“How a retail nursery turned its growing fields into a destination wedding venue and cut-flower farm.”

At Pine Creek Farms & Nursery in Monroe, Wash., located about 30 miles northeast of downtown Seattle, Paul and Gwen Sayers have redefined the traditional role of a retail specialty nursery by expanding their 20-acre property to accommodate weddings and events.

Photo © B. Jones Photography

Photo © B. Jones Photography

Photo courtesy of Pine Creek Nursery/Scattered Seeds

Photo courtesy of Pine Creek Nursery/Scattered Seeds

Photo © Cameron Zegers Photography

Photo © Cameron Zegers Photography

Photo © Joanna Monger Photography

Paul, a landscape designer, and Gwen, a flower grower and florist, have worked together for nearly three decades, building their tree and shrub nursery to serve the outer suburbs of Seattle. During the past decade, as the landscape marketplace has contracted, the Sayers recognized an opportunity to convert some of their tree production area into a beautiful garden for ceremonies and parties. They also earmarked one acre for Gwen’s new cut flower farm.
Paul explains that most nurseries have a narrow window, from March to June, to maximize sales. “Pine Creek Nursery has three criteria: to be creative, challenging and profitable,” Paul says. “This business has progressed into more and more growing and less landscaping. By July, we’re not busy. We decided to do something different with this space – and we’ve made a garden area for weddings.”
Hosting weddings wasn’t exactly an overnight idea; rather, it was one that had been developing for years, ever since Paul and Gwen built a Craftsman-style lodge to house a retail garden shop, which Gwen operated from 2007 to 2016.
In 2015, Paul began to landscape the former tree production yard into a series of garden rooms. There is a strolling lawn encircled by evergreen hedging, perfect for an outdoor ceremony. There is a stone-wrapped patio for dinner receptions and dancing, as well as an outdoor fire pit for after-hours drinks and marshmallow toasting. The former gift shop now connects with an atrium and second lodge-style structure for cocktail hours or indoor ceremonies. Every spot, indoors and out, is picture-perfect for a quintessential Northwest-style wedding.
Events at Pine Creek Nursery is managed by a wedding planner, and expanded to 39 weddings and events in 2019. When I interviewed the Sayers at the end of 2019, they already had 41 bookings for 2020. While Pine Creek hosts Friday, Saturday and Sunday ceremonies on summer weekends, the venue also stays busy in the off season, thanks to the cozy indoor lodge, complete with a giant stone fireplace – all designed by Paul.
As the wedding business took off, Gwen returned to floristry and found that her passion for flower growing was rekindled. “It spurred me to start looking at plants in our landscape as possibilities for arrangements,” she says. “I started experimenting with what grows here and began to appreciate everything – from branch structure to Heuchera leaves. Everything was game to me as a designer. And now, I have this need to grow as much as I can for my fl oral designs. It’s painful to have to buy anything.”
Gwen formed a separate venture called Scattered Seeds and now grows hundreds of varieties of annuals, perennials, bulb flowers and uncommon foliages. She sells some blooms to area bouquet subscribers and wholesales flowers to area florists, but the majority appear in bridal bouquets, boutonnières, centerpieces and arches for weddings that take place just steps away from the flower fields.
“My floral designs are natural, with movement. Some of my favorite elements – more than flowers – are foliage and texture, seedpods, lichen branches and twigs,” Gwen explains of her seasonally inspired aesthetic.
The Sayers do not require that Pine Creek Nursery’s wedding clients order their flowers from Scattered Seeds, knowing that not everyone’s style is a fit. Yet two-thirds of last year’s wedding bookings requested Gwen’s flowers.
The Sayers do not require that Pine Creek Nursery’s wedding clients order their flowers from Scattered Seeds, knowing that not everyone’s style is a fit. Yet two-thirds of last year’s wedding bookings requested Gwen’s flowers.
What makes this farmer-florist happier than anything is to see couples and their guests stroll away from the manicured lawn where vows are said and pose for wedding photographs in the cut flower fields. There is a beautiful bench with a trellis placed in just the right spot.
“It’s a nice backdrop to our event space,” she says. “I absolutely love Saturday nights, when I hear the music out on the patio and know people are having fun. Then, at sunset, I see people wander out to the flower fields to look at the sweet-peas and Dahlia. It’s something that feeds Paul’s and my souls – to be able to share that with people.”
Pine Creek Farms & Nursery
pinecreeknursery.com, @pinecreekfarms
Events at Pine Creek Nursery
satpcnScattered Seeds, a flower farms

Floret’s Cut Flower Calendar

“Erin Benzakein reveals how to design with the gorgeous blooms she grows.”

In 2017, farmer-florist Erin Benzakein published Cut Flower Garden, her primer for growing a bounty of blooms in all four seasons. An instant bestseller and winner of an American Horticultural Society Book Award, the book engaged and inspired audiences who had never before considered growing their own flowers. It also helped to launch a popular new venture: the Floret Seeds collection, making available seeds of Benzakein’s favorite flower cultivars in smaller packet quantities on par with the home gardener’s needs.
Now, with A Year in Flowers, Benzakein shares her seasonal floral design approach – an accessible book version of the Floret workshops.
When she first started down the floral path more than a decade ago, it wasn’t easy to gain the design training she yearned. She writes: “I didn’t understand that in order to create natural-looking bouquets, I needed to master several key components: using the right supplies, having the right mix of ingredients and following a process when arranging. Unfortunately, this information was not widely known or accessible – if you didn’t know someone who could teach you, the only way to figure it out was through frustrating trial and error.”
Through lots of practice and study with other florists she admired, Benzakein began to thrive as a flower farmer who also designed beautiful arrangements. She soon was teaching small-scale organic flower farming and seasonally based floral design through in-person workshops and online courses.
Benzakein writes that she discovered how nearly everyone struggles with the same things she once did when it comes to making bouquets: how to approach color, basic mechanics, proper ingredient selection and, most importantly, how to build confidence.
“From watching … students learn how to create floral arrangements, we developed a tried-and-true, straightforward process that took away the guesswork and resulted in beautiful bouquets every time,” she writes. “With a basic recipe to follow, students were finally able to relax and focus on cultivating their own personal style and to enjoy the seasonal ingredients they were working with.”
We asked Erin Benzakein to talk about her new book and share some of her favorite images from A Year in Flowers, with photography by her husband Chris Benzakein.

Can you touch on how this new book is an extension of the Cut Flower Garden book?
My first book, Cut Flower Garden, was all about growing flowers. In it, you’ll find easy-to-follow steps for planting, cultivating and harvesting more than 175 varieties of flowers including cottage-garden favorites, new hybrids and heirloom varieties that are central to today’s seasonally focused floral designs. A Year in Flowers picks up where Cut Flower Garden left off and outlines everything you need to start making your own incredible arrangements, whether you’re harvesting flowers from the backyard or sourcing ingredients from the local market. This book is heavily focused on design and offers easy-to-follow advice on flower care, material selection and essential design techniques, along with how-tos for more than 25 seasonal arrangements – including magnificent centerpieces, giftable posies, festive wreaths, and breathtaking bridal bouquets.

You address both the professional and DIY designer. Are those two worlds coming closer together?
Absolutely! If you don’t have design experience, don’t let that stop you! I see floral design as a creative outlet and a way to connect more closely with the seasons. It isn’t about right and wrong or a desire for perfection. If your design brings you joy and puts you more in touch with gorgeous local flowers and more in tune with nature, then that is a success, in my eyes.

Color theory is so important, and your section on coloris fabulous. Can you touch on some valuable themes about color education that this section addresses in a unique way?
My arrangements celebrate the best of what is in season, and each bouquet captures a fleeting moment in time. In my designs, I aim to mimic the way plants grow in nature, to show off their inherent traits. I start every bouquet with a stroll through the garden, gathering blooms and foliage that catch my attention, and from there, my color palette begins to take shape. After years of teaching others natural floral design, what I find most useful is to understand the difference between warm and cool colors. Every color on the spectrum has warm and cool versions. This is also true when it comes to foliage. I encourage others to think beyond green when it comes to foliage. Once you start working with what’s seasonally available, you’ll become aware of all the colors found in nature, which has its own spectrum of hues, including gold, copper, crimson, plum, frosty blue, gunmetal and even black. Over the course of the growing season, most plants will go through great changes, and these subtle shifts in colors make for the most magical arrangements. I also think it’s important to understand the concept of layering, which is selecting flowers and foliage in a particular color range and using tints, tones and shades within that range. After mastering layering, color bridging is the next skill to learn, which is the process of marrying two colors that are farther apart on the spectrum. I demonstrate these concepts throughout A Year in Flowers in each seasonal chapter.

Is there anything else you want to mention?
A Year in Flowers is not just an invitation to incorporate local blooms into life’s biggest milestones and everyday events; it’s also a salute to the many dedicated farmers who work tirelessly to grow beautiful flowers for their local communities. My goal for this book is that its message spreads far and wide, sending a powerful message to the media, booksellers and consumers that local flowers, and the people who grow them, matter.

Erin Benzakein, floretflowers.com, @floretflower
A Year in Flowers (Chronicle Books, 2020)
with Jill Jorgensen and Julia Chai;
photography by Chris Benzakein

Keeping Close to Home (town)

“Long Island natives launch a new type of mobile flower shop.”

The granddaughter and daughter of New York florists, Jaclyn Rutigliano has spent her career as a public relations, branding and media consultant for other people’s businesses. But last year, she melded her two worlds – flowers and marketing – putting an entirely personal spin on things.
Along with husband, Marc Iervolino, she launched Hometown Flower Co. in May 2019 – Mother’s Day weekend, in fact. Their “hometown” is Huntington, N.Y. – on Long Island. The couple runs Hometown Flower Co. as a family operation with their two young daughters, August and Sage. Rutigliano oversees floral design, creative marketing and branding for the company. Iervolino oversees the day-to-day business operations and logistics.
Hometown Flower Co. wants to connect customers with Long Island farmers who grow their flowers. Rather than a brick-and-mortar retail flower shop like her grandparents opened in Queens, N.Y., in 1948, or a special events and wedding florist like her parents later established (and still run) that serves Long Island and the tristate market, Rutigliano and Iervolino envisioned the traditional neighborhood florist with a twist.
“We launched a radically different brand from what I’m used to with my family’s legacy in flowers,” she says. “We are Long Island’s first fully mobile and digital florist, and we source everything exclusively from a collective of local flower growers on the island. We abide by one rule, which is sourcing only in our ‘backyard’ – with what is seasonally available.”
Before launching Hometown Flower Co., Rutigliano and Iervolino spent a season visiting Long Island flower farms to establish connections. Today, they work with around 10 flower growers of various sizes and specialties.
“Being mobile, or even digital, allows us to provide access to locally grown flowers in places that farmers traditionally can’t reach,” she says. “Our farmers either are strictly wholesale or operate on a very local level. So, unless you’re going to catch them at the farmers’ market or pick up from their farms, they don’t have a way to easily distribute to many consumers. We are literally going end to end on this island to pick up our flowers to make that happen.”
Hometown Flower Co. has quickly gained attention on Long Island and in the New York media market, thanks, in large part, to Rutigliano’s savvy marketing. The “buy local” message resonates, but there’s an added novel and visual impact, thanks to the mobile flower shop, a.k.a. “Baby Blue,” a vintage 1976 Ford pickup truck.
The business model includes a CSA-style flower subscription called “Flowers in a Bag.” “People get to choose weekly, biweekly or monthly delivery, and we have four sizes. No two arrangements ever look alike, and everything arrives in a brown paper bag,” Rutigliano explains. Then there are the “Baby Blue” experiences, where Rutigliano and Iervolino sell from their truck, either at a farmers’ market or at the invitation of host businesses or for private events. The truck bed has been transformed into a flower stand with a charming black-and-white striped awning.
The goal of “pop-up” appearances is to immerse people in flowers. Some hosts ask Rutigliano to teach a flower crown workshop for guests; others want a “flower bar” setup that allows people to select their bouquet elements.
“I think the core differentiator for us – besides the local message – is the interactivity,” she says. “We are showcasing flowers that look kind of familiar but a little different, and certainly not something that you would get from a traditional florist. But also, it’s important for people to have an experience that connects them to their flowers so they understand why we’re doing this. And maybe they walk away valuing flowers more.”

Hometown Flower Co., hometownflowerco.com, @hometownflowerco