Gardening With a Higher Purpose
January 23rd, 2013 by Elisabeth Kramer
Paula Rice, at right, sorts the farm’s latest flower harvest with daughter Eden. Paula has developed a loyal following of customers by offering products and services geared to their tastes and needs.

Paula Rice, at right, sorts the farm’s latest flower harvest with daughter Eden. Paula has developed a loyal following of customers by offering products and services geared to their tastes and needs.

Paula Rice moves quickly. She has to. A mother of eight and the owner of BeeHaven Specialty Cut Flower Farm, Paula spends the day zipping around her family’s farm near Bonners Ferry.

“I wake up at 5 a.m. and I don’t go to bed until 10 p.m. and I feel like it is nonstop,” Paula says. Estimating how much time she spends just farming is difficult, she adds. “I’m a mom. I have laundry. I have groceries and cooking that need to be done.”

On a typical summer morning, though, Paula is out among her flowers by 7 a.m. The famously beautiful hills of North Idaho surround the farm, offering postcard-worthy views from every corner.

The garden itself spans two acres planted with more than 100 varieties, a wealth of blooms the lifelong gardener never imagined for herself. Paula didn’t even know gardening could be a viable career until she was inspired by Lynn Byczynski’s how-to manual, “The Flower Farmer.”

“I read that and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to try that,’” Paula says. “I did a few rows in the vegetable garden and sold them at the farmers market. I hardly made any money.”

But the idea took root. Before long, flowers outnumbered vegetables in Paula’s garden.

“I have no formal education in gardening at all,” she says. “I just have a passion for growing flowers, and you know what? Passion trumps just about everything.”

Five years in, BeeHaven is northern Idaho’s only full-time flower farm. It’s also a model of creative ways to keep toxins out of the garden.

“Nobody’s going to buy my bouquet for $50 just because it is organic, so I’ve really had to be creative in creating my own system,” Paula says.

This means using pigs to prep an area for seeds, collecting the neighborhood’s autumn leaves to blanket her fields and, every once in a while, doing a bit of spot spraying.

The resulting bouquets are available throughout western Idaho, including at the farmers market in Sandpoint that Paula helped found. She has received requests from florists as far away as New York City to come tour the farm.

Customers also are invited to visit during classes hosted at BeeHaven. Participants wander the garden picking their own flowers before arranging them in take-home bouquets.

Another successful BeeHaven venture brings flowers directly to customers. With a “flower subscription,” locals receive weekly, biweekly or monthly deliveries of the season’s latest offerings. The program has been so successful Paula suggests it to any up-and-coming flower farmer.

Paula’s top priority is making sure people have fun buying flowers. Often this means changing a prospective customer’s preconceptions.

“You go to the grocery and buy flowers and they are dead,” she says of the typical American flower-buying experience. “The only thing that’s making that flower beautiful is the fact that it is in the refrigerator. The moment it comes out, it wants to die.”

Paula says BeeHaven’s blooms last longer than their supermarket counterparts because she carefully chooses the timing of her harvests.

“There’s definitely a science to it,” she adds. “Every flower is different.”

As the farm expands, Paula aims to keep BeeHaven fertile.

“I’m really concerned about our soil because when we got here there wasn’t a worm anywhere,” she says.

To keep BeeHaven healthy and its now thousands of resident worms happy, Paula puts hay in every year and mows down rye all summer.

“Weeds are my biggest enemy—and the deer,” she says. “They ate two-thirds of my lily bulb rows. Huge loss. I mean instantly I had a headache. Instantly.”

With the support of her family, Paula is planning ahead for BeeHaven’s future. The past five years, she says, have been spent developing a dedicated following of customers. The next five will be “getting it to the point where we can maybe make a living doing this.”

Part of reaching that goal means increasing efficiency. Paula now employs four local women, all students interested in making a bit of money during the summer. Her children also help, planting seeds in March, selling June through September and cleaning up come October. Eldest daughter Eden has particularly taken to the family business.

“She has been my sidekick since day one,” says Paula. “She can grab flowers and just let go.”

The result: rainbows wrapped in ribbon with colors ranging from red roses to yellow sunflowers to purple larkspur.

Asked if she has a favorite flower, Paula laughs before sharing an ongoing joke that is practically a motto at BeeHaven: “If you’re in season, you’re my favorite.”

No matter the season or the species, Paula sees a higher purpose in her garden.

“Flowers are not luxury,” she says. “They’re food for the soul.”