Califonia Bountiful

Blossoming businesses

May/June 2022 California Bountiful magazine

These hard-working women beautify life in the Central Valley

Taylor Camarena designs a floral arrangement for Taylor Anne Co., her thriving business she started in a small apartment in 2017. Photo: © 2022 Lori Eanes

When Taylor Camarena was newly married and recently graduated from college, she did "the responsible thing"—sought out a well-paying 9-to-5 job.

However, she found she needed to do something that fed her soul and not just her wallet. Recalling how much she had enjoyed a floral design class in high school, she began dabbling in the art form.

"I started it as just a hobby," she said, but when she would share photos of her arrangements on social media, "people actually wanted to purchase them."

So, in 2017, she started a side business in a one-bedroom apartment, where she and her husband set the temperature at 60 degrees to keep the flowers cool. "When I would do an event or something, we would really ice the place out," she said with a laugh. After they moved into a house, the landlord helped them convert the garage into a studio with a walk-in cooler.

Now, the Modesto resident's business, Taylor Anne Co., is a full-time career. Camarena designs floral arrangements for weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, you name it, calling on "an incredible team of freelancers" to help with big events. This year, partly because of the influx of pandemic-postposed weddings, she's already booked through fall.

She also teaches workshops, sometimes collaborating with other crafters and artisans, and has accepted her first event out of the country—a wedding in Iceland.

Taylor Camarena's floral arrangements draw on her training in balancing colors and textures. Photo: © 2022 Lori Eanes

Design for success

When designing, Camarena draws on her training in balancing colors and textures but relies increasingly on her intuition. "There are some loose rules, but I like to have fun with it," she said.

Weddings sustain her financially, but she enjoys even the smallest jobs. "As my business has matured, I've had to have a better balance of what I say yes to, but it's so hard for me to say no because I love doing everything," she said.

She appreciates all flowers, too. "I love the funky, fun-style blooms but also the traditional garden rose because it's so beautiful—very timeless."

Customers like a variety, too, with a trend over the past two years of wanting dried or preserved products mixed with fresh.

What customers won't find from her are imported or artificially colored products. "I'm really passionate about honoring nature as it is," she said.

She sources as much as possible from local farms and supplements from the San Francisco Flower Mart during her busy season, typically mid-summer to late fall.

Taylor Camarena, left, picks out roses from Modesto's Blumen Flower Farm, run by Sandi Dirkse, center, and her daughter, Abi Fair. Photo: © 2022 Lori Eanes

Rosy relationships

"In the Central Valley, we have some incredible farms and farmers, and I think there's something special about getting to know them and seeing all the labor and time they put into their work," Camarena said.

One of these farms is Modesto's Blumen Flower Farm, her favorite source for garden roses.

"I just can't say enough about how amazing their product is," she said, noting the beauty and incredible fragrance of the roses.

Abi Fair and her mom, Sandi Dirkse, run the farm, where they raise about a dozen varieties of roses with soft, natural colors. About 90% go to local florists and designers working on weddings.

"They could get garden roses shipped in, but they are so delicate they often don't travel very well," Fair said.

While white roses are always in demand, right now, muted colors are also hot, she said. Two favorites are the coffee-beige coco loco and the mustard-beige honey Dijon.

Abi Fair and Taylor Camarena move Camarena's order of roses from the garden to her vehicle. Photo: © 2022 Lori Eanes

A budding farm

Fair was just a freshman in college when she launched the company in 2016.

"When I was growing up, my family had a dairy and a lot of almond orchards and so I've always loved agriculture," she said.

Her interest in growing flowers blossomed when she met a flower farmer in Ripon—and ended up interning with her.

Armed with what she'd learned, Fair started a tiny seasonal-flower garden at home in Denair. When her family moved to Modesto, it coincided with her hopes to shift to garden roses—but she needed an investor to afford putting in the shrubs. So, she asked her parents if they would be interested in co-owning a rose garden.

"At that time also, we had sold our almonds and I had been looking for something to continue in agriculture," Dirkse said. "So, it was a great time for the two of us to do this together."

With the mother and daughter sharing most of the responsibilities, the garden has since grown to about 1,200 plants.

Abi Fair, left, and Sandi Dirkse rise early every morning during the growing season to cut roses for about two hours before the day heats up. Photo: © 2022 Lori Eanes

A long day

During the growing season—typically late April through late October—they both cut roses for about two hours starting about 5 a.m. every day. They look for new, still-closed blooms.

"The vase life of a garden rose, at best, is going to be five to six days," Dirkse said. "So, we cut them super tight and send them out in that form. Every morning, we literally will cut everything we have.… If you think, 'Maybe I can wait until tomorrow for that one,' when it's 100 degrees outside, that flower will be long gone by tomorrow."

After cutting, they quickly move the roses into the walk-in cooler, strip them of bottom leaves, give them a fresh cut and bundle them in bunches of 10. After filling the orders, they sell any leftovers through social media. Occasionally, a few will still be in the cooler on Fridays—cooler cleanout day—and they can take them home and enjoy them.

After the morning rush, Fair leaves for her full-time job as membership coordinator for the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau. When she returns in the evening, she replies to messages, coordinates the orders and handles the social media marketing.

While she's away at work, her mom can finish anything they didn't get to in the morning and handle order pickups. Dirkse also can show people around the garden and answer their questions.

The rest of the time is spent on maintenance, such as deadheading (cutting off spent roses to spur new growth), pruning and fertilizing.

Their husbands help with big jobs, such as hauling away winter prunings, but otherwise the two women handle everything.

"The hard, hard work goes to us. We have the scratches and the scars from the thorns to show for it," Dirkse said with a laugh. "We've been trying for about two years now to find the perfect puncture-resistant leather gloves and we've yet to find those."

Linda DuBois

Homegrown garden roses can turn out this beautiful if you give the plants proper care. Photo: © 2022 Lori Eanes

Roses are beautiful but need TLC

Roses make a lovely addition to a home landscape, but there are a few things home gardeners will need to do to keep them lovely.

Abi Fair and Sandi Dirkse of Blumen Flower Farm say growing roses has its challenges, but many can be mitigated by giving them proper care and attention.

To give them the best start, plant them in a spot with well-draining fertile soil that receives at least six hours of sunlight.

They need plenty of water to thrive. During the growing season, late spring through fall, water at least weekly—more often as needed—with a drip line or soaker hose to get concentrated moisture to the roots—but off the leaves to discourage fungal disease.

Healthy foliage means more blooms. So, apply manure or fertilizer in the spring to keep the plants green and lush. Beware of too much nitrogen, however. This can result in more green leaves but fewer flowers.

To keep the blossoms plentiful, they need regular pruning. As soon as a flower is spent, cut it off to encourage new growth. In late winter or early spring, cut the bushes back, making cuts about a quarter inch above the buds on the stems and cut away any sickly-looking branches.

Follow us on: Facebook Twitter YouTube Pinterest Pinterest