The sky was full of fast-moving clouds – disappearing remnants of a morning’s rain – and temperatures were falling from a week of 90-degree weather into the 70s.
A breeze was the final touch to the perfect weather at Kirk Jones’ Good Scents Gardens in Ypsilanti Township.
“Being out here,” said Jones. “I like this.”
Good thing, because the flowers he grows there are his business. Jones uses the yarrow, zinnias, butterfly weed and agastache for bouquets he puts together and personally delivers to regular subscribers.
Jones explains it as a twist on the idea of community supported agriculture, or CSA, in which subscribers pay a set amount for one season of produce from a local farm. Instead of picking up a carton of vegetables once a week, Good Scents’ customers get a floral bouquet delivered to their home or business once a week.
Like a CSA, in which a subscriber’s take depends on what and how much the farmer raises over a season, Good Scents’ customers get what Jones chooses to plant and what comes up each year. No matter what, he said, they will get a bouquet of flowers each week over the 26-week season.
“If I have to buy commercial flowers, I’ll do it,” he said. “You’ll get your flowers.”
Jones, 52, was working on computer software in 2003 when he started Good Scents, selling bouquets through Downtown Home and Garden in Ann Arbor. (He has a B.A. in biology and another in computer science.)
He soon added deliveries to his Good Scents business, but worked both jobs for five years, dropping out of the computer world in 2008 to work and manage the bouquet business full time.
Now Jones has about 70 customers. About 40 of them get their bouquets delivered to their homes, and the rest at their workplaces.
Jones will pick the flowers a day or two before the bouquets are delivered, going out with buckets and wide-mouthed jars to gather whatever is ready. “If there’s anything blooming, I cut it,” he said.
At home – about four miles and two stop signs from the garden – Jones arranges the flowers in his garage, assembling the bouquets among the tools, the lawn mower and a bright yellow kayak hanging from the rafters.
Each of the bouquets is different, depending on which flowers are available. However, he thinks about what each customer has gotten in the past when he decides which bouquet goes to which customer.
So don’t expect the same thing every week, and don’t expect any of the dozens of bouquets he puts together every week to be identical.
Then, in the early hours of each Monday morning, he begins delivery to homes, then goes out again during business hours bringing bouquets to offices. For customers who prefer bouquets for the weekend, Jones also makes deliveries on Friday. Each week he also retrieves the empty glass jars that contained the previous week’s bouquet, which customers set out for him much like people used to leave their empty milk bottles for the milkman.
“He must do it in the middle of the night,” said Nancy Slezak, one of Jones’ customers who always finds a bouquet in the breezeway of her Ypsilanti home on Fridays from May to mid-October. And, she said, Jones has never missed a week.
Slezak started getting the flowers as a prize in a raffle several years ago. Now, it’s an extravagance she allows herself even though she just recently retired from her teaching job in the Ann Arbor schools.
But the bouquets are beautiful, she said. Sometimes they are pink, purple and cream. Sometimes they come in bright yellows and oranges.
She especially likes the yellow sunflowers and the orange lilies, and she likes how the bouquets are arranged. “He puts thought into it,” Slezak said. “He doesn’t just stick things in a jar.”
Sometimes she breaks up the big bouquets up into smaller sprays to spread around the house or give them away. Sometimes a bouquet will become a birthday gift to give a friend.
Slezak knows the flowers are an extravagance, but “as long as I can afford it, I will get it,” she said.
Jones charges $14 per bouquet, a total of $364 if you get a whole seasons’ worth of blooms – though Jones said he’ll consider something shorter.
Jones was always growing flowers. He had a plot with the community gardening group Project Grow, and over time the flowers pushed out the vegetables.
He’s still on the Project Grow board, but finds he doesn’t really have time to tend another garden.
Though his interest in flowers turned into his job, Jones said it’s still fun to grow and arrange the bouquets. He doesn’t even mind the early morning deliveries, though he admits that the least likable part of his business is dealing with traffic when he delivers during the day.
During his delivery season, Jones spends more of his time tending the business than the flowers.
He figures he spends about 15 hours a week out at the land he rents from Dawn Farm on Stony Creek Road. His plot is out behind the parking lot, within sight of the donkeys and llamas, just next to the turkeys waiting for Thanksgiving. If the wind is right, you’ll get the full smelly effect of life on a farm.
On the day I stopped by, the gusty wind was easily outmaneuvered, and it was a treat to watch the bees, the butterflies and even the giant orb spider while morning clouds cleared out of a blue, blue sky. A wall of goldenrod barricaded the rows of beds on the far side.
Jones has about 100 beds in the garden, each about 100 square feet with either flowers in bloom, flowers waiting to bloom or flowers finished blooming.
The daffodils, of course, have already disappeared for the year, and the short lilac bushes are nothing but puckered leaves. But there are beds busy with colorful zinnia and dahlias, along with pale pink lisianthus, a light green nicotiana and Frosty Morn sedum.
Jones also grows greenery for his bouquets, including boxwood and red cedar, but not firs, which make every bouquet look like Christmas, he said.
The mix means the color and life of the garden changes as the summer moves on. This can make for a less-than-neat plot, but Jones doesn’t care. It’s the difference between gardening for a business and gardening for yourself.
“I have to remember this is not my yard, and it’s not my garden,” he said. “It’s never going to be perfect.”
For information about Good Scents Gardens, including a gallery of bouquets, is on the firm’s website.
About the writer: Marianne Rzepka, former reporter for the Ann Arbor News and Detroit Free Press, is a Master Gardener who lives in Ann Arbor and thinks it’s fun to turn the compost pile.