I felt like I had scored the golden ticket. Somehow, I made it through the online booking lottery to obtain a seat at one of Floret's always-sold-out workshops at her idyllic Skagit Valley, Washington farm.
While Erin Benzakein, the brilliance behind Floret, may not be a household name, for those in the burgeoning flower farming industry she has the allure and stature of Beyoncé. Like Queen Bee, Erin also has crossover appeal. You may not be a flower farmer, but you’ll likely have seen her romantic floral images on social media (Floret has close to half a million Instagram followers), or on the pages of almost every lifestyle magazine, or at your bookstore with her best-seller, Floret Farm's Cut Flower Garden.
The iconic Insta-famous Floret Flower Truck.
One of the driving forces behind the growing popularity of locally-grown, sustainable flowers, there’s no doubt Erin is having her moment, but she’s also leading another kind of movement much more profound than her beautiful bouquets portray.
It has to do with empowering dreams through the magic of flowers.
Floret’s workshops are legendary. Reading up on the testimonials before I arrived (life changing was the one of the most common compliments), I was curious. I was going on a pilgrimage to meet my girl crush, to learn about flower farming and make some pretty arrangements, but life changing?
On Day One, some twenty attendees (all but a few were women) from the U.S., U.K. and two of us from Canada sat in a large circle in a big old, sunlit barn. While our ages ranged from 18 to 60ish, we all had a similar look decked out like we should be in a spring L.L. Bean ad in our sensible boots, down jackets and jeans. Our cameras, notepads and secateurs at-the-ready. Like the first day of school we sussed each other out and waited anxiously for the teacher to arrive.
PHOTO | Chris Benzakein, Floret
Tall, lanky and a bit uncomfortable with the attention, Erin is sincere and committed. She thanked us for giving ourselves the gift of this experience. This was our time. An investment in our futures. We went around the circle introducing our stories and our goals. Before we made it half-way, the tears were flowing and the tissue box was being passed around.
Each narrative was compelling, but more compelling was the commonality. We were career changers leaving behind traditional, good jobs, or selling all we had, or moving far away, or ignoring family advice to start a business and follow a dream that was about so much more than the dahlias. These gritty flower farmers, who ironically are trading in the most delicate of merchandise, are the strongest, bravest people I’ve ever met.
For three days we learned about flower cultivation, practiced our floral arranging techniques, were schooled in the basics of running a small business, took personality-type tests. We toured the region and shared meals and were welcomed into a local participant’s home for an impromptu dinner. During this intensive time together not only did we learn how to make compost tea and lasso a mean caterpillar tunnel, we learned about ourselves.
In the group, there was certainly a shared romantic desire to build a business formed from beauty, but there was no sugar-coating of the harsh reality of farming as vocation. The long hours, the stress on partner relationships, the weather, the insects, the worry about how to make the finances work were all on my groupies’ minds. But, due to an aura of stubbornness or optimism, I never doubted we all would find our path.
Erin’s openness about her own failures connected with us and put wind in our sails. It takes courage and generosity to put yourself out there like that. It makes you vulnerable, but it helps others smell the possibility.
PHOTO | Chris Benzakein, Floret
Erin’s journey began in 2001 when she left the city with her husband and two young children to try and make a go of country life. It wasn’t all a cake walk. While some of her initial attempts to a start home-based business that fit into her lifestyle didn’t quite take off, Erin kept on going. Like many successful entrepreneurs, it all clicked when something deeply personal collided with a highly marketable concept. It was the emotional link to her grandmother’s garden that was Erin’s lightning in a bottle. True to Erin, it's also a concept that’s nostalgic, relatable and real for so many others.
The rest as they say is history. Look at what Floret is today. A leading force in the flower revolution, a place of splendour and remarkable ingenuity. Still a family business, but one that has expanded to include a team of like-minded flower ambassadors sharing their skills and knowledge and enabling Floret to expand its offerings to seed distribution, research, an upcoming video instructional series and to solidify its position as a celebrated hands-on workshop mecca.
Erin with some of her team.
The arrangement I made. PHOTO | Chris Benzakein, Floret
So, the answer is a hell-yes. My Floret experience was life changing. For those few days that went by in a blink of an eye, I not only felt liberated to dream, but was given the skills to make those dreams come true.
I met the most incredible people and we were all instantly connected through our shared passion. I know we will be life-long friends – we are all still in touch sharing our latest successes, asking for advice and being there for each other when the hope flickers.
The experience at Floret, through Floret gave me the encouragement to break ground on our own test 30 by 90 foot plot this year. With each passing week as the garden evolves, the magic is tangible. Who knows where this will take us? But it will be somewhere good.
If you ever have the chance, go. You will be different when you come back.
Walking the fields.
Learning about cultivation in the hoop house.
Erin, the master dahlia divider.
Making a caterpillar tunnel that will protect flowers and extend the growing season.
The most magnificent tulip display.
Sweet peas ready to rock it.
A beautiful, serviceable tap.
Buckets of snips at the ready.
Erin shows me how to take better flower photos.
We got to play here.
Erin shows us her techniques.
Lessons in bridal bouquets and tying silk ribbon.
Here's mine.PHOTO | Chris Benzakein, Floret
The must-have floral farmer accessory, worn low on the hip.
The most amazing experience ever. PHOTO | Tracy LaValley-Hall