Organically, Sustainably Grown Bouquets
A simple packet of seeds gave root to Eileen Tongson’s FarmGal Flowers.
The seeds, a passing gift from her mother, blossomed into zinnias and inspired Tongson to grow a lifelong love of gardening into a specialty cut flower farm and floral design studio.
You’ve likely seen her flowers gracing the front of Audubon Park’s East End Market, and possibly tasted an herb or flower at one of the eateries inside. Tongson also offers flower growing and arranging classes.
What was it like transforming a hobby into a business?
For the most part, it’s absolutely a blessing because I’m doing something I truly love. But it’s really a lot of hard work, especially here because it’s so hot. There is the business part of it that is completely different from growing, and that has been challenging.
Another area where I have been able to transition easily—I was a clinical assistant professor at the University of Florida. I love teaching. It’s just a different topic now.
What’s one of the biggest misconceptions people have when it comes to growing in Florida?
People think most of the flowers bloom in summer, but here it is our lowest production time. When people come to my classes, that’s one of the first things we talk about. Because if you don’t plant them at the right time around here, you’re not going to have a lot of success.
You grow and use a mix of ornamental flowers and herbs—why?
We try to grow things that you wouldn’t see like at the grocery store. They have to produce a lot of blooms because we don’t have a lot of space, tolerate the weather well. They’re flowers that don’t travel well, so a lot of people don’t see them unless we grow them. It’s educational as well for people to see different things. And also just because they’re beautiful.
You’re famous for your dahlias, which are traditionally thought of as a Northern plant. Do you have any advice on growing them in Florida?
Another misconception is thinking there are things you can’t grow because it’s too hot—it’s really just about timing. We start planting them in the fall here, about early September. They start blooming by November. We leave those in the ground through the winter. And then we put in more at the end of January or so for the spring.
Why emphasize growing organically and as sustainably as possible?
I used to grow our own vegetables. I didn’t want my kids eating pesticides and herbicides, and that just transitioned to the flowers too because we bring them in the house and the family is around them. Also working here, it’s part of the philosophy of East End. It’s just kind of a shared vision that we have.
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