Meet Becky Newton of Wren's Gate Garden and Studio
Wren's Gate Garden & Studio is a small three-acre farm specializing in growing unique, uncommon and heirloom flowers. Located in Central Illinois amid vast corn fields, the gardens are bursting with flowers that reflect the season. From a hillside full of daffodils in the spring, to cheerful summer zinnias and magnificent dinner plate dahlias in the fall, they harvest and design with only the best of what is blooming each day for markets, restaurants, florists, subscriptions and events. We caught up with owner and farmer Becky Newton to learn more.
1. When did you start farming?
I grew up on a farm in Pana, IL spending as many hours as possible outside. The farm grew strawberries, sweet corn, grain and more tomatoes than any one family could eat. Through 4-H, I started working with flowers and learned from many talented gardeners and designers. At 15, I began working in a greenhouse/flower shop and continued to work with flowers through college. After an 18 year detour in Parks and Recreation I am now pursuing flower farming as more than a hobby. This change allows for more time with my family; although much of that time is with tools in hand.
2. Can you tell us a little bit about the sustainable farming practices that you use?
In the modern horticulture system, plant varieties are chosen for their ability to bloom uniformly, resist disease and pests, withstand harvesting, survive packing, travel long distances, and last a long time on your table. Sounds great right? With this large-scale production there is limited genetic diversity and selection for the consumer. Many of these growers cannot provide the flowers that are more difficult to pack or grow on a large scale. Smaller local farms, like Wren’s Gate grow many different varieties of crops to provide a long harvest season, an array of colors, and the best blooms. Our flowers are grown in a sustainable way that limits the use of pesticides and other chemicals. We go to great lengths to manage the farm with organic fertilizers (thank you chickens), deep mulches (oak leaves, lots of oak leaves) and to combat pests with natural methods. Thank you lady bugs, spiders, toads and again, chickens. There's a unique kind of assurance that comes from a field tour or knowing the farmer who grew the flowers on your table. Local farmers aren't anonymous and they take their responsibility to the consumer seriously. This in turn helps to reduce our current reliance on fossil fuels to produce, package, and distribute flowers. Wrens Gate is a patchwork of gardens, meadows, woods, ponds and buildings that provide habitat for wildlife. We utilize a series of rain barrels and well water for our gardens, compost all of our plant materials and provide habitat for everything from ducks to deer. Although if the deer were only more polite, we would get along better!
3. Why is it important to you to use the particular sustainable practices you mentioned above?
Cut flowers are a $7.5 billion dollar industry in the United States. However, 82% of all cut flowers are imported into the country. Local flowers provide a sense of place. Flowers grown in season will provide the memory of your event each year as the new blossoms emerge. Many of the brides that I work with have never thought about where flowers come from but love to tell their wedding guests all about how their flowers were grown especially for them. Do geraniums remind you of your favorite gardener? Or do sunflowers make you smile? That is the power of flowers.
4. What is your favorite part of farming?
I love to share my love of the outdoors with people. Going into classrooms with seeds, teaching a flower arranging class straight from the garden, seeing the smiles on customer’s faces when presented with fresh flowers, and giving farm tours are some of my favorite parts of the job.
5. What are the main ways we can find your products?
The flower season is typically April through October and wreaths are made year round. Wren’s Gate flowers are available through the website, subscription, local markets, and our roadside stand. Many customers call with an order as you would a florist. Wedding flowers are available in bulk for DIY brides or with full service floral design. www.wrensgate.com