#HomeGrownStories – Jenny Zapadka
Growing roses runs in Jenny Zapadka’s family. Jenny’s grandfather, James Weeks, taught her about nature and gardening when she was young. When her grandfather passed away, Jenny began planting roses as a way to remember him. Three years ago, she started Rose Girl, selling her English roses. Her customers are florists in Cincinnati, Columbus, and Dayton. The business is a family venture. Jenny’s husband, Michael, built a small greenhouse and cold room from recycled materials. Their sons, Alex and Sam, help weed the rose beds. Even Jenny’s apron has a family touch: it was made from her grandmother’s’ handkerchiefs.
On living in Miami County:
I was born and raised in Miami County. My family has been in the area for several generations, back to the early 1900s. My great grandparents are from Lost Creek Township. My grandfather, James Weeks was the rose gardener of our family. I spent many summers at his house when I was little. He taught me a lot about birds, nature, gardening, especially rose gardening. He always had a set of binoculars on the end table with a bird book. He inspired me to grow roses. In 2010, he passed away and we wanted to do something in his memory and to honor him. That’s how Rose Girl got started. All my life I’ve been outside with flowers. There’s a picture of me on my website, I’m seven months old sitting with some peonies. Instead of giving me toys to play with, my mom used to sit me in front of flowers in the front yard. I’ve always loved flowers.
About her English Garden Rose business, Rose Girl:
I’m a licensed social worker. Throughout my career, I have moonlighted in a flower shop or the floral industry. At my last place of employment, I kept hearing brides say that they wanted English garden roses. The cost of importing them was outrageous. At the time the local food movement was happening so I did some research on roses. I couldn’t find anywhere in Ohio, or even the Midwest, growing commercial production roses.
I started learning about the slow flower movement. There’s an emphasis on local, American grown flowers. Most of the flowers in the floral industry are imported from South America. Today there’s a whole community that is bringing our floral industry back with American grown flowers.
I found and joined a flower farmer group on Facebook and was able to connect with other flower farmers in Ohio. I saw that there was a market for English garden roses in our area so we decided to go for it three years ago.
The roses grow very well in Ohio. We do have to deal with extreme cold and extreme heat. This season has been very rainy. The rain makes them more susceptible to mildew and certain fungi. We try to buy varieties that are hearty to our zone and will do well here. We buy our roses as mature rootstock. They’re two years old when we get them, which helps them survive.
Our customers are florists and our roses are mostly used for weddings. We have started serving the culinary market. Some of our roses are great for edible petals because they have an intense fragrance. We have a couple of customers and are hoping to discover more. We also grow herbs for our culinary customers.
We’ve been fortunate to provide petals for Kristy Reis of SWEET By Kristy. She’s used our petals for raspberry rose cake, rose petal sugar and rose simple syrup. We also have a nice connection with the Duer family at Indian Creek Distillery. Their mixologist, Sailor Retro, has used our rose petals and herbs for their cocktails. We’re honored and excited about that relationship. We’re excited that they are literally 5 miles down the road. We have this nice little network of local businesses supporting each other.
On the community response to Rose Girl:
The response has been wonderful! The first year we planted one hundred roses. We ran out of roses the first year so the second year we planted 300 more. We have around 400 rose bushes now but we lost a few over the winter. We have orders until October for this year. We’ve had three weeks of harvesting and so far we’ve sold out every week.
We serve customers in the Cincinnati, Columbus, and Dayton area. We have a couple of Miami County customers as well and we want to grow. We want to expand our culinary petals and increase production on the plants that we have. We want to increase our herb production. We have our greenhouse so we can start them in flats in February. We’ve companion planted herbs with the roses this year. We planted chamomile, lavender, and rosemary in the rose beds. Insects do not like the fragrance of strong herbs.
What she loves most about Miami County:
I love how friendly everyone is. You can walk into a store and see someone you know. I love how clean our county is. Whenever we go out of town that’s the first thing I notice when we come home. Our county is so clean and pretty! I appreciate that so much.
How Miami County is different from other places she has visited:
There is a community of people in Miami County that support their local businesses. The downtowns are packed on days like Shop Small Saturday and other days when the stores stay open late. They have a great turnout. There’s a tight network of people wanting to spend their time and money in their county. That’s kind of how I was raised. My grandparents and my great grandparents always talked about going downtown in Troy. It’s where they banked, went to church, got their haircut and went to the grocery. My great grandfather owned the grocery store, Dewey’s Market, in Troy. I grew up with that idea of staying close to your community and supporting your community.
Her Miami County recommendations for out-of-town visitors:
I would love to recommend a Sunday drive out here past our rose farm. We sometimes have people stop and take pictures. We have a lot of cyclists that go by. I would recommend the WACO Air Museum and the downtown shops in our communities. We have nice hiking trails and really nice parks. Brukner Nature Center is great. We enjoy the bike path and Treasure Island. There’s always something going on downtown!
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