Four Generations Reflect on Loudoun’s Local Flower Renaissance

By Dana Armstrong

Rural Loudoun County may be known for its vineyards and breweries, but another industry is blossoming in the countryside: flower farms.

The entrepreneurs leading the growing sector aren’t just blending agriculture and artistry, but also promoting a more sustainable business model in the once import-dominated business.

Hope Flower Farm Celebrates Dahlias

Holly Heider Chapple is a wedding and event floral designer with over 25 years of experience.

She grew up in Lovettsville with her parents, Albert and Sheila Heider. They maintained Heider Nursery (later sold to Meadows Farms Nursery) with 100 acres of bushes, shrubs, and Christmas trees used for landscaping.

As a kid, Chapple hated her daily chores at Heider Nursery. But once she started cutting and designing her parents’ bushes and shrubs into arrangements, she fell head over heels into floral design.

Her career began at 22 and has led her to teach floral design workshops in New York, London, China, and Russia. She enjoyed the creativity and flexibility of the job, using it as a means to raise her seven children with her late husband Evan Chapple.

Despite Chapple’s world-renowned status in the floral industry, she is convinced that the best blooms come from her backyard.

“Farm fresh flowers are more unique, elegant, and have nuances. They don’t look like they’re manufactured like so much of what we purchase from other countries. It is very cookie cutter, and so much of the uniqueness of each stem is bred out of it so they can get a consistent product,” Chapple said.

Hope Flower Farm owner Holly Heider Chapple has taught floral design around the world, and said the best blooms come from her own backyard. [Dana Armstrong/Loudoun Now]

In 2015, Chapple and her husband bought Hope Flower Farm in Waterford. It was conveniently located just two miles from their home and offered ample space to grow flowers, run a bed and breakfast, host weddings, start a winery, and teach budding floral designers.

She takes her inspiration from the garden for her floral designs and enjoys crafting romantic arrangements well-suited for weddings. Her wedding receptions are known for making centerpieces out of trees and transforming spaces into floral wonderlands dripping with colorful and textured floral installations.

“We grow thousands of tulips, blooming branches, anything and everything that I can grow here, short of roses [which she imports from a farmer in Bogota, Colombia certified for sustainability]. I grow in mass so that I can supplement my designs for my brides and grooms and now also for the guests that purchase from Hope Flower Farm.”

Chapple sells her flowers through a CSA, on her website, and right on her farm. You can come by during the farm’s open hours to pick your own flowers and enjoy a wine tasting. She also runs a gift shop at her farm that sells flower-related products. One of these products is her own patented armature—a gridded mechanic used for flower arranging that is a sustainable replacement for floral foam.

This is part of a recent shift to make her flower designing and farming practices more sustainable.

“We have a new farmer who’s helping us right now, and we have not used any chemicals this year which is really a big deal for us. Staying on top of the weeds and keeping everything really pure, we’ve managed to do that all year long and that is our intention.”

For the past two years, she has also held flower festivals on her farm celebrating peonies in the spring and dahlias in the fall. This year’s Dahlia Days Festival will take place on Sept. 24-25.

The event will feature live music, live floral demonstrations from their designers, a selection of Autumnal wines and their homemade Jack Cat Hard Cider, walking tours of the farm, a scavenger hunt for kids, their friendly farm animals, and plenty of Instagram-worthy photo opportunities.

In the last hour of the event on Sunday, you can help Hope Flower Farm clear the field by harvesting from their 2,000 dahlias.

“It’s really amazing to see one of the most extraordinary flowers,” Chapple said. “Dahlias come in almost every color and all different shapes, sizes, and forms. So, this is a great way to expose people to the beauty of this particular flower.”

Hope Flower Farm & Winery is located at 40905 Stumptown Road near Waterford. Their current public hours are Thursday-Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. The Dahlia Days Festival takes place on Sept. 24-25 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day. For more information, go to hopeflowerfarm.com/pages/dahlia-days-2022.

The New Generation of Flower Farming

At a farmers market stall for Stonehedge Flower Farm, lush bouquets of dahlias and wildflowers are wrapped in a signature combination of black paper and newspaper. Behind the booth is Mike McLaughlin.

Or, if you’re lucky, you may catch Stonehedge’s leading flower farmer on her fall break.

At 18 years old, Makena McLaughlin is already running a flower farm. She is a recent graduate from Loudoun Valley High School and is a freshman at Virginia Tech studying landscape architecture.

Her interest in flower farming stemmed from taking care of a few houseplants. That hobby gradually expanded. She began working at a local flower nursery in the summer of 2019 and then took an environmental plant science class at the Academies of Loudoun.

Her father and stepmother, Mike and Kristen, purchased a property near Hillsboro in late 2021 to start a business. Given Makena and Kristen’s mutual love of gardening, starting up a flower farm seemed to be the perfect fit.

“January [2022] is when I started planting the first seeds and, of course, some pre-planting in December of last year. They say you’re supposed to plan a year ahead to start a business. But we thought we could do it, and I guess we sort of proved that right,” Makena McLaughlin said.

Father-daughter team Mike and Makena McLaughlin run Stonehedge Flower Farm, even while Makena is a freshman at Virginia Tech. [Contributed]

McLaughlin attributes their success to countless hours of online research on flower farming and the tried-and-true guidance of other flower farmers in the community.

“I’ve met countless other flower farmers, and everyone is so nice at farmers markets. I love talking to customers because they’re always talking about their garden and their experiences. I think I’ve changed from just wanting to be behind the production of it all, and now I want to be the face of it. I want to talk to people about what we do, learn from other farmers, and make connections.”

Now that she’s at college, her role will be managing the website and social media and planning for the next year of growing.

“When I was there, I was always the person who would go out every morning and harvest. I would wash buckets, I would weed, I would do everything—bouquet-making, market.” McLaughlin said.

“Now, since I’m not there, my stepmom Kristen is taking over a lot of the farm … and my dad is going to the markets. But I’m fully confident that they’ll be completely fine because they’ve helped me through the whole process.”

“In the end, the fields will always be there—and there might be a few more weeds—but the fields will be there, and I can return to them when I’m ready.”

Stonehedge Flower Farm is located at 36893 Highwater Road near Hillsboro. They deliver, and offer pick-ups on Fridays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. They also set up booths at Fruits in the Gap farmers market in Hillsboro and the Western Loudoun Farmers Market in Purcellville. For more information, go to stonehedgeflowers.com.

Passing on the Torch of Sustainability

Stonehedge Flower Farm is just one example of the many new flower farms spanning Loudoun and the nation. Over the last decade, there has been an intense shift in the interest of growers and buyers for local flowers.

According to the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers (ASCFG), 80% of flowers purchased in the U.S. are imported from other countries. Since American florists could import flowers from South America at a cheaper price than domestic suppliers, many did. Thus, many American flower farmers gave up on wholesale to florists or didn’t bother to get into the industry.

All that changed when shipping and supply chain issues resulting from the pandemic and increased consumer interest in sustainability suddenly increased the demand for local flowers.

Barbara Lamborne is a recently retired flower farmer and part of the mentorship program of ASCFG. Originally from Alexandria, she moved out to Lovettsville and then to Wheatland where she started Greenstone Fields flower farm 16 years ago.

“When I started, I was one of two flower farmers in Loudoun County along with Don Dramstad who does Don’s Dahlias. Now I don’t even know everybody. I’d say there are at least a dozen. And I think there were maybe three or four in the state back then.”

Lamborne’s original intention with Greenstone Fields was to grow a berry farm. But poor soil conditions and a fortuitous grant from the Virginia Department of Agriculture encouraging 13 farmers, including her, to take on flower farming caused her to shift paths.

“The ASCFG has more than doubled in the past 10 years. It’s close to 3,000 now. I used to sit on the board, and we were really excited when we got to a thousand [members in 2016],” Lamborne said.

Lamborne’s motto is: “grow more growers.” She’s succeeded with one of her farm’s former workers.

Sage Devlin, 32, owns and operates Far Bungalow Farm in Leesburg. They are proud to be a queer, nonbinary flower farmer that farms on the same land as their grandparents before them.

Devlin guesses their love of flowers is in their genes. Originally from New Jersey, they often visited their maternal grandparents’ farm in Leesburg. Their maternal grandmother grew an abundant flower garden and their paternal grandmother painted flowers.

Sage Devlin is pursuing their vision for a sustainable flower farm and business at their Far Bungalow Farm. [Contributed]

After attending college in New York for musical theater, Devlin worked in a flower shop in Portland, Oregon. It didn’t take long for Devlin to discover that the family’s interest in flowers passed on to them, and the floral industry was in desperate need of change.

“When I learned floristry, I learned pretty traditional floristry with the floral foam, imported flowers, chemicals, all that stuff. It just seemed very backward to me, especially when you need nature to do your profession,” Devlin said.  

In 2019, Devlin moved to the family farm in Leesburg. While building up the garden on the farm and harvesting from their grandmother’s perennials, they worked part-time for Lamborne where they learned more about sustainable farming and floristry.

One of the most shocking aspects of the job was learning how long fresh-cut farm flowers could last without using any chemicals during the growing process or sustaining the cut flowers with plant food.

Most of the flower bouquets available at grocery stores are shipped from thousands of miles away. The flowers are tightly packaged in boxes for shipping. Therefore, the blooms are bred to not be as large or open and lose days of vase life in the shipping process. When they arrive at grocery stores, plant food is necessary to revitalize the flowers and extend what little life they have left.

And those aren’t the only unsustainable practices in the floral industry.

“I feel like it’s pretty well known at this point that floral foam is a microplastic that does not biodegrade,” Devlin said.

“I’m very passionate and pretty staunch about I don’t use floral foam. I try to stay away from single-use plastics at all costs. I do all vase rentals so we’re not just throwing away vases all the time.”

“It’s surprising how many florists still use [floral foam] and they know. And also, now with all these Instagram reels with demos and showing other people [how to design using floral foam]—it really grinds my gears. Because now you’re educating people on how to do this thing that’s so wasteful, and the consumer doesn’t know. It’s very disingenuous and dishonest.”

Instead, Devlin designs their flower installations using recycled, Amazon packaging that would otherwise be thrown away. They also design using exclusively local and seasonal flowers, which complements their “fieldy” and wild design style.

“Seasonality is probably the biggest factor for me in arranging. I feel like people are very stressed about color and things going together. That’s the big concern of brides specifically. But when you are working with nature and seasonality, you don’t have to worry about that as much. Somehow the colors and shapes work out. It’s harmonious because it’s natural.”

And the more natural and sustainable route is buying from local flower farmers.

Far Bungalow Farm is located at 42517 Farm Lane north of Leesburg. To become involved in its CSA flower share, purchase arrangements, look into wholesale opportunities, or learn more go to farbungalowfarm.com.

One thought on “Four Generations Reflect on Loudoun’s Local Flower Renaissance

  • 2022-09-19 at 10:17 am
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    Beautiful story.
    We love our nectar and veggie gardens, wouldn’t be Summer without them. The variety of butterflies, bees, moths, hummingbirds, and finches is amazing. Nature rewards us with cut flowers and cucumbers.
    One thing I’ve learned about gardening. . . happy plants bloom.

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