Thursday, April 27, 2017

Fresh From the Flower Farm Near You...

There's no shortage of beautiful flowers in Provence...or places to buy them. Just about every outdoor market has a vendor selling brilliant blooms at reasonable prices. But there's something very special about buying them at the farm where they were grown...and meeting the people who grew them. And wholesale prices don’t hurt either!

Ferme Fleurie, located halfway between Tarascon and Graveson, is a large flower farm that exports 95 percent of its harvest to Holland. Yep, a big truck comes anywhere from two to seven times a week and carries away massive containers of flowers, all of them measured, clipped, bunched, refrigerated...and ready to be sold at auction. But a certain number of stems are always held back for local sale...and anyone who wants to can pop in to shop.  For export the flowers are cut "green," which means the buds have yet to open, but for local sale the flowers are ready to be enjoyed tout suite!

The flowers available each day are scribbled in chalk on a sign out on the road...just like the flavor of the day at your favorite ice cream stand. Many top hotels and restaurants in the region buy direct from the farm regularly.

Back in the day, you just pulled into the parking lot and if no one came out to greet you, you honked. But now that Marcel and Debbie van Eenennaam have opened their sweet new boutique on the property, there are convenient set hours...and a Facebook page where you can see what’s in season before you head over. The shop opened in early April.

So how is it that this charming Englishwoman and her Dutch husband came to be among the largest flower producers in Provence?

Born in a small town near Amsterdam, Marcel and his late wife Julie came down to Provence and established the farm in 1999. Julie lost her battle with cancer in 2013.

The following year, Debbie—who comes originally from Whitstable in Kent, England but was living in Istanbul at the time—arrived in Provence to visit friends. Among their guests at dinner one night was the charming flower farmer who lived just next door. And over that long, laughter-filled meal, Marcel and Debbie connected.  They stayed in touch and before too long, Debbie had chucked her life in Turkey, moved to France and moved in. The couple married on the farm in September 2015.

Ferme Fleurie operates year round. What can't be grown reliably in the ground is raised in one of 27 greenhouses, some of which are climate and humidity controlled.  To help get everything picked, packaged and shipped off on time, Debbie and Marcel have a fantastic team of Moroccan workers, a group that swells to 35 people in the height of the “short and intense” six-week peony season.

While anemones constitute a large part of their production, it’s the peonies for which the farm is best known: gorgeous fluffy blooms in colors including Bowl of Cream, Sara Bernhardt, Duchesse de Nemours, Pink Sunset and many both “single” and “double” varieties. The farm’s 130,000 stabilized peony bushes will produce roughly one million pretty stems this year.  Normally available until the end of May, the peony harvest started two weeks early this year and the flowers are being picked, at a frantic pace, right now. So if you want ‘em, come and get ‘em...they’ll be gone, most likely, by mid May.

Debbie and Marcel also grow daffodils, lilies, roses (600 bushes), tulips (20 varieties), allium, glads, viburnum, sedum, lavender (6000 bushes) and more. 

“Marcel is Dutch and likes to plant things,” Debbie says with a laugh.

If you come for flowers, you’re welcome to stroll around the 14-hectare farm where you’re likely to be followed by two sweet, inseparable black dogs named Poppy and Zazoo.  Poppy likes to swim every day, year round, in a small pond out back, while Zazoo runs back and forth on the shore.

You’re also likely to see geese and chickens; on a recent visit I spied a funny looking chicken that Debbie explained was a bit of a breeding mistake.  “I wanted to buy Silkie chickens but they were €45 each!,” she says, “so I decided to make them myself.  But I bred a furry one with a regular one by mistake. He's ugly but we really love him." In the barn the day I visited, a huge pig named Adele was crashed out in the hay, snoring loudly. 

The Boutique at Ferme Fleurie is normally open from 10 am to 12:30 and 3 pm to 6 pm (weekdays) and from 9 am to 12:30 (Saturday).  

During peony (pivoine) season, the hours are extended, as shown in the photo above. As of Monday May 15, they'll be back on normal hours.

In summer, the boutique is likely to open just one morning and one afternoon a check the Facebook page. [Summer 2017 hours began June 5. They are: Wednesdays from 3:30 to 6 pm, Thursday morning from 10 am to 12:30 and Saturday afternoon from 5 to 6 pm.]

The farm is a bit tricky to find and you’re likely to miss it on your first try. You'll know you're on the right path when you see the large blackboard telling you the fleur du jour; turn right just before it or left just after. (If you’re coming from Graveson, you’ll turn left right after a small bridge; from Tarascon look for a cross on a pedestal on your left and then turn right immediately.) After the turn you’ll see a sign for the Mas d’Arvieux...then just follow that road along the white fence, through three gentle curves, and you’re there. The farm and its GPS coordinates can also be found on Google Maps (as Ferme Fleurie SCEA Tarascon).

Ferme Fleurie, 4583 Route d'Avignon, 13150 Tarascon, France.

Photos: (1) Debbie and Marcel with just-picked peonies. The flowers are considered a symbol of good fortune and happy marriage..and they seem to have bunches of both. (2) The Boutique at Ferme Fleurie opened in early April and has been a huge hit. The prices are wholesale and the flowers are gorgeous. (3) Debbie and Marcel grow a wide range of varieties and colors, one more beautiful than the next. Peonies come in every color but blue...who knew?  (4, 5) The shop has been so busy Debbie has to re-stock multiple times throughout the day. (6) The daily-flower chalkboard is now a beloved local tradition. On this particular day, Marcel was rushing; he ran out of space for the 'e' in 'pivoine' and ran out of time to fix it! (7) In peony season, the farm employs 35 workers to get the flowers out of the fields and processed quickly for shipping to Holland. Marcel's brother receives them on the other end and does a final quality check before they go on to the Flora Holland Auction and world wide sales. (8) The Prince of Pivoines takes a much-needed break. Ok that's a lie, Marcel seems to never take a break. (9) A ready-to-be-harvested field; all but 5% of the flowers are picked "green," before the buds open, for export. The biggest crops are peonies and anemones but they grow lots of other flowers. Check their Facebook to see what's in season. (10) Beauty shot at sunset! (11) Another beauty shot! This field, one of many, shows the scope of the 14-hectare operation; the team will harvest roughly one million stems during the six-week peony season. (12) Marcel knows more about peonies than anyone. Many of his plants may very well outlive him...peonies can live to be 100 years old. (13-17) In an airplane-hangar-size building, the flowers are trimmed, bunched, wrapped, boxed and refrigerated. (18) Who wouldn't want to buy their flowers from this smiley farmer? (19) Hours are extended during peony season, which will mostly likely end in the next two to three weeks. 


  1. Thanks for reminding me that I need to go and get some peonies... My favorite! and the farm is so fantastic at this time of the year....

  2. Oh Julie, I want to live down the road from them. I could smell those gorgeous pivoines right off your page! What a wonderful story ... not just about this fascinating business but also about Debbie and Marcel. You know how I love stories about second chances! <3

  3. Fascinating! Great post. So many pivoines right now. Wonder where they are coming from? Who knew?

  4. Gorgeous flowers!

  5. Thank you for introducing us to Debbie and Marcel. It is the sense of community and the art of slow living that draws me to rural France - despite the many long hours that people work.