PARIS – “Do you do weddings?” “Are you trying to sell us something?” These are two of the comments received while distributing vases of cut flowers to libraries, town halls, the hospital, nursing homes and nonprofit groups in the Norway/South Paris area.

The answer is “no.” The bouquets are the result of cut flower research being done at the Oxford County Extension Office in South Paris.

There are two primary goals. The research is evaluating the quality and quantity of cut flowers produced in an unheated high tunnel and under field conditions. In addition, the Extension is looking at low-cost strategies to capture solar heat, which can be used to warm the air and soil in the high tunnel, extending the growing season in the spring and fall.

The other aspect of the research is to stimulate demand for locally-grown cut flowers. New England used to have a thriving cut flower industry. However, the advent of refrigerated shipping and air freight relocated much of the production to California.

Now, cheaper labor and more lenient environmental regulations have moved much of the cut flower production to Central and South America. The freshness and vase-life of the flowers are compromised due to the extensive shipping distances. The variety of flowers readily available for purchase has also been reduced to flowers amenable to mass production and great shipping distances.

Maine has skilled and talented flower growers who are able to grow a wide variety of long-lasting flowers. The selection ranges from the well known zinnia to lesser known beauties like lisianthus.

The purpose of putting vases of flowers around town is to expose residents to flowers that are easily grown in Maine but that are not readily available in the mass wholesale market. If enough demand is generated, growers can add or extend their cut flower production to include the new varieties.

If interested in learning more about the research project, a garden and cut flower field day will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 24, at the Extension office, or call the office at 743-6329 or 1-800-287-1482.

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