This month, we wanted to turn the spotlight on one of our favorite local floral partners, Little Hollow Flowers—a family owned and operated farm specializing in unique cut flowers and greenery for floral arrangements.
We sat down with owners Kate and Dustin to talk about Colorado’s diverse landscape and sense of place, as told through its plants and flowers.
What do you consider Colorado’s flora “of place” to be? What naturally populates our landscape here?
Colorado hosts a lot of diversity, from shortgrass prairie and steppe to foothills to mountain and alpine and so on. Each ecological zone has its own distinct palette. But when we think of Colorado flora in the context of the floral world and how global the selection of material has become, there are defining factors to distinguish and limit what we interpret as Colorado’s palette. Climate, soils, and water are big ones. Even with our extreme climate and lack of water, there are so many exciting plants that do grow well here and are very applicable to floral design.
Rabbitbrush and sage are everywhere. Or hike into the mountains and be surrounded by columbines and raspberry growing wild. Each season brings about new characters and sights to see. In spring, we especially love pasqueflower, geum, clematis, and baptisia. Lots of flowering trees and woodies like ninebark, currant, chokecherry, and wild plum. In summer we see a huge variety of flowering perennials like scabiosa, echinacea, penstemon, and liatris. We especially love Apache plume.
The feeling of place is subjective to the person experiencing and interacting with the local landscape. When we think about Colorado, we all narrow in on different plants and landscapes we love.
Can you locate your original connection to plants and flowers? An early memory of feeling at home with them, and curious about them?
Spending time in the mountains as a child wandering through groves of aspens and evergreens piqued an interest in plants and the landscape. I can vividly remember as a young boy walking into a meadow so lush with columbines it looked like standing water. Those experiences sparked a deep connection and interest in the natural world. Throughout different chapters and moments of change, the Colorado landscape has remained constant as the place that has always felt like home.
In your growing practice, do you work with the plants, flowers, and shrubs that are cultivated in this environment? Do you grow anything that isn’t particularly at home here, and what might the challenges be in that case?
While we do grow some varieties that are not specific to our region, we are most passionate about bringing more native, near native, and well-adapted selections into the cut flower market here in Colorado. So many of the varieties you find at wholesale markets have no relevance to our region. Native plants like penstemon and Apache plume are less typical in the floral world, but to us, they offer the opportunity to distinguish design work with materials that are uniquely available in our region and celebrate our particular landscape. We are always trialing things and searching for new varieties that perform from a growing perspective, as well as from a conditioning / vase life / stem length perspective.
In terms of the flowers we grow that are less “at home” here: Our rule is that each crop has to earn its bed space. We have good success with anemones and ranunculus, which are not native or perennial here, but nonetheless make good annual crops for our region and climate. Overall, we prioritize plants that are native or well-adapted, require little water for irrigation once established, and offer multiple benefits in terms of bloom time, stem length, vase life, and habitat for birds or pollinators. We also prioritize things that are unique or not widely available through wholesale markets, and that fill an important season of our calendar year. If something is requiring too much water or labor or coddling, it probably won’t make the cut. Things that don’t produce well, are too impacted by insect pressure, or demonstrate invasive tendencies get eliminated.
I would say that roses have been somewhat challenging for us here. We grow some really beautiful roses, but compared with the product being imported or grown in large indoor operations, we can’t really compete with the stem length, vase life, or perfection of the blooms undamaged from insects. Also, as a small farm we don’t have access to many of the highly sought-after varieties, which are patent-protected and contract grown. Many of the varieties we really want to grow are also not cold hardy to our zone 5a/b.
How do you work with what can often be a harsh / challenging environment, and what environmental practices do you have in place at the farm?
Growing in Colorado is all about the ability to adapt. It’s becoming more and more challenging. The seasons change quickly, and the weather is unpredictable. We’ve found planning and planting the crops that are best suited to the season to be the most effective way to work with the seasons. We’ve worked hard to establish a system of drip irrigation to use water efficiently and to irrigate in a way that is tailored to our climate and soils. In moments of volatile weather, we try to protect what we can but remember that ultimately it is out of our control and that the world is changing.
Thinking of our land, our employees, our ecosystem, our customers, and ourselves, we have made the decision not to use either systemic herbicides or pesticides. Our hope is that over time by enhancing habitat and food sources, birds will play a larger role in our pest management. One of our priorities in establishing our farm has been the health and biology of our soil. We employ mostly no till practices and have experienced the difference a rich living soil can make.
Can you tell us about how you work and partner with local florists / stockists like Beet & Yarrow? How might this ensure a more sustainable (and gentle) floral industry?
Working with florists is something we truly love. Partnering with talented designers and playing a role in their creative process is incredible. We feel so grateful to be in a region that supports and seeks out local flower producers. We are always impressed by designers who allow the notion of seasonality to be carried through their designs. It’s often looser and more improvisational; the floral equivalent of going to your local farmers market, shopping the best produce that week, and shaping your dinner menu around that. As growers, we are also hugely influenced by the designers we work with. Each season, we hear and observe what our regular customers are wanting more of and plan our crops accordingly.
I love your reference to working collectively toward a more sustainable and gentle floral industry. We know that sourcing from local farms takes more time and more work for florists, so we appreciate that we are working together to lessen the travel footprint of floral material and to celebrate the best of each season through local flowers. No cardboard boxes, no plastic sleeves, no systemic pesticides or overnight flights. Our flowers are not wholly innocent or without consequence, but our small business is striving to do better for our people and our planet. We are continually impressed by the number of florists who prioritize sourcing local flowers for these reasons and more.
If you were to put together the ultimate Colorado bouquet—what would it look like?
We are loving really loving textural, expressive designs with fewer ingredients, but it depends on the season. For early summer I would go with artemisia and apache plume, baptisia, scabiosa, penstemon, echinacea, and maybe throw in some foxglove and sweet sultan.
You can find Little Hollow Flowers in many of our late spring and summer arrangements—and, coming soon, a totally local bouquet.