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A Blossoming Business

Inspired by Late Grandmother, Alumna Flourishes in Founding Cut-Flower Farm

By Sala Levin ’10

Rachel Ross on flower farm

Rachel Ross '19 started SunKissed Flower Farm on Kent Island to honor the memory of her late grandmother. The self-described "farmer-florist" sells arrangements (below), wreaths, corsages and pressed flowers.

Photos by John T. Consoli

Under a clear cobalt sky in Kent Island, Md., puffy bursts of pink, buttery yellow and peach ranunculus showed off their happy colors, stands of wispy bachelor’s buttons with their blue blossoms swayed in the breeze and white peonies held tight in their round buds, waiting to burst forth seemingly momentarily.

“We call it the marshmallow stage for peonies,” said Rachel Ross ’19. “You harvest right when the buds get kind of squishy, like a marshmallow.”

Ross grows everything from anemones to zinnias on this quarter-acre patch on the Eastern Shore for her cut-flower business, SunKissed Flower Farm. Located on the 3-acre property she shares with her parents, the farm bloomed out of Ross’ background in plant science—and an inherited love of nature.

flower arrangement

Ross started the micro farm after her grandmother died in February 2020, inspired by the matriarch’s love of flowers and houseplants (all of which Ross adopted). “She plays a huge role in my desire to give joy to others in her honor.”

Nature has long played an even bigger role in Ross’ world, serving as an antidote to her lifelong experiences with anxiety and depression. “Whenever I would have severe panic attacks, I would go outside barefoot, and just take lots of deep breaths, listen to the birds, just be around nature,” Ross said.

She and her parents moved from Elkridge, Md., to Kent Island in 2019, a few months after Ross graduated from UMD with a degree in agricultural science and technology. She was working in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ Plant Diagnostic Laboratory, led by recently retired director Karen Rane, and was considering graduate school, but didn’t feel called to any particular course of study. Ross started the flower farm “on a whim,” she said, digging new beds and learning the intricacies of flower care by herself.

The COVID-19 pandemic offered Ross a “good trial year,” she said. “People couldn’t see their loved ones, and they wanted to send them something pretty to boost their mood, so I was doing no-contact drop-off deliveries of flowers” while assessing what worked best with the Eastern Shore’s climate and clay soil.

Ross is firm on a few matters. She doesn’t till, which can damage the soil; she doesn’t use black plastic landscape fabric, which absorbs sunlight and can make the garden unbearably hot; she doesn’t use herbicides or pesticides, instead relying on beneficial insects like ladybugs to control pests.

“She certainly learned a lot about plant diseases and insect pests while working in the lab,” said Rane. “That would give her a heads-up on what to look for to troubleshoot her crops.”

Today, Ross has several part-time employees to help her maintain the garden, and plans on building a greenhouse, a barn to host flower-arranging workshops, and more beds. A self-described “farmer-florist,” she sells her flowers directly to consumers at farmers markets, plus creates bouquets for weddings, proms and any old time. On Mother's Day, she's offering an outdoor yoga and flower arranging event, now sold out.

As an osprey circled overhead, making its high-pitched call, Ross plucked weeds from her garden and checked on the growth of her new eucalyptus beds. “I could spend weeks here by myself and not feel any sort of isolation,” she said. “I feel fulfilled being here.”





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