Photograph by Tessa Marie Images
Along the winding two-lane roads of New London Township, shopping centers give way to developments, interspersed with rambling historic properties. Among the newer construction sits a brick farmhouse built back in 1838. Just beyond its entry gates and pretty façade lies an unexpected oasis of color.
There, Mara Tyler and her husband, Greg, have transformed a 12-acre farmette into a thriving business. The Farm at Oxford exudes a classic romantic vibe, with a large red barn situated in the backyard and fields where the flowers bloom extending around it. Elsewhere, chickens and guinea fowl roam freely.
A San Jose, Calif. native, Tyler relocated to Pennsylvania to be closer to her husband’s family, moving around a bit before settling in New London four years ago. “We didn’t intend to come this far,” she says.
But it’s proven to be a productive move. “I’m a gardener, but if I can end up growing things that people find worthwhile, why not turn my hobby into something else?” she says.
Growing up, Tyler gardened alongside her mother. But it wasn’t until her early 20s that Tyler’s interest grew. “I never thought about farming necessarily, but I always thought I wanted to have giant gardens full of flowers,” she says.
The Tylers have converted two acres for about 100 varieties of flowers, yielding an estimated 30,000-40,000 blooms annually, many of which aren’t frequently grown in this region. “I love the whole process of growing things—putting the plants into the soil and seeing what it’s going to produce and having the abundance of flowers,” she says.
Though Tyler has part-time seasonal help, her days can be long. Depending on the weather, she starts working the soil in March, and the first flowers of the season typically begin appearing in April. She’s in the fields through October.
From April on, the flowers come in waves—peonies and some perennials in June, dahlias from August to October. In summer, days start as early as 6 a.m. and end at dark, with a break at the height of the heat. “It’s like a madhouse,” she says with a laugh.
Dahlias are a customer favorite. To meet demand, Tyler grows upwards of 2,500 a year. Come fall, she’s busy planting for the next year. In winter, Tyler keeps busy making and selling wreaths. When she’s not running the farm, she works in digital marketing—but her hope is to expand her flower business. “I look at all this and think, ‘What can we do to make it productive? It’s not just something pretty to look at,’” she says.
Most flowers sold in the U.S.—especially those in outlets like grocery stores—are grown abroad and flown over. They’re treated with the sort of chemicals Tyler eschews in favor of organic products or nothing at all. “What I’m putting out there I want to be as good as possible—for me, for everyone else,” she says of her adherence to what’s known as the Slow Flowers Movement. “I just wouldn’t feel good putting chemicals back into the ground, where our water is coming from and where our neighbors’ water is coming from.”
To keep her plants—and the soil—healthy, Tyler uses natural fertilizers, along with mushroom compost she gets mostly from Kennett Square. Such practices are a big hit with local floral designers like Rebecca Mulholland, owner of Drexel Hill’s Ram Floral. “I have a very specific aesthetic; I use a lot of local products,” says Mulholland. “I realized quickly that, with the type of designing that I like to do, the products weren’t readily available through wholesale.” So she turns to local farmers like Tyler. “I love working with the designers because they’re usually more open to the unique options,” says Tyler, who’s open to feedback about hard-to-find blooms. “This year, we’re going to invest in a lot of clematis, because no one’s growing them out here in bulk.”
Many of Tyler’s flowers—the varieties range from tulips and other classics to more exotic options like hellebores and dahlias—are sold to local designers for wedding creations. But the farm does offer four-week CSA-like shares, where flowers are delivered to four locations, including Eastcote Lane in Wayne, Arden + James at the Chadds Ford Barn Shops, and worKS in Kennett Square, where Tyler recently opened a small retail spot.
Arden + James owner Bri Brant sees the arrangement as mutually beneficial. “I think my customers—like her customers—are into natural things,” says Brant. “All of my materials are natural and local, and [Tyler’s] are natural and local, too.”
And customer satisfaction is never an issue. “Just knowing we’re putting something beautiful out into the world justifies all of the work we do,” says Tyler.
Tyler has hopes of expanding to more of her land in the future. For now, though, she’s happy to take it slowly.