Learn How Keith Peripont Earned the Title of the “Dahlia Lama”
On the North Fork, Peripont pursues his passion with rigorous devotion.
The bright warm days and cool nights of late summer are ideal for growing dahlias, says Keith Pierpont, whose Pierpont’s Blossom Farm in Baiting Hollow is profuse with them. Cutting the blossoms continuously throughout the season, he adds, “encourages them to push out more flowers.”
Pierpont, a.k.a. the “Dahlia Lama,” is no stranger to abundance. After running a special-events company in Manhattan that was known for its grand centerpieces and floral installations, he decided to lease farmland on the North Fork to grow his beloved dahlias. But it didn’t stop there. Pierpont also grows peonies, French lilacs, and hydrangeas, all of which he sells in brown paper–wrapped bouquets at farmers markets from Westhampton Beach to Montauk.
Back in the day, at the farmers market that used to occupy the parking lot of East Hampton’s Nick & Toni’s restaurant, Pierpont would frequently sell out by 11 a.m. “People didn’t expect my level of taste and quality of flowers,” he recalls. “Customers would buy 30 or 40 bunches at a time.”
Creating these bouquets is a labor of love. At the end of the growing season, Pierpont digs up the dahlia tubers and stores them over the winter, then plants them the following May, when the ground temperature reaches 60 ̊F. More than 25 varieties of dahlia tubers are rowed out, planted, and labeled—many with memorable names such as ‘Brown Sugar’ or ‘Arabian Night’. Additionally, swaths of polypropylene cloth are laid to deter weeds and to anchor stakes designed to support tall varieties like ‘Shiloh Noelle’, which can climb as high as five and a half feet.
In mid-July, the flowers begin to mature. Pierpont cuts them in the morning and quickly places them in buckets of water and Chrysal, a post-harvest solution developed in Holland. After transferring them to his barn, he arranges them in bunches of 10, then neatly wraps them in brown kraft paper and packs them up for shipping to wholesale florists and markets in 45 ̊F refrigerated trucks.
Pierpont also maintains a flower stand just outside the entrance to Pierpont’s Blossom Farm, where he sells freshly cut bouquets daily. (“I recommend that customers give the stems a fresh cut and put them in hot water to preserve the life of the bloom.”)
Plans for expansion are in the works, both for an all-weather space that can accommodate custom and premade floral arrangements. He also wants to include flower-arranging classes. “What inspired me to grow these flowers was their staggering beauty,” Pierpont says of the dahlias, which happen to be the national flower of Mexico. “They even have their own genus. I look forward to them every season.”
The print version of this article appears with the headline: The Dahlia Lama.
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