Fernwood Farm in Gilmanton has over 500 peony plants plus many other local and organic flowers.
Photo by Thomie Dombrowski
Paula Gilman has loved flowers of all kinds since she was a little girl. “I would pick bouquets of wildflowers and bring them to my grandmother,” Gilman says. “She would always be so pleased.”
And then there are the memories of her mother’s fragrant peonies under the bay window of the farmhouse her family lived in until her mother passed away when Gilman was 9. One day, as an adult, she planted peonies in memory of her mother.
Then she planted more, realizing that she could make her love of the flowers into her life’s work. Today her Fernwood Farm has more than 500 peony plants, and each year she adds 100 or so more. She sells them (along with a “very long list” of other flowers) to garden centers, florists and individuals, like brides who want fresh and local cut flowers for DIY bouquets.
Her farm — which is set on a portion of the land she grew up on — is Certified Organic. That means her flowers are grown without using synthetic petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides, without GMOs and without sludge. Instead, they are grown using compost, mulch, animal manure, crop rotation, cover crops and biological pest control.
“When you buy flowers grown locally and organically, you are assured fresh, safe, beautiful flowers that haven’t done any harm anywhere, to anything,” Gilman says. “Most importantly, when you smell our flowers, you are breathing in the scent of flowers that are free from toxins.” The same is true if you eat them. Gilman grows a number of edible flowers (see below).
Growing flowers in New Hampshire isn’t easy. She says, “Take this winter for example. Horrible and never-ending. We couldn’t get out to prep the fields as early as we would have liked.” Add to that early and late frosts, and the ever-present Japanese beetles. To cope with the vagaries of nature, she and her partner Thomie Dombrowski are installing, in addition to their two hoop houses, high and low “tunnels” that protect plants from weather and pests.
“This is a labor of love,” Gilman says. A labor of love on land that has been in the family for 100 years, worked by three generations, in a town that her ancestors helped to settle back in the 1760s. She says, “This land is part of me, and I am part of it.”
Lots of flowers — like peonies — are edible, great for salads or a garnish. Paula Gilman sells a number of edible flowers at her Lakes Region farm (see partial list below). Want an edible bouquet? She’ll make you one. She cautions, though, that if you’re munching on flowers elsewhere, be sure they’re organically grown, as hers are, so you don’t ingest pesticides. In addition, you want to use them sparingly in your recipes due to digestive complications that can occur with a large consumption rate. Identify the flower exactly and eat only edible flowers and edible parts of those flowers.
- scented geraniums
- squash flowers
- broccoli flowers