Take a Tour of Fivefork Farms, a Family-Run Operation Producing Some of New England's Most Beautiful Blooms

footed compote with peonies ninebark heuchera
Christopher Churchill

As the sun fades over Fivefork Farms in Upton, Massachusetts, luminous rows of 'Lemon Chiffon', 'Etched Salmon', and 'Pastelelegance' peonies reflect the colorful sky. Grace Lam surveys the scene and remembers a time when flowers were precious in her mom's yard. Growing up in Randolph, outside Boston, she and her four siblings—oldest sister Ping, brothers Lyh-Rhen and Lyh-Hsin, and twin sister Joyce—were always scolded for launching their soccer ball into their mother's garden. "She would get so upset when we hit the peonies," Grace remembers with a laugh. "We'd tape the stems back together in the hopes that she wouldn't notice." The Lams' plot teemed with tomatoes, bitter melons, Chinese okra, and more, providing plenty of food for the large, multigenerational immigrant family. (Daniel, their father, is a refugee from Cambodia, and mom Helen fled China in the 1950s to Hong Kong before moving to the U.S.) And Helen would tuck flowers among those beds, too, offering a different kind of nourishment.

From an early age, Grace loved the garden and its accompanying chores: choosing seeds with her mother and grandmother, harvesting, even weeding. After college in Atlanta and three years working long hours on Wall Street (where she spent lunch breaks reading farm blogs and seed catalogs), she lost her job in a round of layoffs, and quickly found an internship on a vegetable farm near her parents' home. She started looking for her own plot to tend, but Lyh-Rhen, who was working at a Boston floral studio and had noticed a new interest in American-grown flowers, suggested she join that burgeoning movement instead. In 2012, Grace and her family pooled their resources to buy a 38-acre farm in Upton, about an hour away.

Restoring the property's timeworn farmhouse and antiquated infrastructure to working order was grueling. But the siblings were up to the challenge. "Knowing what our parents went through to build a life here empowered us to take this on," says Lyh-Hsin, who runs day-to-day operations with Grace. The name Fivefork represents the five Lam kids.

The farm thrums with activity year-round: There's snow to be scraped from the high-tunnel structures in January, 30,000 dahlia tubers to be planted beginning in May, and 60,000 daffodil and tulip bulbs to get in the ground come November. The work pays off each spring, when the fields explode with blossoms. The Lams use organic growing methods, including integrated pest management and regenerative soil practices. They've experienced the hottest, wettest, and driest periods on record in New England since starting a decade ago, which has only strengthened their commitment to sustainability. "What you put in is what you get out, especially when it comes to the soil," Grace says.

Fivefork sells directly to local markets and has more than a thousand CSA members. Rain or shine, customers crowd the farmstand on Saturdays to explore the display garden and buy bundles of just-picked blooms. "We've always focused on sourcing varieties that set us apart—flowers that can turn a design into something special," says Grace. Lithe butterfly ranunculus, long-stemmed sweet peas, and voluptuous peonies are just a few signature finds.

Another focus is giving back. The Lams have raised relief funds for fellow farmers and nonprofits, and they hire local refugees. "What they do is next-level magic," says floral designer and loyal client Ariella Chezar. "Their flowers feel exceptional, and it comes down to how much they care."

"I love this dance of yellow and dusty-rose tones," says Chezar of this lofty creation. She used a footed compote, which lifts the flowers so they can drape over the sides, and then purple ninebark branches and heuchera leaves to establish a triangle shape. She added 'Athena' and 'Clouds of Color' peonies to form a base and filled it in with butterfly ranunculus and grasses for texture.

Art direction by Ryan Mesina; Prop styling by Tanya Graff; Floral Arrangements by Ariella Chezar.

01 of 10

Dawn Patrol

dawn shirley temple peony harvest
Christopher Churchill

Beginning shortly after sunrise, the Fivefork Farms team harvests peonies three times a day. After each haul, they prep the stems in their barn for CSA members and farmstand customers. These 'Shirley Temple' peonies are one of more than 40 varieties they grow. For the longest vase life, Grace Lam suggests cutting them in the "marshmallow stage," when the buds feel soft to the touch but the blooms aren't fully open.

02 of 10

Wide Appeal

narrow vase tulips anemone dogwood
Christopher Churchill

"There's such a diversity of floral choices in spring—it's heaven," says Chezar. For this pastel display, she mixed 'La Belle Epoque', 'Aveyron', 'Chinatown', and 'Apricot Beauty' tulips, massaging some of the petals open for fullness, then added anemone, dogwood, and ranunculus. "It's hard to argue with the shape of your vase," she says of this narrow-necked style. "The small, circular opening forces the flowers to be fairly vertical, so I used a dogwood branch to open it up."

03 of 10

Helping Hands

greenhouse sweet peas cordon method
Christopher Churchill

To grow sweet peas, Grace employs the labor-intensive cordon method: She isolates a single shoot from each plant and ties it to an upright support system, which can be extended as it grows. She also removes side shoots so each can focus its energy into a single, extra-long stem.

04 of 10

An Armful of Peonies

field harvesting bunch peony
Christopher Churchill

Older brother Lyh-Hsin, who previously worked at Habitat for Humanity, helps maintain the farm's machinery and building infrastructure. Here, he takes a moment to harvest an armful of peonies. "We were prepared for the hard work of farming," he says. "What's been unexpected is the community support and the impact our flowers have on our customers' lives."

05 of 10

Keeping Track

chalkboard weekly plan for staff
Christopher Churchill

The farm staff plans the week ahead on a chalkboard, tracking CSA pickup locations and delivery schedules.

06 of 10

Warm Welcome

greeting customers buckets flowers
Christopher Churchill

Lyh-Rhen and Joyce greet farmstand customers.

07 of 10

Buckets of Blooms

buckets ranunculus blooms
Christopher Churchill

Buckets of delicate, fluttery ranunculus are ready to be cut and bundled.

08 of 10

Rare Beauties

red butterfly ranunculus field
Christopher Churchill

Bred in Japan and grown for production in Holland, butterfly ranunculus only became available to the U.S. commercial trade in the past few years. Fivefork Farms jumped at the chance to grow them, but doing so in New England's cold climate is no small feat. To have them ready in May, for example, Grace and her team start rehydrating the corms in the farm's greenhouses in mid-December and then plant them in flats. When they sprout a couple of weeks later, the family transplants them to the ground under high tunnels. Blooms like these fiery 'Hades' can be harvested in time for Mother's Day.

09 of 10

Lush Life

copper urn multi-colored ranunculus
Christopher Churchill

A weathered copper urn anchors an ombré bouquet designed to showcase a rainbow of ranunculus. To create this organic shape, Chezar followed the natural bend of the blossoms, layering them in at different heights. "Think about how flowers bloom in the field," she says. "They never grow at the exact same height; some are short, tall, curved, straight. When you mimic that in an arrangement, it looks more alive."

10 of 10

A Growing Family

fivefork farms family in field
Christopher Churchill

What a team: From left, there is Joyce Lam, Ping Bailey, Grace Lam (holding her niece, Elsie Bailey), Daniel and Helen Lam (center), Lyh-Rhen Lam, Lyh-Hsin Lam (in overalls), and Ping's husband, Stuart Bailey. Grace and Lyh-Hsin work full-time on the farm, and Ping, Joyce, and Lyh-Rhen bring unique skills to the business. Ping, who works in biotech, focuses on marketing and big-picture strategy, while Joyce, a managing director at Citigroup, handles the finances. Lyh-Rhen, visual and merchandising director at Tatte Bakery & Café in Boston, lends his expertise to the farm's logo, branding, and website. Dad Daniel (aka chief farm ambassador) still makes the farm's CSA deliveries to the greater Boston area and happily directs traffic at the farmstand, greeting every visitor with a warm smile. Helen, the family's original green thumb, guides the farm's growing practices.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles