It’s not uncommon for a Maine restaurant to be labeled as farm-to-table. For one thing, there’s a long tradition of pride in things produced locally. For another, an influx of talented chefs has taught us how many amazing tastes can be coaxed out of fresh, in-season produce grown locally. Add a dash of sustainability awareness, and it’s not surprising to see this movement catch on, in Maine and elsewhere.
The flower-to-table movement, though, is full of surprises.
The tenets of this flower revolution are similar: an intentional focus on locality, putting back into the environment what is taken out of it, preserving the earth for future use, and experiencing the beautiful connection to what comes out of the ground right in our backyards. Flowers available at your local farmers market stand out next to their grocery store counterparts shipped in from a distance, but some Maine flower farms go above and beyond what you might find at your Saturday market.
Starting in Southern Maine, Snug Harbor farm is a haven tucked away just off Route 9 in Kennebunk. Alex Smith, Snug Harbor’s director of operations, and who, on some occasions has been known to feed the chickens (because, yes, this plant nursery has chickens, frillback pigeons, and a buttonquail), says that many residents of the Kennebunks stumble upon the farm by chance after having lived in the area for years. All who do are surprised to realize they’d been missing out on this slice of heaven in their backyard, complete with five uniquely themed greenhouses and a retail store.
In business since 1991, Snug Harbor mixes the fresh with the familiar to keep their dedicated clientele coming back. Their terracotta pots with an original design have long been fan favorites. But probably their most popular offering has been their topiaries. In their greenhouse dedicated to the art, let yourself fall through the rabbit hole into an almost otherworldly experience when walking among lavender, lemon cypress, and myrtle that have been encouraged to grow into sensational cylindrical shapes. These plants are available in several sizes for the kitchen or the backyard.
A bit farther up the coast, Broadturn Farm in Scarborough is a nine-acre plot dedicated to fulfilling our sense of biophilia—that human desire to connect with the natural world. Broadturn’s owner, Maine State Senator Stacy Brenner, exemplifies the flower revolution because she nourishes these delicate yet resilient plants, giving them the chance to grow and become something the whole community can enjoy through daily deliveries, farm pickups, and farm-driven floral designs. One of the daily joys Stacy experiences by having visitors to the farm is when they engage with nature and revere the extraordinary. “I want people to be wowed by something they see out of context,” she says. “Maybe it’s a wasp’s nest or a branch that has a nice bend in it. I want them to feel moved and wistful.”
Stacy attests to flowers’ power to align us not just with nature, but with our history as well, to recall the past on a whiff of scent: “Flowers are this product that show up for people at specific times. Whether a memorial service or wedding, flowers have this ability to bring you back to a time, person, or memory that you love.”
Farther on, in Camden, is Glendarragh (Gaelic for “Glen of the Oaks”) Lavender Farm, ringed by a band of oak trees and nestled between the hills of Hope and Appleton Ridge. To non-lavender connoisseurs, the Dutch lavender grown here may not seem out of the ordinary. Yet, many farmers believed the tough Maine climate would make it impossible to grow and cultivate Dutch lavender instead of the better-suited English version. Glendarragh erased all doubts and created a foothold for Dutch lavender in Maine. Ragged Coast’s lavender chocolate bar and Blue Barren Distillery’s Glendarragh gin both use the farm’s English variety of lavender.
Lorie Costigan, owner of Glendarragh, says, “A focused effort and dedication of time creates something you want to put forward in the world. Some people think it takes fortune or any number of things beyond control, but when they come here, it shows what purposeful intention can bring over time.”
When you can’t visit the farm, the best place to find Maine produce is at one of the state’s abundant farmers markets. Portland Farmers’ Market is held Saturdays at Deering Oaks Park from April to November (the market continues indoors at 631 Stevens Avenue starting in December) and offers foodies a chance to meet the growers behind some of their favorite meals and take home some tempting produce.
A popular vendor at the market, North Spore Mushrooms adds delectability as well as a touch of DIY. They offer at-home kits and learning tools for anyone who wants to try growing their own mushrooms. Another market vendor spreading joy and beauty is Meadow Ridge Perennial and Cut Flower Farm based in Hebron, offering a variety of flowers including Cindy’s favorite, her peony collection grown in the hundreds in hues red, pink, and soft yellow.
Heading out of the city to a town where the mountains meet the sea, you arrive at Chickadee Hill Flowers in Bar Harbor, where Emily Henry has been designing with flowers for 10 seasons. She found work gardening while in college and discovered a love of flowers and plants—and a knack for arranging them. She now runs Chickadee Hill out of a 19th century farmhouse, specializing in floral interior design and art installations. As Emily explains it, what Chickadee Hill does is facilitate a collaboration between plant and client. It starts with regular visits to a client’s space to suss out their style and create an arrangement that works for the space. It frequently enlists native flowers to awaken people to the potential of what’s in their own backyard.
“I love to take flower design a step further to show people what local flowers can do,” Emily says. “When I grow a flower from a seed, I get to intimately know a plant. You can walk through the field and cut a number of characters. When I arrange them, I ask, what direction do you want to grow? How can I help you tell your story?”