By Nancy Covert
Just after midday on June 19, a white van stocked with buckets of multi-color flowers arrived in Steilacoom.
Peto Cha, his wife, May, and son, Joshua, came to town that afternoon to set up a pair of tents well in advance of the Market’s 3 p.m. opening. After an hour and a half drive from Kirkland, they’d unloaded the van, removed dozens of containers of cut flowers, and arranged them, and the space adjacent to the Bair Store (next to Scarecrow Sue) resembled a living Persian carpet.
Steilacoom’s Market is one of three sites this year where the trio transport the bounty of their four-acre Monroe garden—“fresh cut by sunset,” said Peto.
Cha and his family also provide pesticide-free flowers for Farmers Markets in Lakewood and Proctor.
Originally from Laos, he lived in California for a while, but was unsuccessful in finding work. His Seattle cousins, though, encouraged him to move to Washington—where they sell flowers at the Pike Place Market.
“If they could do it,” he said, “then so could I.”
He’s been selling flowers for 13 years. His floral enterprise began with 35 varieties of dahlias raised on a ½-acre plot in Bothell. As he prospered he purchased four more acres in Monroe, where half the land is devoted to dahlias; the other half to perennials such as peonies, snapdragons, and bachelor’s buttons.
To discourage marauding deer Cha has planted apple trees—the critters bypass the posies! From April through November Cha keeps busy cutting and selling flowers. He’ll plant his 2014 crop in late October.
Besides the bouquets, May raises and sells Swiss chard, onions and kohlrabi. (Check the Market Information table for weekly recipes).
Depending on the season. Peto’s inventory includes daffodils, tulips and irises through peonies, tiger and Oriental lilies, dahlias and sunflowers. Bouquet prices range from $5-$12, according to each Market’s vendor fees.
Come Market time, Peto has buckets filled with lots of enticing ready-to-go bouquets—the perfect touch for a dinner table centerpiece, for a shut-in friend, or just because there’s something about the sight of flowers in a vase.
This year, Steilacoom has 40 vendors, says Laura Johnson, Steilacoom’s Market Manager. “The flower vendors are probably the most popular.”
Cha adds that, “Washington’s communities support farmers and the flower growers, too.” He definitely likes the Evergreen State.
When it comes time to select my own bouquet, though, it’s a challenge since each flower-filled paper cone is a design masterpiece. By the time the arrangement of white peonies, phlox, snapdragons, and bellflowers, with yellow and black accents for filler (the latter, Cha said, were onion buds tinted black) was unwrapped and tucked into its vase, the design had definitely lost some of its initial attractiveness. Still, its fresh, “summer white” fragrance lingered until the following week.