Front yard flower farm
Story By Julie Thompson-Adolf
When a passionate grower moves from a 56-acre Texas farm to a slightly-less-than-half-acre urban property in Greenville, South Carolina, what’s she to do? Rip out the lawn and create a front yard flower farm, of course!
Julie Hill, owner of Southern Wild Flowers, a boutique sustainable cut-flower business, transformed her new home’s garden into a flowering urban farm, as her neighbors watched curiously. “I’m pretty sure my neighbors thought I was nuts at first,” says Hill. She began renovating her yard when she arrived in May 2013, adding a hedgerow and pollinator garden, then eliminated the majority of grass and planting her first crop three years later.
Hill’s unique front yard flower farm might have begun as a neighborhood curiosity, but now it’s a community attraction.
Of course, the process wasn’t that simple. She received curious looks as she tilled the front lawn and gathered leaves from the curbside, piling them onto the beds she created. She even stopped the city leaf collection truck, asking him to dump his load on her driveway. “My neighbors just couldn’t figure out what I was doing,” says Hill. “I have now trained my neighbors to keep their leaves for me.”
Hill’s garden eventually began to take shape. She uses permanent raised beds filled with organic compost, including her coveted leaves, refreshing the beds each year with more compost and leaf mulch. “Nature provides us with great organics,” she says.
While most gardeners rest during the chilly winter months, Hill prepares for the growing season, starting seeds as early as late December for slow-growing crops, such as Lisianthus. In January, she starts cool-season flowers, such as snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus), statice (Limonium), and stock (Matthiola incana). She’ll continue seeding through April and May.
Although sowing and tending thousands of seedlings might exhaust most gardeners, Hill juggles flower farming with another career: She teaches science lab in a Greenville County school. Naturally, she teaches students how to garden as part of the program. “Last year, we built eight 15-foot-long raised beds and planted our first kitchen garden,” said Hill. “The kids started all of the crops by seed, and we harvested for our cafeteria. Luckily, we have a district food service director who is very keen in promoting garden-to-table and supporting our efforts.”
Teaching children about the environment is a passion for Hill, along with flower farming. She taught in the Texas public education system for 10 years, then homeschooled her daughter. During that time, she taught science classes for other home-schooled children. Eventually, she created a nature center and raised butterflies to teach children about life cycles. She developed a program that dovetailed with the state curriculum, opening the center to schools for field trips. “We stayed booked for months in advance, hosting about 200 students a day during the school year,” says Hill. “It was the best work I have ever done, and I dearly loved that farm.”
Because of her love of nature, Hill’s Southern Wild Flower farm follows organic principles. Her locally grown flowers adhere to the Slow Flowers principles, avoiding the use of pesticides. “Most flowers are shipped to the U.S. from South America using questionable growing practices,” she says. “Do you really want to stick your nose in a bouquet of flowers that are covered in chemicals?”
When she began growing for market, Hill researched extensively, reading and chatting with growers. However, she realized that other growers’ strategies didn’t always mesh with her ideals. “I think it’s good, and necessary, to learn all you can book-wise,” says Hill. “But at some point, you have to start listening to your own soil and gardening space and gut. What works for someone else may not work for you.”
For gardeners who want to grow a cutting garden, Hill recommends planting Rudbeckia, Zinnia, yarrow (Achillea spp.), Cosmos, sunflowers (Helianthus annuus), Celosia, Echinacea, and Dahlia. She plans to grow 20 types of flowers, with several varieties of each, for the 2018 season. Local floral designers use Hill’s flowers for special events, like weddings. However, she also sells flowers by the mixed bucket to the public.
Hill’s unique front yard flower farm might have begun as a neighborhood curiosity, but now it’s a community attraction. “I have met loads of neighbors while working in the garden, and all have mentioned that they love my flowers,” she says.
When asked for her best advice for gardeners, Hill replies: “Build the soil. Soil is where all the magic happens.” And great soil leads to magical blooms at Southern Wild Flowers.
To reach Julie Hill or order flowers, contact her via text at 512-461-4398 or at southernwilddesign.com.
Also, click here to watch Julie on Making it Grow with Amanda McNulty as pictured in the feature photo at the top of this article.