“If thou of fortune be bereft, and in thy store there be but left two loaves, sell one, and with the dole, buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.” John Greenleaf Whittier
Anybody who can turn a beloved hobby into a successful business qualifies as one of the lucky ones in life. And by that definition, Barb Brant of Whitefish, Mont., the creative force behind Foolish Blooms, certainly is lucky.
Brant’s luck at growing some 80 varieties of flowers, however, is no quirk of fate. Behind it lies 40 years of gardening expertise, countless hours of manual labor, and a passion for research—none of which has felt burdensome to Brant due to her avid curiosity about the botanical world.
“One thing I especially like is the preparation of the flower beds, planting the seeds. There is something in that effort that is so pleasing to me. You don’t always know what the outcome will be, but it’s still deeply satisfying,” says Brant, whose garden expanded from, “scattered beds around the house to a full-blown flower farm with thousands of blooms.”
Even if Barb Brant had not ventured into floral sales, she would still be growing flowers to enjoy at home and gift to friends. It’s a tradition and lifestyle stemming back to her Long Island childhood that has continued to nourish her spirit and form her psyche.
“My family always had a garden, and my mom always grew immense amounts of flowers for table bouquets—delphiniums, zinnias, tulips. I would help pick them and make bouquets,” recollects Brant. “Growing flowers is such a luxury. No one will die from lack of flowers, and no one believes their beauty is lasting. You are aware the beauty is impermanent so you have to be in the moment to appreciate it.”
According to this farmer florist, the hardest flower to grow is the one you are unfamiliar with. “You need to learn its idiosyncrasies and characteristics. For instance, Irish Bells require more sun than you might expect, and Clematis roots should be shaded to avoid ‘hot feet,” she explains. “The tidbits of information you glean, along with experience, help build your confidence.”
Unsurprisingly, growing flowers in Whitefish comes with distinctive challenges. As any Big Sky gardener will verify, two of the top contenders—frost and wildlife—can definitely be hazardous to your garden’s health.
Brant’s 8-foot-high fence, so far, has deterred deer and all but one bruin from pillaging her pear and apple trees. As for weather issues, season-extending tools, such as frost blankets and mulch, help warm the soil by a few degrees. But despite monitoring weather forecasts, she admits snow can sneak up on even prepared gardeners.
Interestingly, Barb Brant’s willingness to tackle whatever Mother Nature might toss her way also explains how she named her business.
“My brother grew irises for the city of San Francisco and came here to help me make my flower beds. He’s a mathematician by trade and a gardener for love. He knew the time one puts into gardening doesn’t always pencil out,” says Brant. “He was always shocked when we got a late or early snow. One year when he was living here it snowed on June 6. So he knew the risks of trying to make a living at this and thought the idea was, well, foolish.”
Fortunately, Brant disagreed. And, while some of her bouquets might be described as whimsical, there is nothing foolish about them. She sees beauty in the unexpected, possessing an enviable skill at fashioning boutonnieres as well as banquet-table centerpieces in the most fetching arrangements imaginable. If you have never considered bouquets to be fanciful, dramatic, or dazzling, a peek at Brant’s artistry should remedy that.
Unlike florists who source their blooms from distributors around the country and globe, Brant grows all the pesticide-free flowers she uses and occasionally combs woodlands for additional materials. Since her bouquets only feature what is currently blooming in her back yard between spring and autumn, they vary monthly, and even weekly, reflecting the season.
When asked why people bother to purchase something as ephemeral as blossoms, Brant answers without hesitation.
“The only thing you get flowers for is the beauty. People feel so gifted by them. They remind us that there is something other than practicality that takes care of us and our everyday needs,” she says. “People unknowingly give praise to the unknown by giving praise to a flower.”
Of all her flowers, Sweat Peas are the ones Brant finds both men and women at the Whitefish Farmers’ Market gravitate to first.
“They recognize the look and aroma right away. Many people like them because of their nostalgic value,” she observes. “They mention that their mom or grandmother grew them. Poppies are another favorite. But like sweet peas, they only last four or five days at most.”
Additionally, Brant offers a Friday bouquet farm stand seasonally at her Whitefish home. If you drive or pedal past her driveway from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., or 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., the vibrant display of rainbow hues will practically beg you to stop and admire them. To save time during her busiest weeks, Brant relies on a self-pay honor system.
“It works perfectly in this community. I love being able to do this. If anyone were to take flowers or money,” she says philosophically, “I guess I’d assume they need it.”
Brant also has a third outlet for her talents, Farm Blooms Montana, in conjunction with Pam Gerwe of Purple Frog Gardens and Whitney Pratt. The threesome design bouquets tailored for individual events, whether as intimate as a memorial or elopement or as grand as an elaborate wedding. However, unlike ordering from a florist’s brochure, no one can guarantee which local flowers will be ready on a specific date. Clients play a bit of floral roulette trusting the results will beautify their occasion. To date, that trust has been well placed.
Brant’s advice to anyone wanting to grow flowers is plain old common sense. “Volunteer in someone else’s garden. Learn from others. With the internet there are classes and podcasts available,” she adds. “So do it! Jump in, and you’ll find your way.”
While easier means exist to earn a living, Brant wouldn’t swap her chosen path and its joys for any other career.
“It’s a delightful business. There is something worthwhile about praising the beauty that we live in. And my customers are so generous with their compliments. They say things like, ‘You really make magic,’” says Brant. “I don’t think people selling toilet plungers get the same reaction. They’re too practical.” MSN
For more information: Call 406-309-0270 or visit farmbloomsmt.com.