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Monday, April 15, 2024

Growing in Harmony

Down a stretch of gravel road in a quiet, peaceful area of historic New Harmony, Ind., sits Fragrant Farms. This cut flower garden and vineyard specializes in natural growing reminiscent of the founding Harmonists of the early 1800s. In December, the workers’ month of rest, the farm’s 24 acres are relatively empty and still. Yet as spring and summer draw nearer, the farm comes alive, bursting with vibrant color from blooming peonies and bustling with activity from dedicated workers and curious visitors. According to manager Kathy Fridley, Fragrant Farms is a rare find among the area’s many corn, bean, and wheat farms.

The farm was originally opened in 1998 by owner Jane Blaffer Owen, the town’s much-beloved, prominent benefactor. When Owen passed away in 2010 at the age of 95, ownership passed to her daughter, Annie Owen. Fridley has taken care of the farm’s daily tasks for nearly 10 years.

“I kind of fell into working here,” Fridley says, adding that she was getting a haircut when her stylist recommended she apply. The next day, she had a new job. “I worked two years as an employee, and then the manager left, so I’ve been manager since 2005,” she says. “I love it.”

Though the farm is a labor of love, still it is labor — and demanding labor, too. “Everything’s physical labor,” Fridley says. “Pruning the grapes takes six weeks, six to seven hours a day. It’s a lot of repetitive motion. It’s hard on a person.” Fragrant Farms does not own a mechanical harvester, and with one part-time and two full-time employees, the work can be long and tedious, even with occasional outside help.

For home winemakers, though, the work is worth the reward. Fridley allows wine enthusiasts who assist with the harvest to take home a percentage of the grapes they pick. That’s a treat for the volunteers and a great deal of help to the staff of Fragrant Farms. With two acres of red grapes and four acres of white, there’s plenty for picking.

Fragrant Farms’ prize crop is the peony. The farm grows two acres of roughly 5,000 peony plants each year. At 1,200 plants per year, the largest crop is the popular light pink Sarah Bernhardt, named for the famous French stage and film actress. Others are a mix of white peonies (a wedding favorite) and various shades of pink peonies.

“It’s a very hardy plant,” Fridley says of the peony. “It’s beautiful and fragrant with a lot of different varieties.”

For those who can’t make it out to the peony fields in person, Fragrant Farms sets aside several peony buds to put in coolers, saving them to ship to eager flower aficionados across the country. Many of these customers are from southern states, as it is nearly impossible to grow peonies in hot climates. Fridley says the farm usually ships 12 stems. Once the stems arrive, all the customer has to do is put them in water.

The plants are 100 percent natural, and Fridley believes that is one of the farm’s best qualities. “We don’t use any pesticides or chemicals on our flowers,” she says. “The peonies don’t have any predators.” Fridley says she knows of plant shops that receive flowers covered with so many chemicals that employees have to use protective clothing when handling them. Some places even spray-paint plants, she says. With full, naturally beautiful peonies, Fragrant Farms doesn’t have to.

Visit Fragrant Farms, or call 812-682-4406 for more information.

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