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Buying Local Blooms in Floral Industry

Combine an entrepreneurial spirit, a love of floral design, and a passion for the community. Local Color Flowers, a floral design business in Hampden, is the result.

Owner Ellen Frost took these seemingly disparate elements and pieced them together to create a floral business that prides itself on buying local.

Most shops import flowers and ship them thousands of miles in non-biodegradable material. Colombia and Ecuador accounted for 90-98 percent of all roses, carnations, and chrysanthemums sold in the United States last year, according to All America-Phillip’s Flower Shops. By the time they reach the store, “fresh” bouquets are days old.
Local Color Flowers in Hampden works with approximately 20 growers and sources 100 percent of products from within 100 miles of Baltimore. In contrast, the international floral industry relies on vast amounts of water, lighting, herbicides and refrigerated transportation, which burns fossil fuels.

“We are not a traditional florist,” Frost says of her nine-person studio. “We are a floral design company trying to build a community around buying local products.”

Local Color Flowers says its approach is working. Sales have increased by approximately 40 percent year-over-year since it started in 2008. The business will move from its 800-square-foot studio to a 2,000-square-foot space in Charles Village.
When it opens in the fall, the new studio will allow customers to to purchase individual vases, flowers, and foliage and arrange them in house. It will also host flower-arranging parties and talks on sustainability and buying local.

Frost says she was inspired to start the business after reading Amy Stewart’s Flower Confidential, an insider’s look at the global floral industry and why it's not sustainable. 
Still, some local growers aren’t producing roses and carnations simply because they can’t compete on price, but they offer customers hundreds of varieties of seasonal flowers. These include dahlias, sunflowers, hydrangeas, zinnias and cosmos.
The growing scarcity of natural resources and education about the traditional floral industry will lead consumers to buy local, Frost says.
“It's about providing our clients with an experience, a story, and a connection to the land,” she says.

Grower Andrea Gagnon, who cultivates more than 200 floral varieties at Lynnvale Studios, says she appreciates Local Color Flowers’ dedication to farming in a high-tech age.

“Many designers are beginning to grasp that to be and stay successful in our economy, it's essential to source local products,” Gagnon says.

Gagnon works in a fine arts community workshop with acres of flower fields in Gainesville, Va.  Working with local designers has raised her wholesale sales 153 percent, she says.
“If we continue to sell at the same rate, we envision that by season's end, our wholesale sales will likely be up 200 percent overall,” Gagnon says.

Lori Hill, a Takoma Park-based former event planner, says buying locally supports regional growers and agricultural land. She worked with Frost for many green events and now writes about sustainability on her blog and e-newsletter, the Sustainable Scene, and speaks to groups like the American Council of Engineering Companies and the Association of Bridal Consultants.

“Buying local puts you face-to-face with the person who grew your flowers,” Hill says. “It’s a relationship—not a transaction.”

Buying locally means also means that money stays in communities, adding to the financial success of those regions. 
So why aren’t all customers buying their flowers locally?

“People are accustomed to buying at the store and not thinking about where products come from,” Frost says. “It’s often easier for consumer to grab flowers at the grocery store than seek out local growers.”

Frost does meet with potential clients who are turned off when they learn that particular blooms are unavailable. While most are pleased when they see what is available, some do find a florist who will order the exact flowers wanted.

Even without those customers, Frost and her team are keeping busy and have 75 weddings on this year’s schedule.
“Growing with Ellen is something that we look forward to for seasons to come,” Gagnon says. 

Renee Libby Beck is a freelance writer and public relations manager for Medifast Inc. She is also the Baltimore Food Examiner.


Ellen Frost, owner of Local Color Flowers, works in her Hampden studio

All photographs by STEVE RUARK
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