When Renny Grilz’s parents started the Blazing Star Wildflower Seed Company as a farm diversification project in 1992, they didn’t anticipate the interest and success the business would generate.
“They were one of the first companies offering wildflower seeds native to Western Canada and did extremely well for the first couple of years. Then the big-box stores started carrying wildflower mixes, which came from California. These mixes often contained annual flowers, some of which are on the noxious weed list here in Saskatchewan. This created problems for growers,” Renny said.
Renny’s wife Lisa took over the business in 2001. Today Lisa grows some wildflowers in their backyard garden at Aberdeen, but the bulk of the wildflowers and heritage vegetables they grow for seed are located at Renny’s parents’ farm near Humboldt. They also grow some flowers in plots at a friend’s property north of Aberdeen and at a community garden Lisa and several other enthusiasts started in Aberdeen.
Renny holds an agriculture degree from the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon and is currently the resource management officer at Meewasin Valley Authority in Saskatoon. He manages Meewasin’s river valley projects as well as other conservation sites around the city. Lisa has a biology degree and manages Blazing Star Wildflower Seed Company. Their children Salix, 14, Jonathan, 12, and Linnaea, 10, help with the business as time permits.
The Grilz family grows a large selection of native wildflowers and heirloom vegetables from which they collect and market seeds through their website, at the farmers’ market and various plant sales. Some of the seed has been in the family for 40 years or more.
Lisa starts the flowers and vegetables indoors about mid-February. “Last year I grew over 50 varieties of tomatoes,” she says.
A heritage variety of spring-planted soft-neck garlic has been in the family for 70 to 80 years.
Seed gathering, done by hand, begins in June with the prairie crocus being the first to require harvesting. The harvest continues on until well into October.
Wildflowers can take a long time to become established, so keeping the weed competition down and being patient are keys to success. They are perennials and therefore don’t produce flowers the first year. Some, like the western red lily take four years to bloom.
“From the business perspective, it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme. You have to take it slow and make it more of a hobby than a full-time business,” said Renny.
The business has, nevertheless, grown steadily over the last several years, and the couple would like to acquire more production plots for additional species of wildflowers and grasses.
“We have continued to diversify, adding custom seed packs, and wedding papers to our portfolio,” said Lisa.
“We do a lot of education. I’ve spoken at different conferences throughout the province, which are organized through Seeds of Diversity Canada. For conferences, workshops or organizations we provide custom seed packages to promote an interest in growing wildflowers, Renny said.