Nearly 30 years ago, Renee Arcand and her husband Dennis tilled and fertilized an acre of their rural 10-acres so they could plant flowers for Renee to sell at local farmers markets.
Through the years Arcand made a point of learning the names and characteristics of hundreds of varieties, mastering techniques for coaxing them from seeds, nurturing them, harvesting them and arranging them.
Though she’s never advertised her business, her unique, natural-style design skills combined with the huge variety of annuals and perennials she produced began attracting brides and other wedding planners through word of mouth. Then the movement toward buying local produce really kicked in, leading to revenue growth of about 60 percent just since 2013, according to Arcand.
These days, Live Flowers LLC focuses almost entirely on producing hundreds of varieties of arranged and loose flowers for special events.
Crain’s Twin Cities spoke with her about industry trends, challenges in the business and continuing to grow flowers after she retires this season.
Q: How did you learn about this business?
A: I was formerly a secretary with the state Department of Agriculture, but I learned most of what I know (about floriculture) through the Forest Lake Garden Club.
Q: Tell us about your growing season.
A: Spring through September is always busy. I start growing seedlings each February in my basement, under fluorescent lighting. This year I took seeds with me because I was on vacation in Missouri for three weeks in March. If I would have waited until I got home, it would have been too late to get started. Through the season, Dennis helps out by weeding and otherwise caring for the gardens.
I’ve worked up to 12-hour days in the past, but since I mainly do weddings now I’ve only had to [do that] a couple [times] this year.
Q: What kinds of flowers are ideal for arrangements?
A: Not every flower is a good cut flower; they’re taller than other varieties, have longer stems and often have bigger blooms. They need to have a good vase life, and ideally be easy to harvest and be resistant to disease, pests and drought.
Q: What trends are in demand these days?
A: More people are open to a variety of colors, and many want all-bright colors like yellow, gold, purple and red.
Q: How do you get everything done with no employees?
A: I pace myself, and most of the time I won’t do more than one wedding per day. And a lot of people now just want the pails of flowers because they’re rearranging them themselves. And that’s fine with me.
Q: Within what territory do you work?
A: Scandia, Marine, Stillwater and Forest Lake, though my cut flowers have been taken to weddings as far away as Chicago. Local flowers are now extremely popular.
Q: What’s your competition like for growing blooms?
A: There are many more flower farmers now than there were 10 years ago, not necessarily in northern Washington County but in the seven-country metro. Ten years ago, there were maybe two.
Q: What have been your greatest business challenges through the years?
A: Staying ahead of the weather – it’s always too hot, cold, wet or dry -- and insect problems. Right now it’s the Japanese beatle. The tornado that went through in 2008 didn’t damage my flowers but took down 20 trees and several big limbs, one of which hit my delivery truck. We had a really big hailstorm here in June – the biggest ever. We lost about 10 percent of our cutting garden, in addition to damage to our roofs and cars. Some plants in our perennial garden were just shredded, and some were so decimated they actually disappeared.
Q: What advice would you have for someone starting in this business?
A: Do this for love and fun, not for the money. If you want to make a living, you probably should pick something else. Florists make a pretty good living, but growers only have three months out of the year (to earn income).
Second, there’s an international Facebook group called Flower Farmers that’s outstanding for information, and I certainly wish it would have been around when I started. I learned pretty much on my own, through experimenting.
Q: What’s been the greatest reward of this business?
A: I’m still enjoying sharing flowers with everyone who loves Minnesota-grown flowers. And I’m very proud of all the word-of-mouth clients I’ve had in the last 10 years. After I retire I’ll still grow quite a few flowers for fun. I love growing them from seed – they’re like your babies or children, you see them growing up and feel so proud and protective.