In mid-August, our team visited wedding florist and boutique grower Kirsten Bosnak of Blue Morning Glory at her floral farm in Lawrence, Kansas. We were drawn to Kirsten’s eco-conscious and educational approach to floral design and growing, so our visit to her farm was an enlightening and beautiful experience. What’s more, it affirmed for us that partnering with Kirsten fosters the very kind of storytelling we aim to share through Verdant.
From watching her design a garden-style bouquet to walking her rows of growing flowers to listening to her share about her nearly lifelong experience in cultivating flowers, our team was enamored by our visit. We’re honored to share some of Kirsten’s expansive wisdom with you. And because our interview with her is so rich, we’ve divided it into two parts.
Below is Part One. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do.
When our team visited your farm, you shared that you began your first garden at the age of 4! Tell us more about your developing love and appreciation for flowers and when you began your farm and design work with flowers?
I learned to love flowers in the way a child learns to speak. My mom began showing my twin sister and me the flowers and birds before we could walk—we learned to pronounce "Anemone" before kindergarten. I kept a large flower garden on my own from age 10, and my first job was working in a greenhouse. Flower work was something I just kept doing alongside the english classes and graduate school; I couldn't bear to not have flowers.
My position as editor of a national floral trade magazine in the 1990s was quite an education. I got to travel all over the country and to holland and colombia and elsewhere visiting growers, importers and retailers. I also saw the andean trade preference act come in during that time, which encouraged coca producers to grow something else, and when many turned to flowers, it decimated u.S. Production; today, around 80 percent of flowers sold in this country are imported. Many of the growers I knew back then are no longer in it, and some were families who had been growing flowers for generations. I left the magazine very discouraged by all the waste and low wages, and the greed in some parts of the industry—I guess I never lost my naive love for flowers—and stepped back from it all.
The emergence of the farmer-florist movement within the past 10 or so years, and growing interest in local flowers, is so encouraging, and I wish I'd been at the forefront of it. I did floral design work informally for years, particularly large arrangements or altar installations of foraged materials and garden flowers for my church—they let me do anything I wanted. I took floral design classes in college and have trained with a couple of designers, but what design really requires is knowing techniques and practicing a great deal. I started growing flowers for sale—which I consider much more difficult than design—in a 40-by-80-foot community garden plot in 2015 in North Lawrence, and I still keep that garden. We bought our farm later that year.
What is the story behind your business name blue morning glory?
The namesake is the ivyleaf morning glory, ipomoea hederacea, which is naturalized in the U.S. But not native—like me and every other person here of european descent. It appears wherever I go and seems to greet me, but it is not an invasive plant. I first noticed it 30 years ago, growing on the fence of old bob snow, who kept a market garden in north lawrence. I love the leaf shape and the small blue flowers, and I plant it at the entrance to my north lawrence garden, where it grows over an arch. It’s in the flower farm, too.
How long have you been at your farm, and what plans do you have for its future?
We bought the farm in august 2015; it had excellent soil, a good driveway, clear meadows, water already piped in, and a large old pole barn. We built the house in 2018. This year we built a farm shop, and we plan to add a larger workshop for me next year. Considering plans, what I'd really love is to find out what people who love flowers, especially those in the area around kansas city, would seek from a flower farm—so I could meet those needs and desires. People have asked about online resources they could purchase, such as pdfs, videos, mini courses, about growing or what to plant, design or kids’ activities. Right now I grow primarily to support my wedding work; there are so many flowers you can only get reliably—think of foxglove, dahlias, specialty zinnias—if you grow them. But with covid in 2020, I shifted into making everyday bouquets through a program similar to a csa, as well as sales at the merc in lawrence, and I’ve enjoyed it so much I plan to expand that. We plan to add hoophouses for the dahlias and shoulder-season crops like tulips, anemones and heirloom chrysanthemums. I’d also like to bring the gardening and design workshops to the farm and develop programs that parents and kids can do together.
I think people have a physical and psychological need to do work that engages the mind and the hands together, to have flow experiences. Writing can be that for me. For some people it’s rock climbing or hiking or working with tools or painting. Flower farming is year-round—sometimes the focus is planning, sometimes it’s planting and dreaming. Planning out a color scheme for growing or for a design—there are so many opportunities for flow experiences, and I think this builds both our mental and physical health.
What do you enjoy about being in the floral and wedding industry?
There’s the floral industry, and there’s the wedding industry, which feel like two different things to me, things that can overlap. The floral trade is a worldwide community, one that fascinates me because I love seeing what different climates produce and what people are doing creatively everywhere. To have visited the international flower auction in the netherlands as a young person opened my mind up to just how vast and complex this industry is. So much beauty moving all over the world, and so many resources being used up to do it. I also make contact with people from many places through social media and other connections and am in dialog with people in new zealand, london, different countries, and all over the u.S. I love that. The wedding industry, as such, doesn’t interest me much. But I love working with couples and individuals, and that relational work can go deep. Planning a wedding brings up all the family issues and hard things, and I keep private information private, and I help the people navigate the hard parts and help dissolve these issues through meaningful, beautiful solutions. And I help people who really want to tread as lightly on the earth as possible find the way to do that with their wedding flowers.
I know I’m fortunate that many of my wedding clients and others who reach out to me really have a sense of the value of the product. I hear jaw-dropping stories from all over the country about how local flowers and design work are undervalued. Growing flowers and doing design well, along with telling the story, takes a broad skill set, just as every kind of work does. A lot of people dream about having a flower farm, but it takes a lot of labor. It doesn’t just happen.
What would you like to see change?
This might seem like a myopic goal, but
I really want to get people in my region to notice the difference between fresh, top-quality local flowers and mass-produced, imported flowers. They are not the same thing at all—a veggie comparison would be garden-grown basil and a foamy winter tomato.
What do you hope and aim for in your client’s experience?
I want my flowers to light people up with joy and take their breath away. Seriously, I want them to feel happy being near the flowers. And safe, knowing the flowers are clean. I think flowers have meant a lot to people this year, especially. And I want my wedding clients to feel totally heard and taken care of, at ease and confident in knowing that their flowers will express who they are and what they want to say—and be lush and gorgeous. And of course that all the logistics will be managed, off their plate. Cross that off the list.
Who is your ideal client?
It’s someone who really loves flowers and has a serious concern about the environment—someone whose desire for locally grown food extends to flowers, who sees that natural parallel. For weddings, my clients also tend to be artistic people who want to use the flowers that are best in the season of their wedding. They want me to really take in their vision, and they trust me to interpret it. The setting for a wedding depends so much on the flowers and the natural surroundings, and these people want their flowers to really reflect their artistic sense, their earth-conscious values, and their sense of place. I also notice that they are very responsible with their resources, including their money. They understand the value of the work I do—they aren’t price shoppers—but they also aren’t spending the equivalent of the cost of a new car or a big house down payment on their flowers. They typically spend $1,800 to $5,000 on wedding flowers.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
Aside from just having flowers, which I can’t imagine not having—just being able to walk in a field of flowers every day—it’s the relationships that come through the work. My wedding clients are some of the coolest, most wide-awake people, and I stay in touch with most of them permanently. I love following the trajectory of their lives after the wedding, which becomes just one day in a string of communication that starts months before and continues for years afterward. And I get to be in touch with flower growers all over the world through this work, too. It’s hard work, but truly expansive.