Urban flower farming, Toronto-style

by Debra Prinzing on September 1, 2011

in Florists and Floral Designers,Home-Grown,The Book Project,The Sustainable Marketplace

Local, Organic, and Luscious. 

I snapped this photo of Sarah last March, when I met her in downtown Toronto. Yes, she pedaled to my hotel for our scheduled meet-and-greet.

Sarah Nixon studied film-making and spent her student summers working on a certified organic farm in British Columbia called Nanoose Edibles. The daughter of flower gardeners, she learned to love the rhythmic farm rituals of weeding and harvesting, not to mention the importance of sustainable growing practices.  

Armed with a B.F.A. degree from Concordia University in Montreal, Sarah moved to Toronto to create documentary films, train as a yoga instructor and plant her own first garden in the city. Little did she know that growing a cutting garden would turn her into an urban flower farmer.

“I was growing so many flowers that I started giving them away,” Sarah recalls.   

The notion of starting a flower CSA took root and she launched My Luscious Backyard in 2002.

A bountiful, luscious bouquet, by Sarah Nixon

Early on, Sarah’s 30-by-50 foot patch of ground yielded annual sunflowers and zinnias, flowering shrubs and lots of perennials. She shopped seed catalogs for new varieties and gained knowledge and inspiration from The Flower Farmer, Lynn Byzcynski’s essential guide to small-scale cut-flower farming.   

Weekly subscriptions expanded into requests for Sarah to design wedding flowers, and soon, My Luscious Backyard was at capacity. “I was using every square inch of my garden,” Sarah says.   

Yet elsewhere in Toronto, even on her block, “I kept noticing yards that people were neglecting. It almost seemed that they begrudged having to mow their lawns.” 

Toronto's residential backyard gardens form Sarah's urban farm, where small plots of land are intensively planted with flowers to bloom throughout the growing season.

Sarah asked a few friends if she could plant cutting gardens in their yards. “Then I put an ad on Craig’s List, and now people usually approach me,” she says.

It’s a fair swap: Sarah gains planting space and the homeowner gains a flower farm. “People seem to be eager to have someone else garden for them,” she points out. With more than 50 varieties of everyday and unusual blooms, My Luscious Backyard is known for producing the freshest, most romantic flowers around. Sarah harvests, designs the bouquets and delivers them to customers on the same day. She uses organic principles, reminding customers that “no environmentally damaging pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers are used.” 

One of Sarah's gorgeous seasonal and local arrangements.

On her web site, Sarah emphasizes the value-added of buying local: 

“Many varieties available through us are impossible to find at a conventional florist due to the arduous travel requirements (of imported flowers). And because they are grown locally they haven’t used a lot of fuel to reach you, unlike most commercially available flowers which travelled thousands of miles before arriving in Toronto.”

Her wildflower- and nature-inspired bouquets satisfy subscribers paying $40 to $70 each week between the months of May and October. Sarah also supplies bouquets to restaurants, offices and area grocery stores.

And picture this: Rather than driving from one backyard to the next to harvest her crops, Sarah utilizes a low-carbon-footprint bicycle, complete with a trailer. ”It holds six flower buckets,” she points out.

Here are two quotes that I love: 

“I moved to Toronto to become a flower farmer.” — Sarah Nixon

and one of Sarah’s favorites, from her email signature: 

“I’d rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck.” – Emma Goldman

I hope you are as inspired as I am by Sarah’s “intentional” story. She lives with integrity – and beauty. And I hope more of us can do the same – even in our own backyards.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

compostinmyshoe September 7, 2011 at 11:03 am

I’ve been selling veggies and herbs out of my organic garden since January. Along the way they get little bits of floral from the garden. I find it leaves such a lasting impression. It has been a great way to share the beauty that we experience in our own garden with others. Great post!

debra September 7, 2011 at 11:21 am

Thanks for your comment, Jim!
Time and again, we love seeing the creativity of organic growers who blend edible and ornamental crops – in the field and in the vase!
I would love to see how you design bouquets with veggies and herbs with your flowers!

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