Episode 455: A long-distance peony collaboration between grower Eugenia Harris of Nicewicz Peonies and florist Stacey Lee of Paeonia Designs
May 27th, 2020
What happens when a flower farm’s principal grower lives in Austin, Texas, far away from where her thousands of peony plants grow in Bolton, Massachusetts . . . and something like the COVID-19 pandemic prevents her from traveling back to her flowers for the annual peony harvest?
You’re about to learn exactly what happened for Eugenia Harris of Nicewicz Peonies, who found herself quarantined right when she would otherwise be traveling to the Boston area to spend several weeks for her peony season.
I love this story because Eugenia, like many small agricultural operations, had to get creative. She turned to our second guest, Stacey Lee of Framingham, Massachusetts-based Paeonia Designs. Both are Slow Flowers members and given the name of her wedding and event studio, Paeonia Designs, it’s no surprise to learn that Stacey is a customer of Nicewicz Peonies.
Fellow peony lovers, the two are coming together this year in an ingenious way. Stacey’s 2020 wedding and event bookings are most, if not all, postponed for this season, so she’s in a rare situation with time on her hands just when Eugenia needs a surrogate peony expert.
Here’s more about Eugenia Harris and Nicewicz Peonies:
Eugenia Harris and David Nicewicz are the peony growers at Nicewicz Family Farm in Bolton, Massachusetts. Eugenia’s a software engineer turned flower farmer – who as I mentioned, now lives back in her home state, residing in Austin, Texas – and her co-farmer David’s, as Eugenia describes him, is a real farmer who doesn’t even have an email account.
They planted the first peonies at the farm in 2001 and have been expanding ever since. There are now more than 1,700 plants representing more than 100 different varieties. Their peonies usually bloom starting in late May or early June, and continue as late as the third week of June, for a total of about 3-4 weeks – especially in years when the weather is “just right” (not too hot, not too wet).
Eugenia and David sell the peonies as specialty cut flowers in season, to florists and event planners, and typically via advance order from the website. The Nicewicz Family Farm has been in David’s family since 1929, when it was purchased by his father’s parents, shortly after they immigrated to the U.S. from Poland. David and his three brothers Tommy, Kenny and Alan run the farm now, with help from various family and friends, including sister Jo-Ann, resident artist Chath pierSath from Cambodia, and long-time family friend Dave Joki of Stow, Massachusetts.
The farm’s primary crops are fruit (apples, peaches, nectarines, plums, pears, blueberries, cherries), produce (corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, basil, onions, pumpkins, gourds, etc.), and flowers (peonies of course, and usually celosia, dahlias, strawflowers, sunflowers and zinnias) – all of which are sold locally at the farm and at a few Boston-area and Worcester farmers’ markets and at the farm’s self-service stand.
Here’s more about Stacey Lee of Paeonia Designs:
After working more than a few years as a civil engineer, a timely layoff provided the opportunity to take a lifelong hobby to the next level. Paeonia Designs was born with a friend’s wedding request and has blossomed into a full service event floral design studio.
Stacey works out of a studio at home overlooking her own flower gardens. There is a large floral cooler in her workshop that is run on the sun, thanks to solar panels on the roof! Between Stacey’s and her mother’s gardens, they grow several varieties of perennials such as tulips, peonies, hydrangea, sedum, and scabiosa as well as various annuals used in arrangements. Stacey says she is by no means a farmer florist but is hopefully headed there one day.
The organic garden at Paeonia Designs is primarily watered with rain barrels (when mother nature accommodates) and fertilized with homemade compost. Throughout the year, Stacey sources as many flowers locally as possible from several farms and greenhouses close to home. Late summer and fall arrangements contain sunflowers grown just a quarter mile down the road. And some of her mother’s pink peony plants still provide blooms. The plants are about 40 years old and were the inspiration for the Paeonia logo!
Stacey truly loves what she does. Flowers are more than her occupation; they’re both passion and craft. As she says: “I want to see each bride, groom, mama-to-be, celebrant, and guest of honor thrilled with their flowers, regardless of the size of the event. Each client deserves quality service and the most gorgeous, fresh and thoughtful flowers arranged with exceptional detail.”
Well, this is a unique story and collaboration based on friendship and mutual commitment from two women who are combining their talents to bring peonies to the Boston/New England area and beyond.
Find and follow Nicewicz Peonies and Paeonia Designs at these social places:
Nicewicz Family Farm on Facebook and Nicewicz Peonies on Instagram
Paeonia Designs on Facebook and Instagram
Thanks so much for joining today’s conversation. Since early April, I’ve been featuring Slow Flowers member voices in the ongoing “Stories of Resilience” series here on the podcast. I don’t know what I was thinking when I started, telling myself “oh, we’ll do this for a few months until things get back to ‘normal,'” and then it will wrap up. Well . . . I clearly did not have the right crystal ball to gaze into the future, friends.
As far as I can tell, long into the foreseeable future, we are going to be talking about the inventive, creative and fierce ways that flower farmers and floral designers are sustaining their enterprises during the COVID era. As I’ve said before, I don’t really know how things will shake out, but I do take huge inspiration from the people I’ve hosted on this Podcast.
More for our Community
The Slow Flowers Member Virtual Meet-Ups continue to provide value and support as a member benefit. Last week was our ninth consecutive meet-up and because it took place on the Friday leading into a three day holiday weekend, it was a lighthearted morning focused on community, encouragement and mutual support of one another! If you missed last week’s Slow Flowers Member Virtual Meet-up, you can click on the link to watch the replay video above.
Please join me at the next Slow Flowers Virtual Meet-Up, this Friday, May 29th — 9 am Pacific/Noon Eastern. Can’t wait to see you there! Our special guest is Lisa Waud of Lisa Waud Botanical Artist, and a core member of the Slow Flowers team. Lisa is launching a new art installation series in her community called Big Flower Friend, a less competitive nod to that other floral phenomenon you might be watching on Netflix right now. Lisa will be joined by Amanda Maurmann of Gnome Grown Flower Farm and a board member of the Michigan Flower Growers Cooperative. They’ll be sharing about Lisa’s new project to bring botanical art to Detroit and support local flower growers in her state.
Follow this link to join us on Friday, May 29th.
Thank you to our Sponsors
This podcast is brought to you by Slowflowers.com, the free, nationwide online directory to florists, shops, and studios who design with American-grown flowers and to the farms that grow those blooms. It’s the conscious choice for buying and sending flowers.
And thank you to Florists’ Review magazine. I’m delighted to serve as Contributing Editor for Slow Flowers Journal, found in the pages of Florists’ Review. Read our stories at slowflowersjournal.com.
More thanks to Rooted Farmers, which works exclusively with local growers to put the highest-quality specialty cut flowers in floral customers’ hands. When you partner with Rooted Farmers, you are investing in your community, and you can expect a commitment to excellence in return. Learn more at RootedFarmers.com
And to Johnny’s Selected Seeds, an employee-owned company that provides our industry the best flower, herb and vegetable seeds — supplied to farms large and small and even backyard cutting gardens like mine. Find the full catalog of flower seeds and bulbs at johnnysseeds.com.
And to Mayesh Wholesale Florist. Family-owned since 1978, Mayesh is the premier wedding and event supplier in the U.S. and we’re thrilled to partner with Mayesh to promote local and domestic flowers, which they source from farms large and small around the U.S. Learn more at mayesh.com.
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I’m Debra Prinzing, host and producer of the Slow Flowers Podcast. Next week, you’re invited to join me in putting more American grown flowers on the table, one vase at a time. And If you like what you hear, please consider logging onto iTunes and posting a listener review.
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