Dragon Fly Floral
Teaches How to Set the Scene from Farm to Tabletop
Bonnie Z and her then-husband Malcolm Yuill-Thornton bought a six-acre farm in Healdsburg’s Dry Creek Valley in 1990, and immediately set about removing all the grapes and planting food and flowers. They named the property Dragonfly Farm after all the dragonflies that hatch in nearby Dry Creek and then flock, along with other beneficial insects and birds, to the farm’s smorgasbord of nectar-producing plants and flowers.
According to Carlisle Degischer, the couple’s daughter and Bonnie’s current business partner, her mom was on the forefront of the heirloom vegetable movement. Selling the farm’s produce and flowers at the Healdsburg farmers’ market and to local restaurants fully immersed the family into the community.
One of their fellow community members, Carrie Brown, proprietress of the Jimtown Store, was the first person to entice Bonnie into the wedding floral business. Now, 25 years later, Dragonfly Floral is a widely acclaimed flower designer for weddings and other special events, as well as many local wineries and restaurants including Scopa, Campofina, Flying Goat Coffees, Gathered, Noble Folk, Geyserville Gun Club and Spinster Sisters. They also donate flowers to many local charities and events, and offer a “Year of Flowers,” their own version of a flower CSA.
Dragonfly’s specialty is uncontrived arrangements that highlight the natural beauty of flowers grown mostly on their own farm. They do from time to time supplement their home-grown gorgeousness with flowers from other local farms including Front Porch Farm (profiled in the Fall 2015 issue of Edible Marin & Wine County) and Sophie’s 5 Acres.
Bonnie’s background in textiles (she holds degrees from the School for American Crafts at the Rochester Institute of Technology and the California College of the Arts in Oakland) blended beautifully into her work with flowers. She notes, “Fiber and flowers really aren’t that different, except that we don’t usually compost fabric when it has lost its beauty.”
Dedicated to leaving as small a footprint as possible, Bonnie and Carlisle—who also lives on the farm with her 5-year-old son, Ollie—as well as the floral business together generate just one small garbage can worth of trash destined for the landfill each week. “We compost and recycle everything we can and my mom has started using a permaculture concept known as hugelkultur, so we no longer have to burn,” says Carlisle. “We donate leftover flowers to the senior center and others. We also have ‘Lazy Sunday’ during the height of the season [roughly April through November] where we put out all of the flowers remaining from the week and people come and take what they want and donate what is comfortable. People don’t think about the potential waste involved in the floral business.”
What to tackle next? For Bonnie and Carlisle it was sharing their love of flowers with others, as a way of furthering people’s understanding and appreciation of the natural world. Dragonfly had offered classes here and there through the years, but four years ago Pam Bell, who had been a freelance designer for Dragonfly (as well as other flower businesses) for over 10 years after closing her own floral business in San Francisco, took on the task of expanding the company’s educational programs.
Dragonfly now offers several monthly floral design classes based on themes or seasons, as well as a more in-depth “apprenticeship program.” Private group classes for special occasions like bridal parties or birthdays and team-building events for small companies (up to 50 people) are also available. Pam and her team are also currently working on the creation of a set of unique “Healdsburg Experiences,” in collaboration with other local businesses like Relish Culinary Adventures and a walking tour company.
According to Pam, “People leave our classes not only with new skills, professional techniques and a greater knowledge and understanding of plant materials, but also with gorgeous floral arrangements made with their very own hands! It is deeply rewarding to watch their faces light up when they step away from their creation at the end of class and see for the first time [with perspective] what they were able to achieve!”
“There is no other occupation I can think of that addresses so many different human needs,” says Bonnie. “Flowers speak to us in a silent language that needs no translation. Flowers are offered for every occasion in our lives from the greatest celebrations and sorrows to the quieter messages that reach out say to everything from ‘I love you’ to ‘Just wanted to cheer you up.’ Garden flowers and herbs with their vibrant or subtle fragrances are true aromatherapy and carry the message straight to the heart. We take this very seriously and each arrangement we create is with the recipient and intention in mind.”
Bonnie and Carlisle are quick to credit Pam and the rest of their talented and hard working team of farmers, office staff, event planners, floral delivery drivers and freelance designers as keys to Dragonfly’s success and growth.
With grace and generosity at the heart of all that they do, Dragonfly Farm is open to the public seven days a week, for strolling and picnicking among the flowers, chickens and ducks. Dragonfly Floral is open Tuesday through Saturday. According to Bonnie, “The garden is a perpetual work in progress. New things are constantly being planted to supply our floral designs, to feed our spirits, our families and the wildlife. We replaced what had been a monoculture with a diverse environment that supports increasingly more diverse populations of birds, bees and beneficial insects.”
Dragonfly Farm and Floral offers lessons on flower arranging, and so much more.