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Botanist's Oasis: Five Petal Farm transforms North Liberty backyard into flower-based small business

Snapdragons bloom at Five Petal Farm in North Liberty on Monday, Jul. 16, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Snapdragons bloom at Five Petal Farm in North Liberty on Monday, Jul. 16, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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NORTH LIBERTY — Jennifer Hobbs loves flowers, on a microscopic level.

Where others just see petals and stems and leaves, she sees the cellular structure that makes those petals and stems and leaves grows the way they do. She can tell a mint plant just by looking at its stem or identify a tree in winter by its bark.

“I’m completely fascinated by the structure of plants,” she said. “They have just beautiful designs.”

She has turned that love into a backyard business. Tucked behind her North Liberty home is Five Petal Farm. Instead of grass, Hobbs cultivates sunflowers, snapdragons and dozens of other flowers and herbs on less than a quarter of an acre.

She got a degree in botany from the University of Iowa in 1996. About six years ago, she moved to North Liberty, and about three years ago, she started her urban farm as a small business, as a way to get back into her passion after a few years working office jobs.

“I had originally gone to school for social work, but I fell in love with botany,” she said. “I wanted to farm, I wanted to grow flowers.”

She started selling at the Iowa City Farmers Market, then began doing weddings and launched a flower CSA.

The CSA — which stands for Community Supported Agriculture — is a subscription service for flowers, where customers get fresh bouquets throughout the summer. She also takes online orders and delivers around the Iowa City area. She also sells to florists and even chefs looking for edible flowers like nasturtium.

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Though things slow down in the winter, that doesn’t mean Hobbs isn’t busy in the colder months. She has portable hoop houses to help extend her growing season, and she begins starting her seedlings indoors in January, many from seeds she harvested from last year’s crop.

“If it’s nice, we can easily have flowers, especially herbs, into November,” she said.

In addition to fresh flowers, she dries decorative bouquets to sell, along with creating pressed flowers for art.

“The things I grow, I try to have at least three or four uses for,” she said.

Posts and netting keep the flowers growing tall, and she can drape shade cloth over the nets on especially hot and sunny days. She’s always fighting pests like invasive Japanese beetles, which love to feast on rose blossoms, as well as fungi and other maladies. However, she said she doesn’t use herbicides or pesticides on her flowers.

“When you’re a farmer, you just do what you can,” she said. “I’d also like to use this to show the community you can do this without chemicals.”

The long summer days and hard work are worth it, she said, for the ancillary benefits of working among a field of red zinnias and tiny white feverfew blossoms and purple scabiosa and multicolored amaranth, as bees and butterflies feast on clumps of bee balm and butterfly weed.

“This is what I’ve wanted to do since I was 25. I just thought, OK, I have the space, and I just started planting,” she said. “It’s very creative, and it’s constantly changing, and I’m never bored. I love being out here, even when it’s 100 degrees and I’m soaked in sweat ... I do work inside, but I really prefer being outside. When you’re out here, if there’s a problem, it completely goes away.”

Learn more

• What: Five Petals Farm,

• Where: By appointment only, 15 Bayberry Lane, North Liberty

• Details: (319) 594-1874, fivepetalfarm.com

l Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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