Artists Jamie Bertsch (left in photo) and Courtney Joy Stevens create artworks of dazzling color and texture from the cornucopia of flowers they grow on a Waubeka farm.
Courtney Joy Stevens and Jamie Bertsch are trained artists whose palette is the colorful field of flowers they lovingly tend at a Waubeka farm throughout the year.
It’s a palette they use to create stunning arrangements for their business, which is appropriately named flower & bee.
Their arrangements, created in a barn turned studio, are composed with an eye toward nature — more rustic and bohemian than formal — but still reflect their art background.
“You’re still playing with color and texture and depth and scale,” said Stevens. “I really enjoy painting, and I feel like I’m still doing something very artistic but with the garden as a huge palette.”
Bertsch added, “This is a great creative outlet.”
To understand how they got to this point, you have to understand where they came from.
Bertsch, 29, is a native of Campbellsport whose family had a hobby farm, while Stevens, 30, is a Waukesha native. They met when they were art students at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
Bertsch, who today lives in Port Washington, went on to earn her master of fine arts degree in fiber arts at UW-Milwaukee. She teaches in the fiber arts program at UWM’s Peck School of the Arts.
After earning her degree, Stevens, who lives on the Waubeka farm, went to work on an organic farm in Osceola through the Americorps program.
“I didn’t know anything about farming, but it was so nice to be outside working,” she said. “After that, I would go from one farm to the next, going to farms that had something interesting that I wanted to learn.”
She spent time at an organic flower and vegetable farm in Maine and then went to Italy, where she worked on a farm, complete with olive trees, grapes and livestock, that also operated a bed-and-breakfast inn.
“It was pretty dreamy,” Stevens said. “I feel like they really appreciated the aesthetics of farming.”
When she returned to Wisconsin in 2013, she and Bertsch reconnected and the inevitable question of “What are you doing?” led to the idea of starting a flower farm and creating beautiful arrangements that reflect nature and satisfy their creative talent.
“This is a new, energizing concept for us to work with,” Bertsch said. “As artists, you’re always hungry for the next process, the next thing to do.
“Flower & bee became that next collaborative piece for us.”
The women distributed fliers in Milwaukee advertising their search for a half-acre to rent so they could grow flowers, and eventually found themselves with an old cornfield in West Bend.
“We were determined,” Stevens said.
They picked rocks from the field and started their flowers in the kitchen of the Cedarburg house where Bertsch lived at the time. As they grew, the flowers made their way into a greenhouse in her back yard before being transplanted into the West Bend field.
It was hard work — Bertsch’s husband Joe bought a backpack for watering, and they would tend to each plant by hand — but the women had a successful season, selling their floral arrangements at the West Bend farmers market.
“We always wanted floral design to be our main way of getting flowers to people,” Stevens said. “We took them to the West Bend market and would sell them at a very generous price. It was a good first-year learning experience.”
“If that first year hadn’t been so good, it wouldn’t have been as easy to continue,” Bertsch added.
At the West Bend market, Bertsch and Stevens met Anna Metscher of Wild Ridge farm, who, in turn, introduced them to Paul and Linda Thomas. The Thomas’ own the roughly 85-acre Waubeka organic farm where Wild Ridge grows its crops and where flower & bee now grows thousands of flowers on about a half acre of land, starting them in a greenhouse on the property.
“We were open to a new situation,” Stevens said, adding that they’ve become more efficient in their new home, using fabric barriers to help eliminate weeds and an irrigation system.
They now grow about 200 varieties of flowers, most of them annuals, although they are trying to build up their perennial offerings.
“We just grow what we like,” Stevens said. “There are so many varieties of flowers.”
Their favorites include dahlias, poppies, sunflowers, cosmos, zinnias and snapdragons.
They grow foxglove — it’s the flower featured in their logo — strawflowers, scabiosa, hyacinth beans, feverfew, jewels of Opar, nicotiana and nigella.
The varieties they grow include not only traditional ones in colors typically seen but others that are more unusual, such as small, pink poppies.
Grasses, such as bunny tail with its soft fuzzy ends, and grains such as amaranth and quinoa are used to fill in arrangements.
In spring, a friend of theirs offers them peonies from her 100-year-old plants, and they also are working with a community supported agriculture farm in Cecil to obtain flowers past the local growing season.
The first year, the women did arrangements for four weddings, including one for a close friend.
“We brought every flower from our field,” Stevens said. Among the showpieces was an archway fashioned with quinoa flowers, which vary from peach to deep purple.
Last year, they did 20 weddings, and this year they expect to do 28.
In addition to weddings, they also do arrangements for parties and gatherings. They have also partnered with a CSA to offer flower shares.
The women said they try not to overthink their arrangements but to let nature direct it.
“It’s best not to think too much,” Bertsch said. “You go with the flow and evolve with it.”
But as much as they enjoy making the arrangements, it’s Wednesdays when they cut their flowers that bring the women their greatest joy as they watch the wildlife nurtured by their garden — monarchs, hummingbirds, goldfinches and bees that flit throughout the field and cranes and herons that fly overhead.
“Sometimes I feel that’s the real reason for doing it,” Stevens said. “I get a lot of joy from just that.”
Nature is their inspiration, Bertsch said.
“To see everything bloom and show its color, the way the colors mix and blend — we get a lot of inspiration here,” she said. And through their arrangements, they help bring that inspiration and appreciation for nature to others.
“It heightens people’s awareness of how interesting and interconnected the natural world is,” Stevens said. “I think that’s what art is, something to make people appreciate their surroundings.”
Bertsch added,” There’s an interconnectedness to it all. The world makes sense when you see these things all connected together.”