355-Growing Flowers, Seeds and a Business, with Erin Benzakein of Floret Flower Farm

| Grow, Podcast

For success as a flower farmer as well as a seed breeder and seller, it helps to possess both a creative spirit and business acumen. My guest this week, Erin Benzakein of Floret Flower Farm and the Magnolia Network series “Growing Floret,” has both in spades, and we discuss how she maintains her creativity and furthers her mission to get more flowers out into the world.

Erin, and her husband, Chris, founded Floret Flower Farm in Skagit Valley, located in the northwest corner of Washington state. She has won a number of awards for her design and writing work, including a Martha Stewart American Made award and a Better Homes and Gardens blogger award. She is a New York Times bestselling author of three books — “Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden,” “Floret Farm’s A Year in Flowers” and “Floret Farm’s Discovering Dahlias” — and the executive producer of “Growing Floret,” the Emmy-nominated documentary television series about Erin and Chris, the Floret team, and the farm.


Erin Benzakein

Erin Benzakein founded Floret Flower Farm in Washington with her husband, Chris. They also star in “Growing Floret.”
(Photo Credit: Chris Benzakein, Floret)


Erin has helped growers from more than 50 countries build flower-based businesses and gardens through Floret Online Workshop. Erin says her passion is cultivating beauty in the world, and she is now devoted to breeding new cut flower varieties that will help give local growers an advantage in the marketplace.

The Origin of Floret Flower Farm

Erin says she and Chris were like high school sweethearts — they met each other at boarding school. They worked in Seattle but wanted to get out and move to the country.

“When our kids were born, we just wanted to have a more kind of wholesome, slower-paced life, something more connected to nature,” she says. “We really just wanted to raise them in a more wholesome environment. So we left Seattle when our kids were really small, and we moved to the country. And Chris was working full-time, I was home with the kids and trying to figure out what the heck am I going to do all day besides just being with the kids.”

She says she is energetic and passionate and loves growing things, but wondered, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” 

Erin tried different business ideas. At one point she had 100 chickens and tried to do a rainbow egg business. She planted an orchard for a cider business but didn’t think about how many years it would take the trees to mature, and she grew vegetables.

“I tried everything in our backyard, and eventually I stumbled onto flowers,” she says.

Flowers were a part of her childhood. She recalls how when she spent time with her great-grandmother in the summer, her great-grandmother would have her go pick bouquets and bring them in for her bedside table.

“When she passed away, I planted sweet peas, which were her favorite flower in my garden, and they were like the beginning of everything,” Erin says. “They bloomed so incredibly that first year. I cut a bouquet of them, took them to the neighbors, gave them away to everybody. And then I got my first official flower order for $5.”

When she delivered the flowers, she expected to just drop them off and go, but when the client opened the door, accepted the bouquet and took a big whiff, they bonded over the memories that sweet peas elicited for both of them. 

“It really struck me in that moment how quickly we connected, even though we were total strangers, but it was through nostalgia, memories and flowers,” Erin says. “So that’s when I really knew, like, this is what I want to do. I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t know what that means, but flowers and me, there’s something there.”

That $5 jar of sweet peas started everything that became what Floret Farm is today.

Erin emphasizes that Floret Farm was not an overnight success. She’s worked at it for about 20 years, with slow, steady growth, and she and Chris started to really get serious about it in 2008. They started out as flower farmers, selling bunches and bouquets. They landed Whole Foods as a client, delivering flowers all over the Pacific Northwest. The business evolved into teaching and writing books, and then a seed company.


Floret Flower Farm

Floret Flower Farm is located in Skagit Valley, in the northwest corner of Washington state. (Photo Credit: Chris Benzakein, Floret)


Floret Farm and ‘Growing Floret’

Floret Farm is located in Skagit Valley, about an hour north of Seattle. “And it’s some of the best farmland in the United States,” Erin says. “It’s incredible. It’s this little tiny beautiful pocket of magic.”

They now have 24 acres, after starting out with just 2 acres. It was only recently that they bought the neighbor’s farm and expanded.

Magnolia Network approached Erin and Chris about filming a documentary series about their farm just as they were preparing to transform their newly acquired land. Erin is a self-described introvert and says she finds being in front of a camera easier than being in a group, but she found the production company they worked with, from Portland, to be “a match made in heaven.”

The production company is Blue Chalk Media.

“If it had been anybody but them, we would never have done it,” Erin says. She described Blue Chalk Media as great people, a small team, that agreed they would all tell a real and honest story.

“We also were able to set really great boundaries,” Erin adds. “Like, we don’t want to do a lot of time with our family, or there were things that were off-limits from the beginning, and everyone respected that. But weirdly, I have a very easy time with a camera, but I have a very hard time with people in real life.”

Who is behind the camera makes a difference. 

“The cinematographers that I’ve worked with, they’re all like the most peaceful, grounded, chill people,” she says, “and they just put you at ease and you forget that the camera is there.”

She describes it as feeling like talking to a friend, and forgetting you’re being recorded. 

Her husband, Chris, is now behind the camera much of the time. He started filming in season one when Erin needed to be really calm and comfortable in front of the camera, and it worked so well that he did much more of the cinematography for season two. 

“I feel that I can be unguarded and completely myself, and he’s so grounded and peaceful and calm that we’re just in the moment, which is incredible,” Erin says.

It’s clear when watching the show that Chris is letting Erin be Erin, as those natural moments come through, including long pauses as she soaks in the scenery and watches the birds fly over. He’s just letting that moment happen.

Jill Jorgenson

Jill Jorgenson, the Floret Farm creative director, is one of Erin’s first flower friends. Erin had delivered a bouquet to a cheese shop with her business card to help grow her business. Jill picked up that business card, and a year later called Erin to order flowers. Jill was a florist with a $500 budget — the biggest order that Erin ever had at that point.

They met in a Denny’s parking lot, became immediate friends and have worked together ever since. 

It was their dream to work together and build a business. “We’ve written books together, we’ve done shows together, we’ve taught workshops together. I mean, we’ve done it all,” Erin says. “Jill’s right there through all of it.”

She says Jill has her hands on every meaningful thing that leaves Floret Farm.


Nina Foster, Jill Jorgensen and Erin Benzakein of Floret Flower Farm.

Nina Foster, Jill Jorgensen and Erin Benzakein of Floret Flower Farm. (Photo Credit: Chris Benzakein, Floret)


 Walk the Farm

In some ways, Erin and Chris dread their nightly walk through their farm. As peaceful as it sounds, it uncovers issues that need to be addressed, which can be stressful.

“You just know you’re going to find something,” Erin says. “Irrigation’s going to be blown off the spigot, and water’s going to be shooting everywhere. The crows will have pecked holes in a greenhouse or you’re just going to see all the things that need your attention. Even though we have this amazing team of people helping us take such good care of the farm, always there’s something broken, something wrong.”

She brings a notebook and makes a list. By the end of the walk, when they get to the meadow behind the farm, they are calmer, more relaxed and grounded, which is a reminder of why they do what they do.

“It’s like a medicine that you don’t want to take, but by the end it’s always wonderful,” she says.

Preparing for the Future — Including a Changing Climate

“As we have gone about developing and planting the farm, we are really planning for the future, knowing that the planet is heating up, that things are changing, the climate is changing, weather is just more extreme overall,” Erin says. 

They have planted over a mile of hedgerows around the entire property, using various species of hedge plants. They are trialing different plant combinations to determine what does the best and gets established the fastest, she explains. 

“The benefits of the hedgerows are that they slow the wind down, so they’re going to help with erosion,” she says. “And they also provide habitat for all of the wildlife and songbirds that we’re wanting to bring to the farm to help with pest disease issues, all kinds of stuff. We want this place to be a home for all of the creatures that want to live here. 

The farm is organized into blocks, with three of the 10 blocks in production at one time, and the remainder in cover crops.

“And then we have a lot of hoop houses and different structures because we live in a very wet climate here in the Pacific Northwest,” Erin says. “We get a ton of rain, and we’re trying to grow crops and things that don’t totally love our climate.”

For Zinnias, which she breeds, Floret Farm uses covered structures to make a nicer growing environment for them.

Floret Farm has also planted “pollinator strips” — long perennial plantings that will attract pollinating insects to help pollinate the farm’s seed crops and also serve as nectar and pollen banks for pollinators that could use the help.

“We’re doing a lot of experimentation to see what works and what doesn’t, and a lot hasn’t worked, but most of it has and it’s really exciting to get to experiment on this kind of a scale and then get to share what we’re learning with others,” Erin says.

New plantings have also attracted some wildlife that is not always wanted.

“Now the farm is so delicious that we have deer, and a mama and her babies, and we’re like, what have we done? We’ve never had deer trouble before. And rabbits, they’re just exploding because they can just hide in the hedgerows,” Erin says.

Like so much of farming, you do what you can with what you have, she says, you try to control the parts that you can, and you have to go with the things that you can’t and learn from it. 

“If we want to be more closely connected to nature, we also have to embrace all of that uncertainty and all of the change,” she says. 


Erin Benzakein

A daily walk-through of a farm or garden is an opportunity to identify issues and address them before they grow into crises. (Photo Credit: Chris Benzakein, Floret)

Starting Out With Poor Soil

“We’re really working to put as much as possible back into the soil,” Erin says. “It was very depleted when we got it, and so we’re investing a lot in soil.”

Floret Farm is on a sandbar, where the river washed over and left sand. Before Floret Farm was there, it was a chemical-dependent farm.

“The soil is very sandy here, which is just fine, except that it’s low in organic matter,” Erin says. “But the way that the farm had been being grown — the treatments and approach they had used — was purely chemical. So spraying every few weeks, lots of herbicides, fungicides, nothing ever put back into the soil.”

It was a blueberry farm, and all of the plants were on a drip of nitrogen fertilizer through the irrigation, Erin explains. When the plants were dug out, it was discovered that many had their roots burned by the chemical fertilizers. 

“When we got our soil tested, we had so far to go to get it to a place where we could start to heal that and then get it back into good working order,” Erin says. 

They have brought in manure, compost, wood chips — “whatever we can get our hands on, and mulching as much as possible, leaving fields to rest and be in cover crop.”

“It really does work,” she adds. “It just takes time.”


Floret Flower Farm

Floret Flower Farm is on a sandbar that was low in organic matter. They bring in compost and manure to feed the soil so it can grow an abundance of stems. (Photo Credit: Chris Benzakein, Floret)


Seed Breeding and Growing

After about 15 years of flower farming, Erin and Chris began to also sell seeds. Recently, they decided to stop selling seeds from other breeders and to solely focus on the seed varieties developed on their own farm, called Floret Originals.

“We have offered this full line of beautiful flower seeds,” she says. “It’s been an incredible offering and incredible run, but as the breeding and the new varieties have taken up more and more of our space and time — and I’m so passionate about it — we really had to make a choice.”

Knowing they couldn’t do it all, they decided that breeding needs their full focus.

“I really believe that the work that we’re doing with it is going to make a big difference in the flower industry and for home gardeners,” Erin says. “So we decided to set down our existing seed company and send our customers to all these other wonderful small companies — family-owned seed farms — that they could find things from. And then really put all of our energy into developing new varieties and teaching people how to save their own seed.” 

In the cut flower industry, many varieties come from overseas. They’re hybrids and are bred for shipping rather than for pollinator friendliness and other benefits.

“Pretty much every flower variety that is making it onto the market at this point is the hybrid, meaning it’s not something we can ever save our seed from,” Erin notes.

But Floret Originals are bred in the United States and open-pollinated. Customers can save those seeds and continue that legacy without dealing with the fact that if it were a hybrid, it wouldn’t come true to seed if they saved it. 

Erin points out that hybrids have a lot of positives, including being vigorous, uniform and often more disease-resistant.

“In farming, you’re looking for that uniformity. There are benefits to it, but you can’t save your seeds. You have to buy new ones every single year, and you’re dependent on these large companies,” she says. “You don’t know where the seeds come from. You don’t know who grew them. And I just wanted to, as part of our breeding program, really focus on developing varieties that are open-pollinated so that home gardeners can save their own seed, they can use it in their own breeding efforts. It’s great for the pollinators — there’s just like so many wonderful benefits — and then you never have to buy seed again if you don’t want to. You can just learn how to save your own and keep that cycle going.”

When home growers and cut-flower businesses only need to buy seeds once, it’s not great business for seed sellers. But Erin is looking at the big picture. She wants to get more flowers out into the world, especially now in the face of climate change, to get the most appropriate flowers into gardens.

“I know that I’ve succeeded if someone has learned something and they are more independent, they’re more empowered, they’re able to go off and do the thing that they want to do,” she says. “So I don’t want them to depend on our company or on me for anything.”


Floret seed breeding

Erin teaches others how to save seeds for an endless supply. (Photo Credit: Chris Benzakein, Floret)


Breeding Zinnias and More

There are a handful of Zinnia hybrid varieties on the market, including the Zowie! and Uproar series.

“If you’ve ever grown them, they’re fantastic,” Erin says. “They’re super healthy, they’re very vigorous, and they’re very uniform. But the way that they were created, they’re created by crossing two different varieties together secretly.”

When those seeds are saved and grown out the following year, they won’t look like their parents did and have all of the same beneficial traits like disease resistance.

“If you save the seeds from those plants in your garden and plant them out next year, they will not come back true, no matter what you do,” Erin says.

You have to go back to the company and buy them again.

Floret originals are open-pollinated, stable varieties. They will grow true to seed. This has taken years of development — breeding and selecting.

“In the beginning, maybe just a handful of the flowers that are in that row that I’m working on might be true,” Erin says. “And then I work on that the next year, a little bit more true, a little bit more true. And by six or seven years in, they’re very stable and uniform.”

When using open-pollinated seeds, as long as there are no other Zinnia varieties around to cross-pollinate with, gardeners can save those seeds and expect them to grow true.

“It’s such a gift because you can save your own seeds, and then you never have to buy them again,” Erin says.

The Floret Originals’ debut includes 26 varieties, including Zinnias, Celosia, and Dahlias.

“Four of the Zinnias that we released were grown and bred in collaboration with another flower breeder down in California, Kori from Dawn Creek Farm,” Erin says. “That was really fun because she’s this amazing breeder, but she has a little tiny, tiny backyard scale, and we have land. And so we worked together on that and could help take her babies and get them into the world.”

Floret is working on Yarrow and Phlox, and has made a lot of progress on Zinnias. They have only released 10 or 11 so far of the more than 130 varieties of Zinnias they have in the works. 

“Who knows how many of those will really be something? But they all show promise, which is very overwhelming,” Erin says with a laugh. 

She says she sees everything in pictures, like having a photographic memory. This has aided her flower breeding.

“You should see how many pieces of paper are all around the rooms,” she says. “So that’s how I can hold all that information in my mind. I don’t know what it is, but when I look at a problem or a group of plants or really anything, I start to just see patterns and start to sort patterns. And so that’s how flower breeding has gone for me.”

“I don’t know if it’s success,” she continues. “We’ve made a lot of progress, but I think it’s because I’ve done things my way. The way that works for me, my own weird, strange, confusing, complicated way, but it works, and so I’m just gonna go with it.”


Zinnia greenhouse

The Pacific Northwest is often wetter than Zinnias prefer, so Floret Flower Farm has greenhouses. (Photo Credit: Chris Benzakein, Floret)


‘Gardening in a War Zone’

Floret Farm made its first documentary, “Gardening in a War Zone,” about Alla Olkhovska, a gardener, writer, photographer, and clematis seed grower in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Unable to leave the country, Alla supports her family by selling the rare seeds she collects from her small garden.

“I found her because I was searching for new varieties, and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, she has so many wonderful things and I think we should share about her on our blog,’” Erin says

Erin thought she could give Alla’s business a boost. As she got to know Alla and her story more, she decided that a blog post was not enough. Erin partnered with Rob Finch, the director of “Growing Floret,” to tell Alla’s story on film.

Rob, over Zoom, taught Alla how to film herself, and they also sent a cinematographer to Ukraine to spend two days with Alla. The half-hour film was well received and was featured last month in my friend Margaret Roach’s In the Garden column for The New York Times.

Erin has made Alla’s e-book on Clematis available in the Floret Farm online shop, with all of the proceeds going to Alla. The amazing community of gardeners has bought her book and seeds and made donations to support Alla and her family during exceptionally trying times.

Creativity and Structure

Erin says the dance of being a creative and being a business owner is wanting to make things and having to be responsible.

“It’s something that I have struggled with,” she says. “I think any small business owner or farmer or creative goes through it, but it’s like trying to find that sweet spot between structure and responsibility and creativity and expansiveness. And how do you know when you’re on the right path? What is your gauge for if you are doing the right thing?”

As their business has grown and gotten very big, with wonderful employees and amazing customers, she works not to lose sight of that. 

 “It’s just a very big universe now that we’ve created, and I don’t ever want to lose the essence of why this all started and what it’s all really about,” she says. “And so very often I try to step back and pause and think about it and refine and fine-tune and prune and make different choices just because I want to try to stay true to myself and on the right path.”

Oftentimes, people describe a successful business based on how big it is or how fast it’s growing, but that’s not how Erin measures it. She measures it on the impact that her efforts are making. 

Her business is an expression and an extension of her soul, and that business is based in supporting nature. The business can feel a little too big, too much in control and too perfect, she says, and that kind of control runs counter to her creative side. However, despite having an incredibly successful company, Erin still uses her gifts to stick to her core mission.

She says she is always coming back to the “why,” the soul and the heart of it, to keep focused on the North Star. There is so much pressure, noise and input, and it’s a worthy question to ask, How do you stay true to yourself and what matters to you?


Erin Benzakein

Operating a business can feel far too rigid for a creative person. Erin endeavors to keep the fulfilling and creative side of her life a priority. (Photo Credit: Chris Benzakein, Floret)


If you haven’t listened to my conversation with Erin Benzakein about Floret Flower Farm and her work, you can do so now by scrolling to the top of the page and clicking the Play icon in the green bar under the page title. 

Have you enjoyed Erin Benzakein’s streaming program, documentary or seeds? Let us know in the comments below.

Links & Resources

Some product links in this guide are affiliate links. See full disclosure below. 

Episode 125: Saving Seeds: The Basics, the Benefits and Beyond

Episode 149: Southern Exposure Seed Exchange: A Seed Company With Purpose over Profit

Episode 182: Organic Urban Seed Farming, with San Diego Seed Company

Episode 231: Vegetables Love Flowers (and Why You Should Grow More)

Episode 269: The Ultimate Guide to Flower Growing, With Jenny Rose Carey

Episode 274: Growing Cool-Season Annuals for Earlier Color and Hardier Plants

Episode 315: Succession Planting with Flowers

Episode 351: The Cut Flower Handbook, with Lisa Mason Ziegler

Growing a Greener World Episode 326: Behind the Scenes

joegardener Online Gardening Academy™: Popular courses on gardening fundamentals; managing pests, diseases & weeds; seed starting and more.

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Organic Vegetable Gardening: My new premium online course. The course is designed to be a comprehensive guide to starting, growing, nurturing and harvesting your favorite vegetables, no matter what you love to eat, no matter where you live, no matter your level of gardening experience.

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Seed Starting: Everything you need to know to start your own plants from seed — indoors and out. 

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Beginning Gardener Fundamentals: Essential principles to know to create a thriving garden.

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Growing Epic Tomatoes: Learn how to grow epic tomatoes with Joe Lamp’l and Craig LeHoullier. 

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Pests, Diseases & Weeds: Learn the proactive steps to take to manage pests, diseases and weeds for a more successful garden with a lot less frustration. Just $47 for lifetime access!

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Perfect Soil Recipe Master Class: Learn how to create the perfect soil environment for thriving plants.

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Floret’s Online Workshop

“​​Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden: Grow, Harvest, and Arrange Stunning Seasonal Blooms” by Erin Benzakein, Julie Chai and Michele M. Waite 

Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden: Garden Journal” by  Erin Benzakein and Michele M. Waite 

Floret Farm’s A Year in Flowers: Designing Gorgeous Arrangements for Every Season” by Erin Benzakein, Julie Chai, Jill Jorgensen and Chris Benzakein 

Floret Farm’s Discovering Dahlias: A Guide to Growing and Arranging Magnificent Blooms” by Erin Benzakein, Julie Chai, Jill Jorgensen and Chris Benzakein 

Gardening in a War Zone” documentary

For a Ukrainian Gardener, Flowers Offer a Way Forward” by Margaret Roach | The New York Times

“Clematis” by Alla Olkhovska

Proven Winners ColorChoice – Our podcast episode sponsor and Brand Partner of 

Territorial Seed Company – Our podcast episode sponsor and Brand Partner of 

Soil3 Our podcast episode sponsor and Brand Partner of 

Greenhouse Megastore – Our podcast episode sponsor and Brand Partner of – Enter code JG10 for 10% off your order

Disclosure: Some product links in this guide are affiliate links, which means we get a commission if you purchase. However, none of the prices of these resources have been increased to compensate us, and compensation is not an influencing factor on their inclusion here. The selection of all items featured in this post and podcast was based solely on merit and in no way influenced by any affiliate or financial incentive, or contractual relationship. At the time of this writing, Joe Lamp’l has professional relationships with the following companies who may have products included in this post and podcast: Corona Tools, Milorganite, Soil3, Greenhouse Megastore, Territorial Seed Company, Earth’s Ally, Proven Winners ColorChoice and Dramm. These companies are either Brand Partners of and/or advertise on our website. However, we receive no additional compensation from the sales or promotion of their product through this guide. The inclusion of any products mentioned within this post is entirely independent and exclusive of any relationship.

About Joe Lamp'l

Joe Lamp’l is the creator and “joe” behind joe gardener®. His lifetime passion and devotion to all things horticulture has led him to a long-time career as one of the country’s most recognized and trusted personalities in organic gardening and sustainability. That is most evident in his role as host and creator of Emmy Award-winning Growing a Greener World®, a national green-living lifestyle series on PBS currently broadcasting in its tenth season. When he’s not working in his large, raised bed vegetable garden, he’s likely planting or digging something up, or spending time with his family on their organic farm just north of Atlanta, GA.

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