Learning to love the ‘beautiful efficiency’ of flowers

by Len Lear
Posted 3/16/23

Courtney Jewell has been selling weekly deliveries of fresh local flowers in Northwest Philadelphia since 2019, after moving to East Mt. Airy.

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Learning to love the ‘beautiful efficiency’ of flowers


Courtney Jewell has been selling weekly deliveries of fresh local flowers in Northwest Philadelphia since 2019, after she and her family made the decision to move from West Philadelphia to their current home in East Mt. Airy, which sits on a quarter-acre corner lot that gets plenty of sunshine. 

It was just a year after the death of her mother, and “I had to make myself go outdoors at first for therapy with the sunshine,” she said. 

Enchanted by what seemed like an open expanse of growing potential right in her own backyard, she right away started planting flowers – teaching herself everything she needed to know along the way.  “I ripped out lots and lots of ivy, got poison ivy several times, and found a couple thousand plastic golf balls,” Jewell said. “The man who lived here before us must have owned stock in a plastic golf ball company.”

Eventually, she started her business, Jewells in Bloom. And now, starting on Sunday, March 26, she’ll be sharing some of what she’s learned with a new Mt. Airy Learning Tree class, “From Seedling to Transplant: The Soil Blocking Method.” 

She also hopes her students see past the beauty of the flowers they grow, she said, and fall in love with what she describes as their “efficiency and practicality.”

“They bloom, attract exactly the kind of pollinator they need to make seeds by their smell, color or shape; then they are done. Seeds fall and another cycle starts,” she said. 

And that life cycle is an important part of the value that flowers deliver.

“A big part of my mission is to educate people to try to get flowers grown in the U.S.,” she said last week. “Most of the flowers you get in supermarkets, and many other places in the Philly area, are grown in South America. They’re sent from Colombia to Miami, and then trucked up here, where they sit in a fridge before going to where they’ll be sold.”

That, of course, is much harder on the environment than her own flowers – which not only delight passing neighbors, but also draw carbon from the atmosphere as they grow.

“Mine are all grown in Mt. Airy, and now in Germantown too – and I pick them the day before you come to pick them up,” she said. “They last twice as long as the ones brought up here from South America.”

And her business is growing. 

“My mother and I have a new tradition of buying a flower 'share' from Jewells in Bloom for Christmas, (for the following spring and summer)” said Virginia Claire McGuire, of Germantown. “We both love having a bouquet of local flowers delivered each week, and they almost always last until the next week's bouquet arrives.”

“It's always a fresh surprise getting our weekly bouquet, which gives us a mid-week boost,” said Craig Hinton, of Flourtown. “We enjoy the different flowers through the season but also all the other textural and fragrant elements, too. We are looking forward to spring and the start of our fifth season of locally grown flowers.”

Jewell, born in upstate New York, actually grew up in the South. When she was nine years old, she and her family moved to Georgia. She attended the University of Tennessee, where she earned a BFA in painting.

Then, an apprenticeship at The Fabric Workshop & Museum in Center City brought her to Philadelphia, after which she took a series of local jobs: a high-end tailor in Wynnewood; a manufacturing company administrator in the Frankford section of the city and a stint at the National Constitution Center. 

Jewell, who has also taught flower arranging for MALT, has had no formal farming training in either growing or arranging flowers. But she has taken online classes, listened to many podcasts, “talked to a lot of people who have done it” and learned a lot through trial and error. 

“I learned about soil blocking from podcasts, for example. I learned that you can plant a lot of seeds in a very small space.”

It was in 2019 that she and a friend, Kate Carpenter, had the idea of starting a subscription based flower delivery service. While Carpenter has since returned to a day job, Jewell is still running the business, currently as a one-woman operation. 

Her flowers can either be picked up from her front porch, or delivered. She’s now outgrown her own backyard in East Mt. Airy, so she’s also renting a half-acre plot on Magnolia Street in Germantown. Flower growing season runs from April to November, with tulips, sunflowers, zinnias, marigolds, mums and everything in between. 

And, as with the rest of her business, she’s always conscious of the environment while growing – and has developed an elaborate system for using rainwater to keep her plants alive. 

“Rainwater is way better than city water. I just got a 330-gallon container for it,” she said. 

While that usually works, it doesn’t always. Last summer, for example, it hardly rained at all for most of July and August. 

“Usually I can wait for rain to come, but not when it is a 100-degree heat index for a week with no rain,” she said. “And last year, my water bill was $740 just for July.”

Still, she counts herself lucky to be living, and running her business, in Northwest Philadelphia. 

“It is an amazing place to raise our son, Grayden, who is just seven,” she said. “He goes to Houston School, plays Chestnut Hill soccer and Mt. Airy baseball. And the MALT community is a wonderful network of like-minded people.”

Courtney's MALT class will take place Sunday, March 26, 10 a.m. to noon, at NewCourtland's Germantown campus (Eisenhardt Building), 6950 Germantown Ave. For more information about “From Seedling to Transplant,” call 215-843-6333 or email Jewellsinbloom@gmail.com.