Traditionally, an orchard is a grouping of at least five fruit trees. The new farm at 810 Seashore Road has twenty-one, but their focus is decidedly flowers.
When the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the STEM learning center they had run for almost two decades, Hedy and Steve Flanders saw a new opportunity and turned a ten-year passion for farming into their full-time work. It began with a move to Cape May County.
“It was a double edged sword,” Hedy said, standing in her breezy workshop on the property. On the workbench, a few mason jars held flower cuttings: some in arrangements, some propagating in water. Centered beneath the reddish-brown rafters was a vintage table that has been in Steve’s family since the 1930s. In an adjacent room, garlic bulbs were curing on wooden shelves. The room will eventually be converted into a cooler for storing flowers during the summer heat, but for now the door stands open.
Last April, the land behind the Flanders’ house was a flat field. When they first toured the property, their real estate agent tried to sell them on the house’s features, but the Flanders didn’t care about those. It was the growing conditions they wanted, and the sunlight here was perfect.
From the start, their move to Cape May included plans for a flower farm. The pair spent the past year creating the two flower fields and perennial garden that runs along the side of the property. At various places, and in a pair of arcs near the house, are the fruit trees that comprise Steve’s orchard: apple, plum, pear, peach, cherry, fig, and a single apricot. The fruit they bear isn’t for sale; it’s for the family to eat.
But the flowers, those are another matter.
The fields are difficult to spot from the road as you drive past, but pulling onto the U-shaped driveway, they came into view behind the greenhouse, row after row of color winking at us as we wondered where to park. Hedy called from the field that the driveway was fine and came over to welcome us. It was a sunny Wednesday morning, an hour before lunch. My photographer immediately disappeared around the front of the house for pictures, and I followed Hedy into the greenhouse where her husband, Steve, was working.
(They’re handshake people. Being from the midwest, I appreciated it.)
They agreed on the stop order for our tour and into the flower fields we went! Seashore Flower Farm grows all of their flowers on site, with a focus on heirloom and specialty varieties. As we walked, Hedy pointed out rows of zinnia, lisianthus (a rose-like gentian), bachelor’s button, basil (used as a filler and for fragrance), strawflower (they feel and crinkle like paper to the touch!), blushing lanterns, cosmos, eucalyptus, yarrow, dahlia, and heirloom mums growing for the fall. The last of the sweetpeas, an annual that Hedy described as old fashioned, clung to wire supports. She snipped a few so we could experience the fragrance, which was reminiscent of a hyacinth and pansy. Along the back row, a robust Montauk daisy was gathering energy for its bloom later this year.
When my photographer joined us in the fields, Hedy laughingly asked that we crop out the weeds. The farm doesn’t use pesticides, embracing organic gardening practices, which means pesky weeds had popped up between the flower rows—weeds they will have to remove. But it also means not bringing pesticides into your home or wedding.
“It’s a labor of love,” Hedy said of the farm, and you can feel she means it.
Near the front of their property, a rectangular rose and peony garden was home to sixty peonies; beyond it was a produce garden with young tomatoes only a foot tall. We visited too late in the year to see the peonies in bloom, but the garden will be spectacular next spring. From there we explored the length of the perennial garden, home to hydrangeas, lilac, ninebark, seven-son flower, a mockorange Illuminati, spirea, purple butterfly bush, several blueberries, blackberries and raspberries, beauty and winter berries, snowberries, and a crab apple tree. Throughout the tour, Hedy explained how various plants could be used in arrangements and bouquets—even the fruit bushes!
She and Steve beamed when asked how they enjoyed their first winter here. A few cold snaps aside, they loved it. The sunlight on their property is what they had hoped, and our growing season is long. Steve voiced his enthusiasm for Cape May’s mix of both history and agriculture, from our farms to backyard gardens.
The mild weather here means a short winter, which means there’s work to do on the farm pretty much year-round. According to Hedy, “You’re more aware of [the seasonality] when working the land.” She and Steve live on-site and handle all of the farm work themselves. Their three children (two away at college, one graduated) don’t share their parents’ passion for farming, though Hedy seemed optimistic that they might come around to it someday.
Her enthusiasm is infectious. While we paused beside an herb garden (did you know that you can put mint in a bouquet? now you do!), she offered advice for our own gardens, such as the no till, no dig method of planting: Lay down cardboard, being sure to cover cracks or weeds will discover them; cover it with six inches of compost; and plant in it. Annually, add another inch of compost. Brilliant!
Hedy also encourages everyone to grow garlic: Plant bulbs in the fall (top up, one inch down, about six inches apart) and leave them alone for the winter; cut back the scapes they’ll send out in the spring (they’re edible!), and harvest mid-to-end of June once the bottom three leaves turn brown and fall.
She sent us home with garlic to plant later this year. Wish us luck.
And as if running a flower farm isn’t enough work, they also grow and harvest their own cabbage, which Hedy uses to make kimchi. This spicy Korean condiment is available by the jar or subscription, with pick up at the farm. The next batch will be ready soon! You can order at capemaykimchi.com.
Starting this month, Seashore Flower Farm will offer twice-weekly U-Pick sessions that combine education about flower growing with bouquet making. Tickets are $25 per person and can be reserved on their website. Bouquets are also available to order for pick up, or you can buy small ones from the self-service stand on their front lawn. They also offer a la carte wedding packages and supply flowers to local businesses, providing a locally grown and sustainable alternative to mail-order flowers.
(Pro tip: Hedy says the best month for wedding flowers is September, since you’ll have access to both summer and fall local blooms!)
To hear her talking about stem length, color, texture, fragrance, filler flowers, etc. you might come away with the impression that Hedy sees herself as a designer—and her bouquets, which you can browse on Instagram, are lovely. But while she does enjoy it, Hedy sees herself as a farmer.
“My first love is planting and growing the flowers,” she said. “I’d rather be out in the field.”
Seashore Flower Farm is about two minutes north of the West Cape May Bridge at 810 Seashore Road. If you’re traveling from Cape May, it will be on your left a bit past Town Bank Road. They have a sign out front. The flower stand is self service, but please purchase a U-Pick reservation to tour the farm. Learn more at seashoreflowerfarm.com.
Photos by Michelle Giorla