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24 November 2021

A Bright Bulb in the Garden State: Sam Rothman

There aren’t many days when Sam Rothman is able to just “patshke in the garden,” as she says. Professional floral-farmers need to find other outlets for patshke-ing. To fill New Jersey’s vases with blooms requires flora focus, and a little magic. Through her Fairview Farm and Flowers, Sam runs a CSA, teaches workshops (all the holiday ones are sold out), and delivers her beauties—a lot of dahlias and David Austin roses—to the Garden State Flower Cooperative each week during the growing season. She is also a floral designer for a limited number of weddings. “It can be a challenge to get flowers to all the different outlets that want our blooms, but it’s a good ‘problem.’”

Janet Mavec: What’s your favorite thing about being a flower farmer?

Sam Rothman: There are so many things! Sowing those first few flats of seeds each season is a thrill … or maybe buying the seeds first? I love seed shopping. I also love cutting dahlias. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of harvesting them. They just fill me with this perfect joy.

JM: What is your least favorite?

SR: When I’m deep into the planting season and also still have seeds under lights in the basement. That’s when things die. I get sick of watering the flats.

JM: What’s your favorite season?

SR: Late fall. There is still a warmth to the days and the flowers are still amazing, but I’m also ready to put the farm to bed. I do not do well in the heat, so it’s my favorite time to work outside. The prime growing season is so intense, both physically and mentally. Since I’m naturally an introvert, being alone in the winter is a welcome respite after months of being “on.”

JM: What are your favorite plants?

SR: Nasturtiums are just magical. They have the most wonderful, delicate fragrance and they are edible too. Their sweet faces just make me smile. The Japanese Anemone “Honorine Jobert” is my favorite. I saw it at a distance at sunset in the plant systematics garden at Smith College and it was the most magical thing, dancing softly in the night breeze. It was so cool. Ball Dahlias are just so rewarding. They make all my clients so happy.


JM: What plants do you think are underused?

SR: There are so many! The first that comes to mind is witch hazel. There are so many interesting varieties that bloom during different parts of the winter. It’s native, it smells wonderful, and because of its bloom time, it makes a good source of nectar and pollen for honey bees. Plus, it is wonderful as a cut flowering-branch.

JM: Do you have an edible garden?

SR: For many years I was a vegetable gardener. I always loved—and still do—the idea of a perfect English potager garden with edible flowers in the mix. Now my garden spaces are all about what I can cut to sell. I’m hoping next season to reclaim my vegetable garden.

JM: What are your favorite gardening tools?

SR: A hori hori knife and a pair of Felco needle-nose pruners.

JM: What inspires your gardening?

SR: While my farming practices draw a lot of inspiration from Erin Benzakein and the folks at Floret, I’ve had to create my own systems for what works best here. My property isn’t perfectly flat, and it’s the “yard” of my house. So I’ve had to draw inspiration from permaculture designs. There are a lot of considerations when it comes to more permanent plantings—reading the landscape, identifying the micro-climates, choosing the right plants for each location, as well as considering how I can harvest plants that I use for landscaping.

JM: When’s the last time you hugged a tree, or how do you pay respect to nature?

SR: I’m constantly talking with the creatures in my landscape. This year, the monarchs were particularly abundant and I felt so honored they choose my land to spend time on. Right now, we’re in praying mantis season. There’s always one at the back door—they show up every year there (even when I was at my old house). While I know they love the south facing wall, I still feel like it’s a bit of magic that they happen to do that.

JM: What books are your favorites for gardening?

SR: Because my background is in ecology, I’m really drawn to books that are about different ways to produce food for our communities. “The Good Food Revolution” by Will Allen really is a wonderful book about how to innovate our local food systems to be more just and equitable.

When I co-founded Grow It Green Morristown, I wanted to create an organic farm that gave food to people who needed it. It was depressing to see what was available at those pantries at that time; there was little fresh produce. Creating micro farms in urban spaces has always been of interest to me. It might be the result of having a mom from Kansas and a father from Brooklyn. Who knows!

JM: What’s next for you in 2022?

SR: I’m working to be a better farmer, which means being a better business person. I’m taking time to plan and be even more thoughtful about what flowers we grow. It’s so much effort and we have so little land. I need to invest more in our specialty crops like tulips, David Austin roses and dahlias. Plus, I’m going to try to take July off. That sounds crazy, but it’s our least profitable month. I will, of course, need to tend to the plants, but I want to close the business side of things for a month and just be with my family.

Sam wearing Janet Mavec Oak Leaf Earrings.