Flower Power

A small, family-run farm provides fresh florals for weddings, florists and just pure enjoyment.

Written by Leslie Criss | Photographed by Joe Worthem

When Vanessa Jackson says she’s not a trained horticulturist, she speaks the truth: An English degree from the University of Mississippi offers proof. Still, spend a quarter of an hour with Jackson, who speaks fluent flora, and doubt will creep in.

Words like peony, poppies, anemone, ranunculus, celosia, gomphrena flow off her tongue with the ease of calling her family to dinner. Ask her to spell a flower name and she can do that, too.

Jackson and her husband of 22 years, Jimmy Jackson, own Seven Acres Farm in Mooreville, where, no matter the season, flowers are the order of the day.

Within hollering distance of the highway, well hidden by a stand of tall trees, the Jacksons built the place they’ve called home for 11 years. Their 6.9-acre farm is mostly woods, but just beyond the back door are raised beds that, during the proper season, burst with blooms of assorted kinds and colors. Don’t know your flowers? No reason to panic: Vanessa has the knowledge you need.

Like a seasoned botanical guide, Vanessa, with a bit of help from Jimmy, points out what’s growing in each bed now, as well as what’s been planted there in seasons past. The couple also peppers the conversation with future plans for plantings.

“There are roses and peonies in the front beds,” Vanessa said, pointing to specific cinder block raised beds. “And we have dahlias and tulips — different flowers at different times of year.”

Vanessa attributes much of her love of all things floral to her mother.

“My mom was a very good gardener,” she said. “I helped her as a kid, but I didn’t enjoy it.”

In the beginning, the Jacksons started with a couple of raised beds.

“I just wanted to grow vegetables for our family,” Vanessa said. She and Jimmy are the parents of an adult daughter and two sons. “I scattered some zinnia seeds. But later I decided I wanted to do just flowers.”

At that point, a lot of hard work began in earnest. Because of the hilly ground, much necessary dirt work was done by Vanessa’s brother, Perry Stegall.

“If not for him, we’d still be working to get things as they are,” Jimmy said of his brother-in-law.

A high tunnel was built to help some flowers to get a head start in growing and also to offer protection from inclement weather. A high tunnel is like a greenhouse but without temperature control.

During the ice and snow in February, the weight of the snow began to stretch the plastic of the tower, which could have caused collapse. Twice, Jimmy had to use a broom to push up on the covering to allow the nearly four inches of snow to slide off.

“We prepare for cold weather but we really weren’t prepared for something like what we had in February,” he said.

Weather is not the only issue that can be a problem for the Jacksons. They struggle with bugs as well, but you won’t find any chemical-laden pesticides or fertilizers on the property — only natural farming methods are used at Seven Acres.

“I make a spray that we use for the pests,” Vanessa said. “It’s a mixture of cayenne, garlic and peppermint. The bugs don’t like it. And we’ve ordered lady bugs before. They help.”

Jimmy, a 1996 graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, has a business degree. He’s a longtime independent insurance agent, but he still makes time to help Vanessa at Seven Acres Farm.

“This was a small project started many years ago that turned into a really big project that keeps on going,” he said, laughing.

Vanessa’s vast knowledge of planting and growing flowers has come from reading and studying on her own. Posing a question she can’t answer is close to impossible. She knows when to plant what; she can tell good soil from soil that needs help; she’s even forgiving of Mississippi clay and has found some things that will thrive in it.

Once she’s grown and harvested her flowers, she dries some of them for inclusion in the floral arrangements she does for weddings and other special events. The wedding packages run the gamut, from simple bouquets to the works. She also sells her flowers to florists, mainly in the summer, and to independent designers. Since she began doing wedding flowers, Vanessa said she now grows flowers with brides in mind.

“I ordered a thousand white tulip bulbs,” she said. “But they substituted yellow. They were beautiful, but they weren’t white.”

The Jacksons also offer a community-supported agriculture program. If you love fresh flowers but don’t sport your own green thumb, Seven Acres Farm has your back. CSA bouquet deliveries are March through November. CSA shares are sold by the month, with four weekly deliveries each month on the first four Tuesdays. No flowers delivered on any fifth Tuesdays.

Vanessa and Jimmy will celebrate 23 years of marriage in August. Have they found it easy to work closely together planting and harvesting flowers?

“It’s better now,” Jimmy said, smiling at his wife. “She’s the one with all the knowledge. She tells me what needs to be done, and I do it.”

Vanessa may not possess a degree in horticulture, but she’s likely done enough research and reading to count.

“A lot of years ago, even before I got my degree, I knew I wanted to work with flowers in some way,” she said. “But I felt, at the time, that was not the best option. I feel like what I’m doing now is even better than what I imagined in the past.

“Now I not only design with flowers, I also have the space to grow them and enjoy the process of nurturing them as they grow and the anticipation of waiting for them to bloom. And there’s a lot of joy in being able to share what I’ve grown with others.”