One of the characters who appears in the new Tobe Carey documentary Sweet Violets (see related piece in Alm@nac) is Fred Battenfeld, a fourth-generation Dutchess County farmer whose grandfather started growing violets back in the 1880s, developing his operation into one of the leading violet cultivators in the area. After the demand for violets crashed, starting in the late 1940s the Battenfeld family tried growing anemones, and the new crop has been a huge success: Battenfeld’s is currently the largest supplier in the Northeast of the vividly hued, large-petaled flowers with the snaky stems and dark centers. Battenfeld’s ships over a million flowers each year, packed in insulated boxes, to wholesalers in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, DC, transporting them overnight in company trucks.
The flowers are grown in an acre-and-a-half of greenhouses. They are a winter crop and cultivated in ground beds, which have cooler soils, withstanding temperatures as low as 45 degrees at night. The flowers are harvested from late September to the end of May.
“Our product is so unique, we like to think we have the best quality,” said Battenfeld. “We do our own hybridizing. Our plants are selected from those that do well in our microenvironment, cross-pollinated and bred forward from there,” resulting in “a crop unique to our place.”
Each year the company produces a new variation of the flower, such as the peach, caramelized red and caramelized blue (that is, flecked with white) blooms new this year, according to Battenfeld. Locals have the privilege of stopping by and choosing their own blooms, based on a self-serve honor system, leaving cash in a box. The choice is magnificent, with anemones of different lengths for sale, as well as ranunculus – a flower in various shades of yellow and orange – and lilies.
Battenfeld said that his grandfather, Conrad Battenfeld, purchased the farm, located on Route 199 approximately five miles east of Red Hook, during the Depression. The family gradually replaced the old greenhouses with more modern structures. “In some respects it’s so much easier today. Years ago, everything was done manually, by hand. It was very hard work.” He still maintains a bed of violets, which require a very different culture: While anemones thrive with lots of fertilizer, “You neglect and starve violets to make them bloom.” Does he see the old-fashioned flowers ever coming back into vogue? “You never know. What’s old becomes new again.”
Another local anemone-grower, long known as Ralph Pitcher & Sons, changed hands and is now known as the Greenhouse at Rhinebeck. For more information, visit www.anemones.com and www.thegreenhouseatrhinebeck.com.