Flower Girl

Flower Girl

Cold wind whooshed past towering hemlocks as owner Christina Natale and her mottled brown and white pup, Stella, welcomed me to Little Hen Farm in North Haven. Showing me around the 4.5-acre organic flower venture, Natale pointed to plots she’d protected with tarps to help them weather a late-March frost and to rows of sprouting cold-hardy larkspur and Nigella. Rows of budding tulips, on the other hand, were covered by the arched plastic sheeting of “caterpillar” tunnels, also known as low tunnels or low greenhouses. Pulling up the side of one caterpillar, Natalie invited me to put my hand inside, where the air was shockingly warm and humid.

Natale long dreamed of owning her own farm. At UConn, she majored in ecology and evolutionary biology with a focus in botany. She worked on the student farm and, after graduation, moved to various parts of the country, taking jobs with vegetable farms, an edible landscaping firm and, eventually, a floral designer. There, she says, “my eyes were opened to growing flowers,” which she liked for its creative possibilities.

Moving back to Connecticut to be near friends and family, Natale volunteered with New Haven Farms (now Gather New Haven). She was “low-key looking” for property with farm potential when, in 2019, she found and purchased the land that would become Little Hen. Immediately she began creating and planting new fields. Then COVID hit, which ultimately “took the pressure off. It was my first full season, and I decided to learn and do as much as I could.”

That first year, she planted “a little bit of everything in little trial patches” and joined the Connecticut Flower Collective, “a great community of farmers” who generously share knowledge with each other while facilitating wholesaling for both sellers (farmers) and buyers (florists). Gradually, Natale refined her plan, focusing on larger patches of “flowers that grow well and easily.” Each year she’s covered more land with tarps to kill off grasses and poison ivy—the first step of plotting a new field. Last year, she put in a new peony field, this year adding large swaths of dahlias and Baptisia. Recently, she received a grant to start a perennial wildflower field beneficial to pollinators.

In April, Natale says, “each new bud is so exciting. Every new plant that blooms is exciting.” Along with those buds and blooms, bouquets of Little Hen flowers will begin appearing this month in New Haven—at Atticus Market, Bark & Vine and Provisions on State—starting with “a mix of flowering branches, pussy willows, tulips and narcissus, maybe with some additions of amaryllis.”

While establishing and running an entire farm is intense, Natale ultimately finds the process meditative. “Everyone should get their hands in the dirt and grow something,” she says, adding for those of us without the spare acreage, “You don’t need lots of space.”

Little Hen Farm
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Written by Heather Jessen. Image 1, of Christina Natale, and image 2 photographed by Heather Jessen. Image 3 provided courtesy of Christina Natale.

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