Makkink’s beautiful flowers open the door to broader farm experiences
Makkink Flower Farm does feature 45 distinct floral varieties.
But much more than that is on offer.
“We don’t sell flowers, we sell the farm experience,” smiled Hilde Makkink, whose vivacious approach to life and outgoing personality matches the bright cheerfulness of her flowers.
Makkink understands of what she speaks, growing up and living in Groningen, a small town in Holland, where she worked in a bakery for 20 years. Visiting Canada opened up the possibility of another, more rural lifestyle nestled on a 3.5 acre farm just outside of Tillsonburg, an area which they loved immediately.
“We thought, we are just moving to Canada - why not?” she smiled of their decision to emigrate, 13 years ago.
Life was busy enough taking care of their first two of four sons (currently aged 9, 12, 15 and 17), however Hilde was looking for additional challenges.
“I want to live life to the fullest,” she explained, noting her opa (grandfather) and father were both entrepreneurs.
“I was a mother, but I’m also a businessperson, so I had to start something.”
Hilde began growing sunflowers which she displayed on a small table by the road, recalling how excited she was following her first sale. With corresponding evolution in her floral repertoire to two full acres, she progressed to a small shack, outgrowing that, and moving into the current location in the farm’s barn which features baked goods and local products including candles from Mt. Elgin.
Flowers remain the business’ anchor and bouquets are still available. However, increasingly activities based around those flowers and the rural setting their presence enhances, have become central to Makkink Flower Farm’s attraction.
“It’s just small farm,” Hilde smiled. “I call it a small farm but a great experience.”
Part of her horticultural evolution has been learning to balance and overlap individual varieties’ seasons to ensure floral variety throughout an extended flowering season.
“That is always a learning curve, I think,” she admitted.
There is of course variance in growing seasons, some more suited or challenging for example, for snapdragons or alternately, zinnias.
“It’s always that with farming, right?”
Options begin with the opportunity to cut and prepare one’s own bouquet ($45 for 25 stems) from a wide variety onsite, peonies and ranunculus to dahlias and of course, sunflowers.
“And everything in between,” says Makkink.
Summer and fall floral arranging workshops allow customers to enhance their experience, in groups of four to ten persons, friends, family, bridal parties, clubs or companies. There is also a Christmas array option, in which participants are led through the creation of one of seven different seasonal projects.
Building on the floral theme, Makkink also offers picnics in conjunction with the cutting option, featuring croissants, jam, local cheese, fresh cut local fruits and vegetables, crackers and hummus, juice and coffee cake, which can be enjoyed at leisure onsite.
“People will come and just wander or sit here in the quiet for hours,” said Makkink. “They just enjoy the quiet time - I love it, I so enjoy people liking the farm life here.”
There is also a ‘girls night out’ option, a relaxing extended four-hour experience for between four and 20 individuals including a welcome, tour and flower cutting session, followed by two hours around a convivial campfire. A hot or cold drink, snack and small local gift are included.
“Slow down, relax, that’s the whole attitude here, calm down, become close with nature,” Makkink explained. “No rush, no rush… relax - come here to unwind and become yourself a little bit again.”
Finally, when Hilde thinks date night, she thinks a meal cooked by someone else in a local restaurant. “If we go out, we go to the city - but people from there love coming to the farm.”
The Makkink Flower Farm version of ‘date night’ begins with an evening cut-your-own session, in which participants choose their favourite flowers. They are then arranged into a bouquet by staff while the couple in question relaxes in a private area around a campfire, enjoying a charcuterie board, drink and smores while overlooking the flower fields.
Locals do avail themselves of the opportunities, however many of her clients come from larger centres such as London, Kitchener or Toronto.
“If we go out, we go to the city,” said Makkink, who appreciates the fact she is able to enjoy nature on a daily basis. “But these people love coming to the farm.”
Smiling, she recalled one guest who asked what CD she was playing as background music.
“I said, ‘That’s crickets - that’s nature.’ We forget how rich we are,” Makkink added. “How blessed we are, that’s the thing.”
All four of the couple’s sons are involved in the enterprise, ‘whether they like it or not,’ she smiled, and Makkink Flower Farm also employs four female summer students who begin around the end of May, working through until around Thanksgiving.
“Let’s call it seasonal help.”
Plans to add a 50-by-50-foot shed are in the works, in part to free up the barn for her mechanic husband’s projects, in part to meet and expand upon a business which has grown well beyond her initial expectations, while embracing her previous life experience.
“The dream is to have a bakery cafe there,” says Makkink, who calls the whole progression and experience ‘a dream come true, for sure.’
“I wouldn’t believe I started with sunflowers, and where I am now,” she concluded. “And that I enjoy it so much, I can’t believe it, I am just so blessed.