Peony season will be over soon, but for Chet and Kristy Anderson of Fresh Herb Co. in Longmont, the beautiful flowers are their bread and butter during late spring and early summer. "We decided to do ornamental flowers mostly because Chet just loves them," says Kristy, as she toured us around the charming, almost-ten-acre farm and newly christened event space.
A good percentage of the farm is planted with tall, multi-hued peonies, although you might not guess the color of the blossoms right away. In order to sell the freshest peonies that will last the longest, the flowers need to be picked right when they get to the "marshmallow" stage, or when the bud looks a little fluffy and the deep green cap is just moving away. That's how you want to buy them too, since the flower will start opening within 24 hours.
The Andersons, who have been growing peonies for decades, sell hundreds of stems every weekend at the Boulder and Union Station farmers' markets, as well as to regional Whole Foods Markets, Alfalfa's Boulder, M & M Cut Flora and other local purveyors.
Even if the dark emerald fields of peonies aren't in full-flower glory, it's a nice sight, especially, says Kristy, since the epic 2013 flood wiped out the plants completely. It took four years for this new batch of peonies to produce buds worthy of selling, so 2018's is the first full crop in years. But as long as no crazy storm takes out these perennial beauties, they will regenerate and produce blossoms indefinitely.
Chet knew life as a farmer would be hard even though he didn't grow up in the industry. Before entering the business, Chet studied at the University of Colorado Denver and was writing a thesis on agriculture teaching. One day, says Kristy, who was studying law at the time, she came home and the thesis was gone; Chet had decided that if he really believed in what he had written, than he needed to be an actual grower. In 1983, the couple leased a greenhouse and started cultivating flowers and herbs on a commercial scale.
"Next thing, we found this place without really knowing what we were getting ourselves into," says Kristy, adding that they had to clear acres of trash from the Longmont farm in order to get it in order. They eventually bought the land and have been farming it ever since.
"We stared out with herbs and went through baby vegetables, than organic salad greens, before California flooded our market, then onto bedding herbs and flowers," she says.
Now the Andersons grow dozens of flowers, including delphinium, sunflowers, crocosmia and more, keep beautiful succulents thriving in the greenhouse, tend to bedding herbs, and harvest sweet-smelling lavender and lilies. The company also just launched the Kitchen Collection, a trio of herbs that you can buy at the farmers' markets. This includes a pot full of either French herbs such as sage, thyme and parsley; or an Italian blend with basil, oregano and Italian parsley.
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Despite a shortage of helping hands and iffy weather that can wipe out the plants, life on the farm is close to ideal. The Anderson's older son, also named Chet, 31, works on the farm part time, and they live on property in a historic schoolhouse built in 1887.
The next time you want to deck out the dinner table or need to bring a hostess present, the Fresh Herb Co. has the Colorado-grown flowers perfect for the occasion. Supporting local farmers while minimalizing the impact of imported flowers and plants is a feel-good gift for everyone involved.
For more photos, see our complete Fresh Herb Co. slideshow.