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My “Dream Come True” Visit to Alexandra Farms

Mar 16, 2024 | Floral Design

My dream of visiting Alexandra Farms came true for me last month when we were invited to join the group of first-place winners, other designers and wholesalers for a visit to the farm.  Let me give you some details about this dreamy rose-filled place!

Alexandra Farms was founded in 2005 by Joey Azout and he named the farm after his daughter Alexandra.  The farm is the largest garden rose farm in the world and is located in the fertile high valley between the mountain peaks of the Andes Mountains in Colombia.

Farm Tour Day One

Alexandra Farms excels in not only producing romantic, nostalgic and long-lasting beautiful flowers, but also in their wonderful hospitality as they welcomed and cared for their guests.  There careful attention to detail was greatly appreciated by all and started with a welcome bouquet in each of our hotel rooms, plus a first-aid kit, snacks and drinks.

 

At the farm, they provided sun block, hats and cold drinks knowing we were not accustomed to the intense sunlight of the 9,000 foot altitude.  Our fantastic group bonded well together by our shared love and interest in flowers.  I was delighted to meet designers Amy Balsters and Beth O’Reilly whose work I have long admired!  There were several representatives from Mayesh Wholesaler and also Choice Flowers, Budzi and Parfum Flowers in Holland.  It was very meaningful to get to meet the team at Alexandra Farms and share experiences of working with their beautiful roses!!

 

As we toured each greenhouse, Joey explained the process of grafting the cutting of the desired variety into the rootstock and the care and handling of the plants until they produce blooms and are ready to cut. Each worker is assigned a section of the greenhouse and they are responsible for those plants and take great pride and care in their work.

The farm has about 400 employees with a strong influence of women in all aspects of the business including the corporate offices, greenhouses and farm workers.  This is important in Colombia to help women improve their life and the lives of their families.

 

Testing New Products

We got to see some of the new products they are trying to grow at the farm and if successful they will add to their list of year-round offerings.  Joey explained that David Dahlson, of Mayesh, (pictured below with Joey) suggested visiting the Bogota Botanical Garden to see what grows well in their climate.  I thought that was an ingenious idea!!  Among the new plants on trial are a forsythia, Abelia, Jasmine, Acanthus and Helleborus.  We are excited to see if these products will be successful for them.

 

Sustainability Efforts

Sustainability is important at the farm and they compost the discarded plants and waste which is then reintegrated into the soil for fertilization.  Water collection reservoirs reduce runoff and maximize resources.  They have been able to reduce their pesticide use with the help of other more natural methods such as surrounding the area with mesh fencing to keep out thrips, etc.  They planted thousands of native trees around the perimeter of the farms.  These efforts and more have awarded them the Carbon Neutral International Standard Certification from UNFCCC. 

Testing New Rose Varieties

All of we visitors were given a clippers and sent into the test greenhouse to choose our favorite bloom.  The roses go through a very strenuous testing process to determine if they are worthy of being mass produced and possibly become the next popular variety to sell.  The farm grows over 70 varieties of roses and if a new Rose is introduced, an older rose which doesn’t sell as well is replaced.  I spotted this luscious large headed peach rose but really they were all so fantastic and beautiful, it was so very hard to just choose one.  It was interesting to see that we had mostly all cut different varieties as we walked out of the greenhouse.

 

Every year the farm tests more than 300 new varieties to examine their shape, scent, color and longevity.  What an awesome undertaking this must be and Joey and his team must have the magic inner sense to know which ones will be winners.

Packing and Shipping

It was amazing to walk into the packing area where each rose is hand-graded, packaged to protect them during shipping, then placed into the coolers where they are ready to be pulled for orders.  The workers have to know when the rose is in the best stage to cut that it will not be too open during shipping and get damaged, but yet not cut too tight preventing it from ever fully opening to it’s full glory.

 

Olfactory Experience

After treating us to a delicious traditional Colombian dish of potato soup, the team had a delightful surprise olfactory experience for us.  The farms most highly scented roses where placed into bud vases and we were supplied with small bottles of the scents rose, pear, vanilla, tea, honey, clove, myrr, anise and lavender.

 

We were given a sheet with each rose listed and we had the hard job of identifying the scent we smelled most strongly in each bloom. A jar of ground coffee beans was used to cleanse the nose between each sniff.

After we complete our scent test sheet, the results were tabulated on the large white board. The scents receiving the most votes for each rose will be used to describe the rose on the farms website.

It was a special pleasure for me to get to meet Teresa and her husband. Teresa is my contact person at Alexandra Farms when I order my “prize” roses. The reason I was invited on this trip is that I have won 2nd place in the wedding category four out of the six years that Alexandra Farm has been holding the contest. I love the second place prize of free garden roses of course, but it was my dream to get to visit the farm which is for the 1st place winners. When they offered that I could exchange my 2023 2nd place prize roses for a visit to the farm, I said Yes! A Thousand Times Yes!!!

Discussing New Test VArieties

The afternoon ended with a discussion of this years test varieties of new roses.  It was interesting to hear the perspective of the designers, then the perspective of the wholesalers as to what they thought they would be able to sell.  Our day concluded with a delicious meal at a popular crepe restaurant where the extensive menu offered about anything that you could want in a crepe.

 

Farm Tour Day Two

Day two we were taken to San Ignacio Farm where we were shown more beautiful roses.  In the photo below, the heads of this rose variety were covered so that the color would be more uniform for this variety.  We also saw the gorgeous dahlias the farm is starting to grow and sell.  Dahlias are notoriously hard to ship, but Alexandra Farms is making a difference in figuring out how to ship them successfully so that designers can have them available year round and not just when they are available locally.

 

It was truly thrilling to listen to Joey so passionately tell the story of Alexandra Farms, the roses, the process and the people that work at the farm and make it all happen.  Joey is such a warm and generous soul who truly loves what he does and we could see his dedication and passion filtered down to the whole team at Alexandra Farms.  What a wonderful, delightful group of people!

 

Other Flowers Grown At The Farm

Besides dahlias, the farm is also successfully growing and selling Didiscus, a beautiful blue lace flower, and blue and white Tweedia.  Both of these filler type flowers look beautiful with garden roses.

 

Pakcing And Boxing at farm two

We ended our tour of the greenhouses at the packing house where again it was a true delight to see all of the beautiful blooms getting graded and packed into boxes for shipping.  I felt my heart leap as I saw the boxes being filled, just like when I receive a shipment of these beautiful roses.  My heart still leaps and I never tire of opening up and processing a box of garden roses!!

 

 

Awards, Food & Colombian Dancers

Today we enjoyed a very delicious buffet of grilled salmon, chicken & beef.  After the meal the workers performed a traditional Colombian dance which we all loved and applauded.

 

I was humbled and surprised that they awarded me a certificate for being a multi-award winner in 2018, 2019, 2021 and 2023.  Taylor Doyle was the 1st place winner in the wedding design contest and Alexa Howe was the 1st place winner in the everyday design contest.  The Mayesh team won special award for being a million dollar customer.  I especially loved getting to meet and personally thank Joey for all of the prize roses I have received over the years.  For anyone that is interested in seeing the winners designs, here is a link to Alexandra Farms Blog post announcing the winners:

“Announcing The Winners Of Our 2023 Garden Rose Design Contest”

 

Highlight For Me Was Design Time with the roses

The absolute highlight for me was getting to see, smell and touch every single variety the farm grows.  Alexandra Farms mission has always been to delight their customers with romantic, nostalgic, long-lasting and beautiful flowers.  I have been charmed and delighted and I will never forget this wonderful gift of visiting the farm and being enveloped in the magic of the dreamy rose-filled world of Alexandra Farms!!

 

Can you imagine the joy it was for me as a designer to choose any blooms that I wanted to create a design with and not have to think about the cost of what I was putting together?  We are from a rural area in central Illinois where I don’t have the option of going to a flower market or visiting a wholesaler very often to choose flowers.  It was so inspiring to me to see how the colors of the roses spoke to me and just begged to be put together!  I had so much fun getting to design with all of this beautiful product.  You can’t but help make something beautiful when you have so many beautiful flowers at your fingertips.

 

The farm was video-taping and interviewing each designer about their creation.  When it was my turn a drenching thunderstorm opened up and the outdoor area where they were taping completely drowned out my voice even though I was wearing a microphone.  I was so happy for them because they had not had rain for two months and it was needed so badly.  We finally moved my design indoors and when we thought the rain was letting up, they tried again.  I think that the power went out four separate times throughout my interview, so we just kept redoing the parts we needed to.  It rained so hard the water started running across the floor in the covered pavilion.  It will be interesting to see how that video turns out!

 

Our third day we were given a cultural tour of old town Bogota which was very interesting.  How can I convey my thanks to Alexandra Farms for this wonderful experience and all of the prize roses they have sent me through the years.  Thank you…Thank you…Thank you!!  It was wonderful to meet all of you and maybe someday we will get to meet again.

Photo credit – Alexandra Farms

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