Airplanes fly overhead from nearby Vance Brand Airport while grasshoppers rustle amid stretches of towering sunflowers and colorful cosmos at Sol Y Sombra Farm at 11971 N 75th Street.
Allison Edwards, who owns and maintains the two-acre flower farm in one of Boulder’s most charming outposts, Hygiene, comes from many generations of vegetable farmers and previously worked as a landscaper for Boulder County’s HOA flower beds before transitioning to running her own farm, Sol Y Sambra, 14 years ago.
Allison chose the Sol Y Sombra name (translates to sun and shade in Spanish) to illustrate the basics of farming. Following her family’s footsteps in vegetable farming, she started the operation as an organic vegetable farm with flower gardens scattered around the property for her personal creative endeavors.
Ultimately, she couldn’t deny that her heart lay in harvesting flowers. In 2016, she decided to stop growing vegetables completely and pursue flowers full time.
Throughout the year, Allison grows 75-95 different flower and plant varieties. She grows everything from peonies and lilies to mint, sage, and succulents; currently, she has dahlias, amethyst basil, zinnias, sunflowers, euphorbia, amaranth, hibiscus, Queen Anne’s lace, and echinacea growing. She sells over 100 bouquets each week — 24 to 26 at farmers market, the rest in bulk to co-ops such as Colorado Flower Collective and florists such as Boulder Blooms.
She orders seeds from seed houses (or swaps with friends) and starts planting in the winter, beginning with tulips in December in a big hoop house and then starts on other flowers in January.
In a normal, non-Covid, year, Allison does over 30 events — primarily weddings, but also other private events adorned with her beautiful flowers.
Allison currently tables at the Boulder County Farmers Market in downtown Boulder on Wednesday evenings and runs a farm stand and CSA program (she’ll be at the farmer’s market through October). She also creates arrangements for weddings, offers workshops and sells flowers by the bucket to do-it-yourselfers looking to hone their floral design craft. In the past month, Allison has begun shipping across the country.
While Allison will accommodate requests for a dozen identical bouquets, she prefers one-of-a-kind pieces.
“Nothing is ever the same,” she says. “That’s the beauty of coming to us; it’s more creative.”
Allison tends to attract clients who think like her – creative types that want to buy bulk and do their own arrangements, which is why she offers workshops where she teaches brides-to-be and curious creatives how to create bouquets and boutonnieres. Recently, she offered a Farmers Market Bouquet Class for $65 a person.
The bulk of flower harvesting begins in mid-June and lasts until frost, so throughout the season barren patches take the place of harvested flowers while Allison preps the land for the next year.
Allison jokes that the freshness of her blooms can be a double-edged sword. Because she cuts and arranges all her flowers the same day she sells them, they tend to last longer.
“Customers will come by to tell me that their bouquets still look great, so they wouldn’t buy until the next week.”
Growing in Colorado
She tells BLDRfly that Colorado’s heat and dry climate gives an advantage to flower farmers, because the mildew that can infect flowers is less prevalent in drier climates. But it’s not all sunshine here. The farm puts up special hail cloths under which it keeps all of its dahlias as well as a mix of everything else so that when hail strikes, the farm can count on some protection.
Bugs present another challenge, such as grasshoppers, which will munch everything in sight. The Japanese beetle, a common pest in Boulder and Denver, also hit Sol Y Sombra for the first time this year.
“They came in force, attacking the roses first,” Allison says. “Now they’ve moved into the dahlia patch. We have to place organza bags on each individual bloom to save them until harvest.”
Luckily, with past experience living in Memphis, Tennessee, and with family roots in swampy, insect-rich Mississippi, Colorado’s bugs pale in comparison!
Header Image: The cloth that Allison uses to protect the structure of her plants from hail. Image: Shereen Lisa Dudar.