Carlsbad’s perennial rainbow carpet is once again in full bloom and eager to show off its breath-taking colors. And, thanks to the work of the Ecke family, The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch are more than just another pretty face.
Now through May 10, visitors to the sloped, kaleidoscope hillside on the eastern edge of Interstate 5 will be treated to a wide range of activities, including concerts, picnics, photo contests, wagon rides and arts and crafts shows.
Since purchasing the property in 1993, the Eckes have developed the working coastal ranunculus farm into a seasonal family-friendly venue that leverages its tourism draw to help preserve the grounds for generations.
Although the 50-acre flower farm—and its newest edition, the 3,200-square-foot Paul Ecke Jr. Barn—hosts year-round special events, such as weddings, the parcel puts on its Sunday finest each spring, offering visitors a 10-week urban playground.
The star of the show is the farm’s Giant Tecolote Ranunculous, which grow in 13 stunning colors, including a variegated plant called a picotee.
The showy spring production is also used as a popular teaching moment for school children from San Diego, Riverside and Orange counties. Each fall, a Flower Field instructor visits classrooms to teach about the ranch and the horticultural process in growing the peppy buttercups. After the presentation, each child is given their own pot, soil and bulb to cultivate on their own. In the spring, the students then participate in the second phase of the project by taking a literal “field trip” to the farm to see the plants in bloom up close. While there, students are also instructed on the benefits of recycling through the venue’s on-site composting program.
The day-to-day farming operations are handled by Mellano and Company, with whom the Eckes partnered when purchasing the business from Edwin Frazee. Frazee began his work with the tuberous bulbs as a teen-ager. His uncle, Earl Frazee, began cultivating the ranunculus in the 1920s while serving as foreman on a farm operated by horticulturist Luther Gage.
Gage, who like Frazee had success raising freesias, brought home a new seed from England, the ranunculus. He opened the Luther Gage Giant Tecolote Ranunculous business, naming the company after owls that were nesting nearby. Gage, who with his wife taught Bible study at Carlsbad Community Church, eventually brought the elder Frazee on as his business partner. Frazee bought the farm outright in the 1930s.
The younger Frazee, who quit high school to work the farm, proved to be adept at raising the bulbs, handpicking those with fuller flowers, double petals or an unusual color to replant the next year. Even as his farming expertise expanded, he managed to weed out the competition and by the mid-’50s his was the only commercial growing operation in the nation. His success even caught the attention of National Geographic photographers.
Over the years, the fields were relocated several times, eventually landing on a parcel along Palomar Airport Road, with sweeping views of the ocean and its cooling breezes.
In an effort to help farm staff focus on the agricultural end of the business, the Eckes turned over the retail operations to Armstrong Garden Center in 1999.
While the ranunculous tend to grab all the headlines, the farm also has 2 acres dedicated to numerous specialty flowers, including the poinsettia, which the Ecke family has developed into a signature Christmas plant.
If you go:
What: The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch
When: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through May 10
Activities: Sluice Mining, Sweet Pea Maze, Rose and Theme Gardens, Fresh Strawberries, American Flag of Flowers, Cymbidium Greenhouse, Poinsettia Display and Santa’s Playground. The Antique Tractor Wagon ride, courtesy of the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum in Vista, is handicap accessible
Amenities: Picnic and picture-taking areas, handicap access, restrooms, shopping in the Armstrong Garden Center
Tickets: Adults $12; Seniors (60-plus) $11; Children 3 to 10 $6
Additional fees: Wagon rides are $5 for adults and $3 for children
Location: 5704 Paseo del Norte
Info: www.theflowerfields.com or call (760) 431-0352
Upcoming events at The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch
Concerts (1 to 4 p.m. unless otherwise noted.)
April 4: Jake Taylor Smith. Classic jazz sound, bringing back the music and style of the ’40s and ’50s with a modern twist.
April 5: Zydeco Day. The Bayou Brothers are known for their memorable accordion-based musical genre hailing from Louisiana!
April 11, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.: Bluegrass Day. A musical journey of guitar, banjo and fiddle.
April 12: Stoney B. Blues Band. Great entertainers and musicians rolled into one.
April 18: Box Canyon Band. Acoustic bluegrass.
April 19: Michele Lundeen. Dubbed the “Queen of Steam,” she specializes in rhythm, blues, and rock ’n’ roll.
April 26: Blues Day. A Blues Pro All Star Jam, featuring some of the finest musicians in the community.
April 19: Canon Photography Workshop. A macro-photography workshop set against the colorful backdrop of the Tecolote Ranunculous.
April 26: Red Hat Ladies’ Day. Celebrating the popular women’s society, the day will include a fashion show, wagon ride, refreshments and door prizes.
May 9 to 10: Bonsai Show and Sale. Art and horticulture will blend at this exhibition and sale.
May 10: Celebrate Mother’s Day on the final day of The Flower Fields season.
Arts and Crafts shows
The shows, set for April 4 and 5, 18 and 19, and 25 and 26, will feature an array of outstanding paintings, photography, and crafts by local artisans.
Learn more at www.theflowerfields.com or call (760) 431-0352.