Two months of tireless cleanup following Hurricane Irma paid off Saturday, Nov. 18, when David and Jana Register, owners of FernTrust in Seville, Florida, welcomed 150 guests to their fifth-generation family farm for an alfresco dinner to celebrate Florida’s foliage industry.
“Had you been here a few weeks ago, you wouldn’t recognize this place,” David Register told the crowd gathered for the final leg of the award-winning 2017 Field to Vase Dinner Tour.
“We had downed trees everywhere. My brother, Jimmy, has been hauling debris day and night seven days a week. In fact, he was still burning stumps just hours before guests started to arrive.”
During Irma, FernTrust endured 28 hours of sustained winds topping 85 mph, which damaged about 70 percent of the farm.
“The Saran coverings over our leatherleaf, in particular, were hit hard,” said Jana Register.
Consequently, the supply will be very tight for Valentine’s Day. The company is discussing other foliage options for its floral partners and “hoping for a warm winter,” she said, adding that it’s a déja vu experience after last year’s Hurricane Matthew.
Despite the hardship brought on by the storm, the Registers never considered cancelling the event.
“A lot of people spent a lot of time planning the perfect evening to show off our beautiful crops and share our story,” Jana Register said. “When we first entertained the idea of hosting the dinner, I was really intimidated at the prospect of getting 150 people to come to remote Seville. But as the vision started to come together, I was so excited and proud to be a part of the Field to Vase tour.”
J Schwanke, AAF, AIFD, PFCI, the founder of uBloom.com, oversaw the dinner’s décor, which exclusively featured Florida foliage. “I knew exactly what I wanted to do,” he said. “FernTrust grows 121 different types of foliage and my goal was to highlight as many of them as possible.”
Schwanke used monstera leaves as chargers, wrapped wine glasses with ‘Milky Way’ aspidistra, bound tree ferns into “topiaries” and designed two 139-foot garlands consisting of plumosa and variegated pittosporum. Additionally, he fashioned an American flag with products from FernTrust’s Color Fresh line and foliage crowns for guests to wear.
“He fine tuned the design components over the course of 11 months and covered all bases so creatively,” Jana Register said.
The most moving piece, however, was a tribute to Bobbi Ecker Blatchford, AAF, AIFD, PFCI, a beloved designer, educator and FernTrust spokesperson, who passed away in February. Schwanke took a life-sized oil painting of Blatchford and accented it with foliage.
“Bobbi was a dear member of our FernTrust family who’d been on board to be a part of the evening from day one,” Jana Register said. “She continues to influence our us every day and J’s tribute captured her spirit perfectly.”
Justin Timineri, the executive chef and culinary ambassador for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, prepared the menu, which included Florida fresh items, such as boiled peanut hummus, shrimp skewers, chargrilled skirt steak and wild flower honey.
“We’re famous for our citrus and our seafood, but that’s only a fraction of what’s grown in Florida,” Timineri said. “Where would we be without our nursery industry? They provide us with the ferns and flowers that make our food look beautiful.”
The dinner was aptly timed for the Registers — just days before Thanksgiving — as it prompted them to “recognize their blessings” and also revealed the vast network of support they have from around the state of Florida and different segments of the floral industry.
“We really appreciate the encouragement everyone’s shown,” Jana Register said. “We’re especially grateful for those who came out last Saturday to help us celebrate our recovery and our future.”
Read more about the American Grown Field to Vase dinner series, which snagged Floral Management’s Marketer of the Year honors earlier this year.