Long term friendship grows into blossoming cut flower business
With spring having sprung late, Hollyhock Flower Farms is finally ready to bring its blooms to the local Mount Hood Farmers Market.
Nicole Walker and Aaron Younger, co-owners, are new to the gardening game, but happy with their yield so far.
"Even though it's pretty small, it's amazing how far we've come," Walker says. "We're doing it."
For years, Walker had a vegetable garden on her property, which in February was repurposed to make way for her new vibrant venture — a fresh-cut flower business.
A Pennsylvania native, Walker moved to Portland in 1998 after graduating from Bloomberg University with a teaching degree.
When she's not growing flowers, she's watching students' minds blossom. She teaches at Troutdale Elementary School.
"I've always loved to garden," she says of her initial decision to move out of the city to Boring. "I wanted to have animals and space. I wanted my kids to grow up with lots of room to run and get dirty. We knew we'd love it, but we had no idea how much we'd love it."
Younger has a degree in metal-smithing from Montana State University, and left a job in the medical field to be a stay-at-home mom four years ago.
Her inspiration to move out to the Sandy area came from visiting Walker's country home. She was a longtime friend of Walker's husband, Ben, and always enjoyed the quiet and the scenery when she'd visit. So, a year ago she and her family moved out to Sandy, and this February the two women came together to start Hollyhock Farms.
"It was an act of love between family members and friends," Walker explains.
The entire construction and raising of the garden has been a family affair, with both Younger and Walker's children helping heap piles of dirt and pick blossoms to sell.
But before the dynamic duo could get to the blooms, they had to hit the books, researching growing techniques and what types of flowers would grow best in their area, and of course, what name they wanted for their business.
For the latter, their book of choice was Vanessa Diffenbaugh's "The Language of Flowers" — a guide to the meaning of each flower in the Victorian era.
"The meaning behind hollyhock has to do with friendship and female ambition," Walker explains. "It talked about bringing each other to their full potential."
For the longtime friends, once they stumbled upon this entry, their name was a no-brainer.
Besides, hollyhocks were also said to be a gift for 13th wedding anniversaries, which both Walker and Younger will celebrate this summer. They also hope to expand their business to include catering flowers for weddings in the future.
"The fact that we started every (plant) from seed is pretty cool," Walker notes. "Watching the process is pretty neat."
"(There's been) some trial and error," Younger adds. "We had to learn how to do the whole drip system (and) construct our rows without a tractor ... (but) just being out there is what makes it all worth it."
Hollyhock Farms grows 23 different varieties of flowers, from sunflowers to sweat peas, and dahlias to snapdragons. They also grow chamomile, lavender and more to integrate into their bouquets and make them more fragrant.
Younger and Walker hope now that their flowers are in bloom they will be at the Mount Hood Farmers Market on July 8 with Mason-jar bouquets for sale, and they hope to be there every first Friday. You can also find them at the original Gresham Farmers Market and the Damascus Farmers Market.
"I think because it was such a cold winter, every time a new variety blooms it's the new favorite," Walker explains. "(And) seeing (people's) delight in getting the bouquets is pretty rewarding."