow something here to continue the legacy of the land, but what? They first thought about vegetables, but too many skilled farmers already grow food in the area. Flowers, though: They felt familiar.
Sarah had been working with floral arrangements for her side business planning and styling events. Growing the blooms in her bouquets could meld two passions.
But the couple has had to learn on the job. Sarah bought gardening books, posted questions on a flower growers' online forum and visited farms. When they came home from work, she and Matthew planted at night, their craft illuminated by the glow of their car's headlights.
When people learned Sarah wanted to burst into the flower business, some gave her funny looks. You can't be serious. But she fought her insecurity by repeating a mantra. You can do what you want; you just have to be willing to put in the effort.
Some of Sarah and Matthew's attempts have failed. When they tried soilblocking — growing seedlings in blocks of dirt instead of trays — their handiwork was washed out by a storm. None of the vole traps worked — the mouselike rodents still nibble on their flower bulbs. But the couple also has experienced success — the seeds that went directly into the ground have flourished and the trenches around the flower rows drained the field properly.
About a month ago, Matthew left his full-time job landscaping so he could focus on the farm. But the two still depend on Sarah's job as a voluntary benefits specialist at Unum to pay the bills.
The couple has sold bouquets to friends and family members for small events and had a booth at the Chattanooga Market for the first time a few weeks ago. They hope the momentum from those sales will push them toward larger venues and sales at regional markets.
They want their life partner to continue to be their business partner.
"Now that we're actually working toward something," Sarah says, "it's nice to do it together."
When they walk onto their porch, Sarah and Matthew scan to the left. They see a field of tall, healthy flowers.
They didn't worry about which ones would sell. They chose the flowers they love: dependable annuals like zinnias with their many, bunched petals and sunflowers with their sturdy stems, as well as unusual breeds like delicate heirloom mums, which will come up in the fall. Their yard is filled with hues of pink, orange and purple — flowers that look a little wild.
And beyond those, in the spring, they see daffodils. Matthew's mother planted them years ago. They still pop up and are always the first flowers to bloom.
Contact staff writer Maura Friedman at 423-757-6309 or firstname.lastname@example.org.