If you’re in the florist industry, then you know W.C. Carpenter is a name associated with bright blue eyes, a quick smile, and deep access to the flower market in Boston. Billy has been in “the flower business” for over thirty years, and he knows every flower, every season, every occasion. And if you know Billy, you also know that come springtime, there’s an extra bounce in his step as he brings news of the sunflowers sprouting in the field at his Duxbury home. Billy may be known among florists for good, wholesale service, but it’s his locally grown, fresh cut sunflowers that have made him a legend.
Relaxed, country-style arrangements give no clue as to how tricky sunflowers can be if you’re growing them for vases. Sunflowers should not be grown too close, nor too far apart. If the season is too wet, they could easily be overcome with blight. Just when you are done worrying about worms, beetles, and moths, the late summer winds will up the ante and can lay a sunflower field flat with a few strong gusts. The precise point of harvest is vital too: you don’t want to cut the stem when the buds are closed tight, but if you wait too long, the end user won’t benefit from the full display of big, bright yellow heads.
What sunflower variety should one grow?
There are hundreds, if not thousands, ranging in size from small and daisy-like to bigger-than-a-dinner-plate, and in hues of white and pale yellow to the brightest color of sunshine or deep orange- amber. Over many years, Billy’s conversations with these beautiful blooms have evolved into something akin to poetry. He carefully selects his seed; picks his flowers at the coolest part of the day, just before the petals break open to offer a welcoming, friendly embrace; and his flowers go straight into a fresh bucket of water right in the field (a vastly different arrangement than that of the thirsty sunflowers dry shipped from far off lands).
Billy is a good custodian of his land, too; he rotates his crops, plants cover crops, uses aged compost made on the farm, and has hives at the back of his property from a local apiary—bees really love sunflowers! During the growing season, Billy and his wife, Erin, also keep a garden. They grow a wide variety of greens and summer crops, but if he had to pick another favorite thing to grow after sunflowers it would have to be tomatoes or perhaps giant pumpkins. Billy’s cherry tomatoes are just as legendary as his sunflowers, in my book, and although qualifying pumpkins are entered into the Marshfield Fair, it is really his grandchildren he is indulging with the giant magical orbs.
The happy news for all of us is that you don’t need to be a florist to enjoy Billy’s sunflowers, nor do you need to be a cherished friend or neighbor to enjoy the bounty from Erin and Billy’s garden. Just drive down Union Street in Duxbury and stop in at their honesty stand. The farm is one of the few remaining in Duxbury, and if Billy is home, you will be treated to a friendly smile, bright blue eyes, and hometown hospitality.
White Gate Farmstand
687 Union Street
Duxbury, MA 02332
By: Pamela Denholm is the owner of South Shore Organics. She loves Billy’s flowers and brings them home every summer to add a little extra wonderfulness to the kitchen table.