Get to Know the Musicians-Turned-Gardeners Growing a Super Bloom of Flowers in the Hudson Valley
The beginning of the growing season is always hectic if you're a farmer. But after a crazy start last year, Jenny Elliott and Luke Franco of Tiny Hearts Farm in Copake, New York, are ready for anything. Last May, cooler-than-usual temperatures compressed this period, so they had to work around the clock. They harvested upwards of 21,000 tulips and daffodils in the early mornings and turned around mere hours later to transplant hundreds of seedlings—poppies, forget-me-nots, and delphiniums—into the fields. They also opened their first shop, a white-clapboard jewel box building with just picked blossoms, in Hillsdale, 10 minutes away. After opening their shop, the couple's biggest accomplishment arrived: welcoming their second son, St. Clair, joining older brother George, who was 23 months old at the time.
Luckily, these two musicians are used to improvising. A decade ago, they were living in New York City, where Franco was piecing together gigs as a jazz guitarist, and Elliott was holding down office jobs while studying for a master's degree in music history. Burnt out from city life, she applied for a summer apprenticeship on a vegetable farm in Westchester County, got it, and quickly found a new calling. "On my first day, it was pouring rain, and I was using a big steel rake to pull rocks out of 400-foot beds," she says. "But I just felt at home." She completed her apprenticeship (and her degree) and planted her way up to assistant farm manager. That’s when she decided to put down roots of her own, leasing an acre nearby.
Jenny didn’t own a single piece of equipment, nor did she have access to potable water, so she hydrated her crops (including tomatoes, peppers, and green beans) solely from rain collected from the barn roof. Little by little, she pulled in Franco—first to wire-crimp a fence, then to help with watering. As they worked the farmers’ markets, they realized they were just one tiny business in a sea of bigger ones selling vegetables, and set out to differentiate themselves. Today, the pair are part of the next-wave movement of local, farm-to-table flowers across the country. "We’re hoping to connect people with all the beautiful plants we can grow right here in New York," says Franco. Come July, a rainbow of old-fashioned annuals like scabiosa, zinnias, celosia, and cosmos will illuminate the fields—and get trucked to regular clients like Emily Thompson Flowers and Fox Fodder Farms in New York City. But for now, it’s full steam ahead, says Elliott. "After last year, it feels like a breeze!"
The Future of the Farm
The Tiny Hearts team puts thousands of dahlia tubers in the ground by the end of each May. This year, they're doubling their yield, planting two acres of the fall bloomers, from dinner plate–size varieties to tiny pompons. "Yes, they can be fussy and are heavy feeders," says co-owner Luke Franco. "But by August, when they start reaching their peak just as most summer flowers are losing steam, you'll be happy you planted them."
Top row, from left: "Hamilton Lillian," "Survivor," and the "Sonic Bloom." Second row: "Café au Lait," "Ringo," "Wizard of Oz," "Crossfield Ebony," "Drummer Boy," "Ferncliff Inspiration," and the "White Nettie." On the bottom row: "Sierra Glow," "Seattle," "A la Mode," "Boogie Nites," and "Ginger Willo."
George can often be found on the farm with his parents, where he's learning lots about the family business.
"Pandora" poppies—one of the many beautiful flowers that Tiny Hearts grows in the wild—open in the June sun.
Keeping Soil Healthy
Dawn at the farm is especially breathtaking in late spring. To keep the soil healthy and productive, the couple rotates where they plant, seeding cover crops on areas left fallow to restore nutrients and prevent disease.
"Magic Fountains Sky Blue" delphiniums vary in color from pale blue to lavender.
To beat the heat, the team at Tiny Hearts cuts flowers first thing in the morning, then moves to the barn to process flowers for designers in Boston, New York City, and Westchester County.
Flora and Fauna
A swallowtail butterfly sips nectar from a zinnia in the Tiny Hearts farm located in the heart of upstate New York.
Bundle of Joy
Jenny Elliott carries an armful of "Queen Red Lime" zinnias, just one of the nearly two dozen varieties planted at the farm each year. The couple makes sure to have all the elements of a complete arrangement growing in the fields at any given time, from showstopping blossoms to a variety of foliage. And unlike traditional florist fare, bred to survive long shipping distances, "our flowers don't have to fit neatly in a box," she says. "They're full of personality—they've got flavor and spice."
Elliott does arrangements for weddings and other events throughout the growing season; this one features autumn glories: "Ginger Willo," "Hamilton Lillian," "Sierra Glow," and "Ginger Snap" dahlias join green amaranth, foraged sprays of fuzzy clematis vines in seed, and grapes.
Franco, Elliott, George, and baby St. Clair take a breather in the back of the family's truck, which is piled high with the day's harvest. When picking, the couple and their staff put flowers straight into buckets filled with water to begin hydrating the stems right away. "It helps extend their vase life," says Franco. They also strip away excess foliage to prevent bacteria from growing on the blooms.