Kyle Johnson

Three hardworking women in the Pacific Northwest show that running thriving floral farms, with family in tow, can build a bridge to the next generation

Thad Orr and Mike Irvine  – March 28, 2019 | Updated April 24, 2019

Carli Spielman

Kids: Daughter, Frankie, 12; son, Charlie, 9

Business: Wild Rabbit Flowers, Hope, B.C.

Known for: Large floral installations, huge floral arches, floral chandeliers

Favorite flowers: Dahlias

Kyle Johnson
Carli Spielman with her blooms.
Carli Spielman grew up in a country town close to nature and wanted the same experiences for her two children. In Hope, British Columbia, this single mom grows flowers on a quarter-acre micro-farm (it’s actually the backyard of her home), so that she can grow and design beautiful flowers while being home for her children. “I was not always a gardener, but my mother is and had a garden when I was growing up. I guess a little rubbed off, and I picked it up later in life when I saw that I could provide for my family with what I grow, live closer to the wild land I grew up with, and teach my kids about nature all at the same time,” says Spielman.

Live Your Ideal Lifestyle. Spielman tried different approaches to running a business, from managing a knitting and natural-dye company to opening a traditional flower shop. “At the shop I worked myself to the bone. The work didn’t stop, and it was tough being a single parent, a single owner, and the sole employee,” says Spielman. “The hardest part, though, was being inside. I did it for a year and didn’t grow a garden that year.” Instead, she’s rightsizing her business for her family, not tailoring her family for her business. “I want to be able to work super hard for four hours, then go jump in the lake, then come back to work,” she says. “This is the life I want for me and my kids.”

Grow Your Thanks. When Spielman was buying her country home in Hope there was a bidding war. “The previous owner had a huge garden and chose me because I was a single mom who loved gardening,” she says. “I never forgot this. When she passed away I put together a small bouquet that she held in her casket that was made up of flowers at the garden.” Flowers can mean so many different things, but “thank you” often tops the list.

Kyle Johnson
Carli Spielman’s garden is filled with raised beds teeming with flowers.

Be Stridently Local. When Spielman was running her flower shop she says that one of the hardest parts wasn’t just running the business but seeing how much waste and trash the traditional floral industry produces. “I was opening packages of cellophane and plastic that were used to ship flowers from overseas and thinking ‘Why am I doing this? It’s April and I could be growing this flower right now in my yard,’” she says. “I got a firsthand look at what I didn’t want to be.” With her own farm she uses what she grows first (about 30 percent of what she sells). Then she buys from other local farmers and from around British Columbia. Next, she’ll turn to farms in the Northwest or California. Her very last choice is buying internationally.

Teach by Example. “Sometimes I have to drag the kids outside. They see flowers and plants all the time, so they’re sort of over it,” says Spielman. But they learn through osmosis. When she’s out running errands or traveling with the kids they’ll point out plants and say, “Hey look, the cherries are in bloom,” or, “Did you see that evergreen? It has a crazy-looking leaf.”

Kyle Johnson
Year Eng on the farm.

Year Eng

Kids: Daughter, Kyra, 10; son, Jeremiah, 7

Business: Thai Thao Farm, Woodinville, WA

Known for: Wedding flowers, wholesale flowers, hand-tied flower bouquets sold at Pike Place Market

Favorite flowers: Peonies and dahlias

From a prime location in Pike Place Market, Year Eng has helped her family’s flower-farming business thrive while keeping it small enough for three people to manage. “It’s just me; my mother, Bao Cha; and father, Thai Thao,” says Eng. “I love being involved in every aspect of the business and hand-crafting the flowers. Tying bouquets at the market has become part of who I am.”

Stay Connected. “We grow roughly 90 percent of the flowers we sell at farmers’ markets around Seattle. The only thing we buy is greens such as eucalyptus,” says Eng. When you’re connected to the entire process from growing and transporting to selling and designing, there’s a positive-feedback loop. “I feel connected to the customers because I’m answering questions at the market.” She passes on what she observes to her parents, who manage the farm.

Appreciate your Ancestry. “My family is Hmong, so farming is a way of life. My parents started the farm after moving from Thailand and Laos, where they were also farmers. It’s really special to be a part of this family history,” says Eng. “I want my kids to be part of this history too.”

Kyle Johnson
Year Eng, center, with her father, Thai Thao, and mother, Bao Cha.

Expect Setbacks. Farmers and gardeners have to submit themselves to weather and roll with it. “When heavy rains come, we’ve had floods and can lose all our dahlia tubers. When it snowed for three days, our greenhouse collapsed. When it’s scorching hot for five straight days, we’ve had our flowers burn. If frost comes early, we can lose everything,” says Eng. She remembers how heartbreaking these events were at the time but that the family always presses on.

Stay the Size You Want. “I’ve been told that I need a fancy website and a stronger social-media presence. I’ve been told I need to market my business more. I’ve been told I need a storefront or shop. But this isn’t what I want,” says Eng. She instead grows at a pace that allows her to be with her two kids, take them to activities, and be involved in their lives. Her ethos: Plant what you can take care of. Don’t make it a chore, make it fun.

Kyle Johnson
Beth Syphers at work.

Beth Syphers

Kids: Daughter, Rilley, 22; son, Brayden, 15

Business: Crowley House Flower Farm, Rickreall, OR

Known for: Wedding and event flowers

Favorite flowers: Roses

Flower farmer and designer Beth Syphers has been connected to flowers and farming from an early age. “My dad was a gardener. He got me and all 11 of my siblings involved from the time we were born,” says Syphers. “Every time my mom would have a baby, my dad would buy a rose bush. Mine was red, but everybody had a different one all planted in a row outside our home.” The family also grew vegetables, fruit and nut trees, and raspberries. “We grew up on a mini farm, maybe a half acre,” she says. “We were all continually out there harvesting, pulling weeds, and seeing the beauty afterwards.” Now Syphers gets to experience the same joys with her own kids growing up on a farm.

Take a Leap. When Syphers bought the farm it all happened fairly suddenly. “I came home one day after a floral project where we had to order a ton of flowers, and they were really bad,” says Syphers. “I went home and told my husband we’re selling the house and buying a farm. I’m going to grow my own flowers.”

Kyle Johnson
Beth Syphers in her studio arranging flowers harvested from her farm.

Work Together, Celebrate Together. “Now that the kids are older, they help out on the farm quite often,” says Syphers. “They’ll do the fun parts such as cutting flowers or designing as well as the not-so-fun parts such as laying driplines or weeding.” Her husband helps a lot too, even though he has another job. She says, “We’re all part of the family’s success. We celebrate together with a bonfire and barbecue after a long day on the farm.”

Seek Seasoned Advice. “When I was starting out, Debra Prinzing’s book, Slow Flowers, was the first book I picked up,” say Syphers. “I couldn’t put it down.” She also worked with her sister, who has a little more formal training in floral design, to get experience. Then she sought help from Jello Mold Farms, another flower farm in Skagit Valley. “They really took me under their wing,” says Syphers. “Two ladies over there have been my mentors through this whole process.”