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Carlsbad’s Flower Fields to reopen March 1 with several new attractions

Ranunculus flowers blooming in The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch on Thursday, Feb. 22.
Ranunculus flowers blooming in The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch on Thursday. The floral attraction opens its 2022 season on March 1.
(Hayne Palmour IV / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Fields manager Fred Clarke said 2021 was the floral attraction’s best year ever

While many tourism-related businesses suffered during the past year due to the pandemic, the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch is coming off its best year ever.

During the attraction’s 10-week season last spring, more than 300,000 people visited the 55-acre floral attraction at Paseo Del Norte and Palomar Airport Road. Fred Clarke, who has managed the Flower Fields for 16 years, said locals have come to depend on what he calls “Carlsbad flower fields season.”

“For local people, the flower season is the rhythm of their lives,” he said. “Our product is beauty and the elevation of your mood when you’re here.”

The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch, which opens its 2022 season on Tuesday, March 1, is home to the Giant Tecolote Ranunculus, a locally bred strain of an unscented Asian-born flora related to the buttercup.

Alberto Valencia places a bundle of ranunculus flowers on a truck at The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch on Feb. 22.
Alberto Valencia places a bundle of ranunculus flowers on a truck at The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch on Thursday.
(Hayne Palmour IV/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

During the spring blooming season, a crew of 40 field workers moves through the fields to harvest the most pristine 1 percent of flowers with the strongest stems and tightest and biggest unopened buds for the cut-flower market. They’re packed and shipped by air, mostly to the East Coast. The other 99 percent — about 700 million blooms each year — are left in the fields for tourists to enjoy.

At the end of the blooming season, the flower bulbs are dug up and replanted on a 40-acre patch nearby to produce seeds for future crops. The fields are divided into seven-acre blocks that are planted sequentially three weeks apart, north to south, so that there are always a few sections in various stages of bloom.

Carmen Perez carries a bundle of ranunculus flowers at The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch on Thursday, Feb. 22.
Carmen Perez carries a bundle of ranunculus flowers she picked as she and other employees worked at The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch on Thursday.
(Hayne Palmour IV / For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Over the past quarter-century, the Flower Fields has become one of the region’s most-photographed tourist attractions. Clarke said in the early years he was thrilled to welcome 75,000 visitors each spring. But with the advent of Instagram and other social media platforms, business exploded.

In 2020, the Flower Fields attraction was two weeks into its visitor season when the pandemic hit. Most of the crop is pre-sold to flower wholesalers each year, but Clarke said all of his shipment orders were canceled within a week or two. With no income from wholesale buyers or visitors, Clarke was forced to mow down about half of the 2020 crop. Later, he sold what was left at a nearby flower stand with proceeds going to charity.

When the fields reopened for business last year, Clarke instituted a new online-only ticketing system that was so successful that it becomes a permanent fixture this year. In past years, visitors tended to clump up at midday, which made for crowding in the fields and long lines for wagon rides. Through timed-entry ticketing, visitors expanded into the usually slower morning and late afternoon hours, allowing for less crowding and more visitors overall.

Returning this spring after a two-year absence will be live concerts, yoga classes, flower arranging and photography workshops, wine-tasting events and tea parties, as well as food vendors selling kettle corn, lemonade, fresh strawberries and, new this year, pizza.

One of tractor-pulled wagon drivers practices his route at The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch on Feb. 22, 2022.
One of the tractor-pulled wagon drivers practices his route at The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch on Thursday. The attraction opens its 2022 season on March 1.
(Hayne Palmour IV/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Clarke is most excited this year about a new five-acre sunflower garden that will come into bloom in late April or early May. Visitors will be able to walk among the rows of eye-height blooms for a unique photo opportunity. There will also be a small sunflower test garden where visitors can see a wide variety of sunflower plants.

Some of the other new attractions this year will be an illusion garden designed by Elfin Forest topiary artist Jennifer Coburn and new walk-through gardens created by local master gardeners. Also in the final stages of growth are the annual sweet pea maze and heritage poinsettia collection.

Later in the season, Coburn will create a second topiary art piece, and a new crop of flowers known as stock will come into bloom. The spearlike scented blooms in violet, pink and white hues are growing along the perimeter of some of the ranunculus fields, Clarke said.

Moises Morales, right, checks in a bundle of ranunculus flowers picked by Alberto Valencia at The Flower Fields.
Moises Morales, right, checks a bundle of ranunculus flowers picked by Alberto Valencia at The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch. The floral attraction opens its 2022 spring season on March 1.
(Hayne Palmour IV/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

By late March, the all-petunia American Flag floral garden, located on a south-facing hillside along Palomar Airport Road, should come into full bloom and will last until the Fourth of July.

A few years ago, Clarke opened a one-acre pick-your-own blueberries garden with four varieties of the fruit on the vine. The blueberries, at $5 a basket, have been very popular with guests, but Clarke said they’re not producing enough berries yet to be open for daily picking. He’ll put out signs when berries are available this season — likely just two days a week — and he’s doubling the size of the blueberry garden for next year to ensure more picking days.

One thing that will be in abundance all season will be the ranunculus flowers themselves. Thanks to heavy rains and sunshine, Clarke said this season’s flower crop has had a “spectacular germination.”

“A good germination puts a smile on a farmer’s face because that means more flowers for the guests to experience,” he said.

The long sloping hillside, which stretches from Cannon Road south to Palomar Airport Road, has been home to flowering plants since 1923, when the Paul Ecke family moved their poinsettia-growing operation south from Los Angeles.

When the Eckes transitioned from cut poinsettia flowers to potted poinsettia plants and moved their growing operations inside greenhouses, the fields were leased in 1965 to another local grower, Edwin Frazee.

His father, Frank, had begun growing ranunculus flowers in the 1930s after learning about them from his neighbor, Luther Gage. Riverside-raised Gage moved to Carlsbad in the early 1920s to grow flowers for the L.A. market. Among the first seeds he planted at his small Oceanside farm were ranunculus, which he’d ordered from a seed vendor in Europe.

Back in those days, ranunculus flowers had just a few petals, but over the years, Gage, and later the Frazees, developed a plant with stronger stems and bigger flowers with more petals. When Edwin Frazee retired in 1993, the Eckes brought in a new grower, Mellano & Co., which has farmed the property ever since.

The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch

Hours: Opens Tuesday, March 1 and runs through May 8. Hours, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily

Where: 5704 Paseo Del Norte, Carlsbad

Tickets (sold online by timed entry only): $22, adults; $20, seniors 60 and over; $10, children ages 3 to 10; free, children 2 and under.

Phone: (760) 431-0352

Online: theflowerfields.com


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