Buckets overflowing with dahlias—bursts of color ranging from palest blush to bronzed peach to deepest plum—attract the first swarm of shoppers to the flower booth. Some of the early-rising farmers market visitors just want a vibrant bouquet for the kitchen table, but there’s also a bride on her way to elope, holding an armful of the dahlia variety known as ‘Café au Lait,’ and an aspiring floral designer who has spied a cache of voluptuous old-fashioned garden roses along with willowy cosmos and a heap of lush trailing vines. Everyone is struck by the sheer abundance. Flowers like these, grown sustainably by Mandy and Steve O’Shea on their North Georgia land known as 3 Porch Farm, aren’t easy to find.
For years, the husband-and-wife team have shed blood, sweat, and tears working the land and slowly building a business of their dreams. Named for the original house on their property with a front porch, back porch, and sleeping porch, 3 Porch Farm produces naturally grown flowers and fruit using only solar power and biofueled farm vehicles.
While familiar flowers like peonies and ranunculus are popular, other blossoms are less known to the public but beloved by Mandy, who earned her degree in horticulture from the University of Georgia and honed her floral design skills at the famed McEvoy Ranch in California.
“One flower that I’ve fallen in love with over the last few years is campanula,” she says. “I rarely see it used, maybe because wholesalers find few growers offering it. I’m thrilled that it is in season during our prime wedding month of May. Cosmos and nicotiana, too. I just can’t get enough of these old-fashioned flowers.”
Some of the plantings are nurtured like infants. Mandy and Steve sometimes wake at intervals during the night to check on them when temperatures drop dramatically or a rough storm rages.
Garden roses have required experimentation. Growing up in the South, Mandy’s early experience with roses was less than ideal. She first perceived them to be high maintenance and hard to grow organically. Then she discovered varieties reclaimed from old Southern homesteads and from the Texas based Antique Rose Emporium—purveyor of cultivars developed by English rose breeder David Austin—and her outlook changed. Today the O’Sheas grow about 50 old-style varieties, such as ‘Abraham Darby,’ ‘Graham Thomas,’ ‘Quietness,’ ‘Heritage,’ and ‘Ballerina,’ which thrive on organic care.
The O’Sheas’ light-filled, solar-powered floral design studio was built by Steve by hand. A child of the Northern California suburbs with a background in biology and renewable fuels, Steve modestly says he didn’t pick up a tool until he turned 30. But he wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty (or calloused). He wanted to, as he puts it, “do something good in this world.” Over time he acquired the skills he now uses spearheading the farm’s construction projects, serving as mechanic, and working in the fields.
Continue The Farm Tour
Click the arrows (or swipe if on a mobile device) to see more
Willowy, bee-friendly cosmos
Subtle shading on a September-blooming dahlia
Vase by R. Wood Studio