“A visit to the Carlsbad Flower Fields is sure to raise your mood and bring a smile to your face,” proclaims The Flower Fields General Manager Fred Clarke. The estimated 80 million ranunculus in Carlsbad are nothing short of spectacular, between March and May each year, and definitely worth the trek north. Clarke points out that they are more colorful this year than ever, with the November rains contributing to the flowers’ vibrancy.
The Carlsbad Flower Fields are owned by the Ecke family, whose grandfather bought 450 acres of land in the 1950s to raise poinsettias, but moved them in the 1960s to greenhouses in Encinitas for better growing conditions. The fields were then rented out to a variety of farmers to grow other crops like strawberries, tomatoes, and ranunculus. The family then sold off much of the land, which became Legoland, the Carlsbad Premium Outlets, and other surrounding businesses, leaving 100 acres. The planting and harvesting of the flowers is now contracted with the Mellano family from Oceanside.
Interesting to note is that the ranunculus flower is native to Asia Minor and is a member of the buttercup family. Also known as the Persian Buttercup, it comes in 13 varieties of colors and two-toned picotees. For more than 30 years, they have grown one of the finest strains in the world called Tecolote Giant Ranunculus, and are the only ranunculus bulb production farm open to the public.
Paul Ecke III pointed out that he is amazed at how many locals he encounters who have not stopped at the fields, but just seen them from a distance, and he encourages a visit, no matter how long you have lived in the area. “I love to be a fly on the wall to hear the delight people experience when they are here. We add different attractions every year for people to enjoy,” he comments.
New this year are the U Pick Blueberries and the Sea of Sunflowers. Recent additions also include the olive oil grove, where they produce a flower field blend, and a coffee grove, with beans sold to Frinj coffee in Santa Barbara. Don’t miss the American flag of flowers, made out of petunias selected for the appropriate colors, which has been planted since 9/11.
Ecke and his sister Liz suggest spending at least two hours to see everything, including the nostalgic antique wagon ride, which allows you to get off and take pictures at designated areas in the fields – it’s important to protect the flowers. Other fun and educational attractions include the fragrant sweet pea maze, the Carlsbad Mining Company gem sluicing troughs, the Cymbidium Orchid Greenhouse, a small bird aviary, Don Miller’s colorful art garden, the Illusion Garden, which is reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, the Demonstration Garden, where master gardeners showcase edible and ornamental plants, and the Historical Poinsettia display, with more than 20 rare varieties.
The whimsical Santa’s playground was created with items purchased from the original Santa’s Village in Lake Arrowhead, where the Ecke’s enjoyed going as kids. When it closed in 2000, Paul bought some of the houses and gigantic mushrooms and has incorporated them into the play area. There is also an Armstrong Garden Center, where guests can purchase ranunculus, along with other flowers and plants and accessories on their way out, to create beautiful landscapes at their own homes.
You won’t go hungry with the array of food vendors on-site, including The Strawberry Shack, Lemonade Stand, Rollin Beans Coffee Co., Pizza Trolley, Sweet Swirls Ice Cream, and Kettle Kernels Kettle Corn. The recently opened Windmill Food Hall also offers fast options, just across the street.
To keep the blooms bursting with color for the 10-week season, the flowers are planted in blocks each week. Clarke pointed out that the hotter the weather the quicker they bloom, with the night temperatures critical to a successful blooming schedule. They are always working to increase the number of flowers per square foot.
The Flower Fields is run by a dedicated team of employees and volunteers, and Clarke reveals that they find the fields invigorating and look forward to coming back each season. Volunteer docents run the popular school program for 6,000 to 7,000 children each year. An estimated 250,000 to 300,000 guests visit each year, with attendance continually increasing.
A variety of special events include yoga, flower and frame classes, photography workshops, live music on weekends, and a Mother’s Day celebration. They also have a darling barn, which can be used for weddings and other events throughout the year.
The Flower Fields promises a fun-filled, educational day for kids and adults. Open daily from 9 am to 6 pm through Mother’s Day, it is located off Highway 5 at the Palomar Airport Road exit. Tickets are only available online at www.theflowerfields.com to control crowds and ensure parking. To avoid crowds, the Ecke Family encourages visitors to plan a trip during the week.
Adult tickets are $22, with military and 60 + senior tickets at $20, and $10 for children 3 to 10. More details are also available on the information hotline at 760-431-0352.