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The story of Paonia’s Zephyros Farm and Garden began at a wedding, when Daphne Yannakakis—on a break from working at a perennial farm in Germany—was “set up with the mushroom farmer,” she says, at a friend’s California nuptials. Eighteen years (and 15 growing seasons) later, Yannakakis and her now-husband, Denver-area native Don Lareau, are cultivating flowers and designing arrangements for events that bring people together—including weddings held on their pastoral 35-acre property.
Inspired by the not-just-for-special-occasions culture around floral arrangements that Yannakakis encountered across the pond, the couple has dedicated some of their land in the fertile North Fork Valley to blooms (they also grow organic veggies including heirloom tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants). “In Europe, it’s not a question that flowers are worth it to buy,” Yannakakis says. “It’s part of the culture to bring that beauty into the house and have flowers on the table.”
Members of Zephyros’ five-month flower CSA do just that, picking up weekly bouquets that showcase the nearly 2,000 varieties of mostly organic flowers—including more than 100 types of dahlias—seed pods, and perennial grasses that grow on the farm. Yannakakis, Lareau, and their small team also sell blooms at farmers’ markets in Telluride (Fridays) and Aspen (Saturdays) from early June to mid-October.
The CSA and market bunches—and the special-event arrangements created by Zephyros’ floral-design business, Studio Z Flowers—are evolving, seasonal reflections of the local landscape; less manicured than a dozen imported red roses, but far more interesting and inspiring. “Garden-style designs are really what resonate with us; we’re working with what is fresh in our garden at that time,” Yannakakis says. “It’s reflected in our designs that our flowers are grown from the farm, nurtured, and full of love.”
Daphne Yannakakis and Don Lareau’s top tips for filling your vases from the most local source of all—your own cutting garden—all season long.
Plant Wisely: Zinnias, cosmos, and dahlias are good choices because the more blooms you harvest off these plants, the more flowers they will produce. (Tip: Order Zephyros’ certified-organic dahlia tubers through the farm’s website, November through March; they ship in April.) Also, Lareau recommends succession planting—putting down new seed every two to three weeks throughout the growing season—to get a constant supply of single-stem varieties like sunflowers.
Feed The Dirt: If you’re cutting often, give plants a consistent boost of nutrition by periodically adding dressings of compost or fish fertilizer to the soil throughout the summer.
Pick At The Peak: One big advantage of backyard flowers is that generally, they can be cut at their primes—when they’ve just fully opened—versus being snipped early to allow for shipping time, a practice that shortens their vase life.
Arrange Like A Pro: When placing flowers in a vase, remember to include perennial shrubs and greens, which Yannakakis calls “floral neutrals.” Ornamental grasses and seed pods add drama. “Finding the negative space in your bouquets is also really important,” she adds. “Think about a butterfly being able to move around each flower.”
Keep It Fresh: Every other day or so, take the flowers out of the vessel, clean it, and give the stems a fresh cut before putting them back in new water. Keeping the arrangement out of direct sunlight also helps prolong the blooms’ beauty.
Switch It Up: “The lovely thing about bouquets is that you’re allowed to pull out the flowers that are fading,” Yannakakis says. “It’s your job, and I think it should be your joy, to interact with the flowers and pick them apart. Put some into bud vases. It’s fun to play with them.”
If You Go
About four hours southwest of Denver, the town of Paonia (population: 1,425) is nestled into the North Fork Valley’s lush patchwork quilt of fields, pastures, and vineyards. Spring is a perfect time for a weekend getaway to gather inspiration for planting your own urban garden. Farm tours are available; call ahead to make an appointment, or check Zephyros’ website for spring plant sale hours, events, and farm dinners. 11466 3725 Road, Paonia; 970-270-2045; zephyrosfarmandgarden.com
<>Stay: If Agape Farm & Retreat’s raised veggie beds don’t motivate you to grow your own food, the peaceful bed-and-breakfast’s morning meals—featuring the garden’s fresh bounty—will. 12123 Slate Point Road, Paonia; 970-527-3385; agapefarmand retreat.com
<>Eat & Drink: At Delicious Orchards in nearby Hotchkiss, you can wash down panini, homemade baked goods, fresh salads, and more with Big B’s hard ciders (made on-site) or local wines. Walk off your meal among the rows of fruit trees in the U-pick orchard. 39126 Highway 133, Hotchkiss; 970-527-1110; bigbs.com
<>Visit: Stop by the 210-acre Living Farm, where your $6 self-guided tour (open to drop-in visitors Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, 1 to 6 p.m., starting in May) includes the opportunity to pet—and take photos with—adorable critters including lambs, chicks, and calves. 39776 Green Tractor Road, Paonia; thelivingfarm.org