Notable Edible: Sabatia Flower Farm
Shaking Rebecca Perry’s hand confirms the hard work that has made Sabatia Flower Farm a reality. Her grasp is strong and warm, the grip of someone who has her fingers in the earth more often than not. Drawing on her love of horticulture and design, Perry has run her own garden design business, Gardens by Rebecca, with a full crew of local workers, for twenty-five years. Six years ago, she had the opportunity to add more dimension to her days, applied for a greenhouse loan, and was approved.
Now Perry grows flowers for eleven months of the year, leaving her greenhouses to rest vacant for a single month. Primarily growing for local florists, her lead crops are Asiatic, Oriental and hybrid lilies. “I import the bulbs from Holland, Chile and South Africa. They arrive via New Jersey or Pennsylvania after going through a customs check, and I keep them cool until I’m ready to plant. We grow them in the greenhouse in crates, and need to harvest before the buds are fully open, keeping the stems in a refrigerated walk-in until delivery.” She adds, “A real working flower farm is really not a very pretty sight because we need to cut before the flowers are actually open.”
Educated as a graphic designer, on moving to Cape Cod Perry found she loved the landscape and garden jobs she took, and in very short time, she had a following. “Owning a business like this is not for the money, but it is a nice honest profession, and if you produce a good product, you will have clients. People recognize my trucks, everybody knows me.” She adds, “You become part of the community.”
While she loves orchestrating gardens and leading the installations, Perry’s passion is the flowers themselves. “My grandma and great aunt showed me when I was little how to squeeze the heads of snapdragons to pop them open, and introduced me to zinnias, and that was it.”
Lilies are the backbone of Sabatia Flowers, but there are many more blooms to plant and pick. Early spring finds a hoop house carpeted with lovely tender-petaled ranunculus in both pale and popping hues. Tulips, selected in classic, parrot and doublepetal varieties, make it difficult to choose. Peonies, other perennials and over 750 dahlia tubers are in the fields, growing through circular openings in yards of black ground cover fabric in an effort to curb weed invasion. Sunflowers are sewn successively yielding 1000 cut blooms weekly in high season. Annuals like Chantilly snapdragons, and wildly colored zinnias stretch towards the sun.
“There are drip lines and soil amendments and compost and cow manure and fungi inside the greenhouses to worry about,” says Perry. “It’s a lot of knowledge to share, and I am finding a younger generation open to learning about the seeding, and just all of it. They’re excited. With the exception of the very difficult land cost issue here on the Cape, some may have come upon a new lifelong career.”
Perry is so busy with her two endeavors, she envisions it won’t be until she retires from her gardening business that she can devote more energy to the satisfying work of playing with the blossoms she grows. For now, every little bouquet she can fashion is quickly chosen from the roadside stand she stocks on Oak Road in West Barnstable. Plus, she also tries to supply DIY local brides with buckets of mixed stems on order.
“What I love to see are caregivers stopping by for a jar of flowers for their patients, two NSTAR guys scratching their heads, trying to decide what to get, and the local oysterman who comes here too. This stand has become part of the neighborhood.” says Perry. “These days with so much stress and negativity, it’s the smells, the colors, the shapes. Flowers bring joy to a lot of people.”
Sabatia Flower Farm
125 Oak Street, West Barnstable
508-221-2523 / sabatiaflowerfarm.com
Sabatia is also a vendor at the Cape Cod Beer Farmers’ Market every Friday from 3-6pm at 1336 Phinneys Lane, Hyannis.