An unlikely Tyler pair shines light on East Texas
Sook Flower Farm co-owner Gavin Hitt, employee Drew Burton and co-owner Dick Marlow stand in their sunflower field off of Lavender Road in Tyler onThursday, Aug. 6, 2020.. Sitting side by side in the small, unlit front office of an RV park, Dick Marlow and Gavin Hitt strike an interesting pair.
Marlow, the owner of the 5 Star RV Park on Lavender Road, is an ex-engineer with the land and the machinery to do the job. Hitt is a flower farmer who loves working in the soil. But perhaps no other combination would have made Sook Flower Farm flourish.
It was one of Marlow’s tenants at the RV park who first brought his attention to the plants Hitt was growing around his plot in the park.
Marlow had always had intentions to do something with the rest of his property behind the park, but when he saw Hitt’s flowers, an idea struck him.
“If we’re gonna do it, we might as well do it commercially,” Marlow said. He turns to Hitt and asks, “Isn’t that right?”
Now, a year later, Sook Flower Farm has roughly two acres of farmable land, a reputable clientele of local florists, and a newly built high tunnel greenhouse they’re planning on using when the first freeze comes through in October.
But it hadn’t started that way.
It started as a single, three-fourths of an acre plot and a dream to sell locally grown flowers.
Marlow, a United Kingdom native, has lived all over the world — Qatar, Monaco, the south of France — and whatever country he hasn’t lived in, he’s probably passed through. He calls himself a “refugee” from oil companies, where he was hired to help with off-shore drilling until a power boating accident broke his back. He and his wife made their way up from Houston to Tyler, where he decided to buy the RV park because he is “not very good at sitting, doing nothing.”
Hitt, on the other hand, is Texan through and through. His accent speaks to his years growing up in Tyler, denotes his tenure at the former Tyler Lee High School. He left to live in California in the early 1990s and lived there for 15 years. Hitt insists he doesn’t have a green thumb — he’s killed a lot of plants, he says, to learn his craft. It was there he discovered his love for plants — and, he jokes, opened his eyes to the “evils of corporate America” and his passion for locally grown produce.
Now, their fields are blooming with healthy, vibrant fall flowers. Rows of celosia, zinnia and globe amaranth have whimsical names that match their oversaturated colors: carmine, firecracker and chief gold.
Up a hill, further back in the property, another field blooms in bright yellow. Rows and rows of sunflowers stretch back, all five feet tall or higher. They plant new rows frequently, usually around 500-800 sunflowers a week. It’s a staple flower for the summer and fall.
In a smaller patch, new rows have been freshly tilled in preparation for the […]