For the past eight years, I have been on a quest to find the prettiest flower baskets while saving as much money as possible catering to my flower obsession.
In 2013, my daughter-in-law’s mother, Jennifer Sullivan, introduced me to the Amish greenhouses about 20 miles west of where I live in Brandon, Wis. Before that, I was content to shop at Fleet Farm, Stein’s Garden, Walmart and Menards to buy my annual flowers.
Not anymore! The first couple of years of buying flowers at the Amish greenhouses, I went from greenhouse to greenhouse, comparing prices and inventory before purchasing six or seven baskets of flowers at two or three establishments. There are about a dozen Amish greenhouses scattered between Kingston and Dalton in Green Lake County, Wis. Some of these greenhouses are established facilities that operate year-round. But several are located on farms and are no more than a couple of hoophouses that they use just in spring to house and sell annual flowers and baskets filled with flowers.
Many of these greenhouses are staffed by a farm couple and several children, who operate the cash registers and gladly carry the plants to your vehicle. After my first visit to an Amish greenhouse, I knew I was hooked. I shared my discovery with my friend and neighbor Jane Newton, who bought at least one pickup truck full of flowers her first year.
After a couple of years of flower shopping at Amish greenhouses, someone asked if I had ever bought flowers at the Amish produce auction and recommended I check it out. The auctions are held on Tuesdays and Fridays the last week of April and the entire month of May at the Tri-County Produce Auction Co-op, located at N1046 County Highway H, Dalton, WI 53926. Auctions are held in a very large pavilion, about the size of a football field, filled to the brim with annual flowers twice a week. The auctions start at 11 a.m. sharp and last about two hours.
You register and get a number when you arrive. It’s best to go early so you have time to check out what’s available. A couple of hundred people usually attend each auction, including Amish farmers, greenhouse owners and buyers who have booths at farmers markets. About a third of those buying flowers at the auction are women like me looking to get deals on baskets full of gorgeous flowers.
Buy with caution
The auctions aren’t for the faint of heart. You have to be daring enough to bid on what you want, but you also need to know your limits. I always check out a couple of Amish greenhouses before going to the auction to see what their prices are. Several greenhouse owners buy and sell flowers at the auctions too. This year I bought two large wicker baskets filled with flowers at a greenhouse for $34 each. I will reuse the baskets next year. I also bought a large plastic basket filled with flowers for $22. I replanted those flowers into a wicker basket I bought last year.
At the auction, flower baskets are sold in lots of 10 to 12 baskets each, which means when you are bidding on a basket, you are agreeing to pay that amount for each basket in the lot.
This year, I decided I would pay a maximum of $18 for a large plastic basket of flowers. I figured if they went for more than that, it was too much because I could get a large plastic basket of flowers of my choice at a greenhouse for $22, and I could buy as many as I wanted to buy. After being outbid on seven or eight lots of 10 to 12 baskets each, I purchased 10 large plastic baskets of flowers for $18 each.
I was happy with all the baskets except one that featured black petunias and orange calibrachoa (small petunias). They didn’t match any of the purple, pink, magenta, light blue, yellow and salmon-colored flowers in the other nine baskets. Not a problem. My daughter-in-law Ashley loves black petunias and was happy to take it home.
I filled several wicker baskets, two large pots and an old washtub I bought at a garage sale several years ago with the flowers for my front porch. I also hung two plastic baskets of flowers on our deck.
In the past few years, several of my friends have discovered the joys of buying their flowers at the auctions and the Amish greenhouses. I enjoy the process of buying the flowers. But being able to sit on my front porch and admire their beauty all summerlong is priceless!
Come back next week when we discuss how staggered plantings extend the time you have fresh vegetables in your garden.
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