Shawnee Mission Faces: Jay MacEwen, local flower farmer and home health director

From her childhood days picking violets, Jay MacEwen has always loved flowers. So, the upstate New York native grows flowers in her Overland Park backyard.

This year marks the first official year of selling cut flowers with her new business, C-Us-Bloom, and she and her husband of 37 years, Peter MacEwen, sell flowers and honey at Homer’s Coffee House on Fridays in downtown Overland Park. They have already sold a couple hundred bouquets and 3,000 stems to local florists.

A member of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers, which works to rebuild the local cut flower industry, MacEwen plans to grow and sell flowers for retirement income. Originally from Roundlake, New York, MacEwen earned her nursing certification just outside Boston. She is nursing director for Care Staff, a local home health staffing agency.

Outside of growing flowers, MacEwen enjoys kayaking and traveling (their next adventure is visiting another flower farm with the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers).

She and her husband have lived in their Overland Park for the past 36 years. They have two children, Ashley and Evan.

I’ve always said, if you could grow flowers in Kansas, you can grow them anywhere with this heat (laughs). But I guess Texas probably says the same thing.

My dad always had a garden, so that’s where I learned: Vegetable gardens, and I would plant little flowers in his garden.

And then, in the little town we grew up in, there was a hill in front of our house, and us kids played on it, and there were little violets that grew every year, and I always picked those violets for my mother. Little teeny violets you find in the lawn. I used to pick her the wild orange lilies that grew.

I always had that flower thing.

As I became a teenager, I loved the fields. Back then, of course, it wasn’t as populated. We had a lot of farm fields around. I mean, I would rather be out in the fields than hanging around with a bunch of people.

‘Cause the wildflowers are beautiful. They fascinate me. People don’t look at the beauty. They don’t stop and look. It’ll make me cry.

With that being said, my father passed away at 18, and so I went to college. I went into nursing. He had a long illness, and so that brought me into nursing, ‘cause I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so that’s what I did. And that’s where I met Pete.

Well, Pete grew up on a greenhouse range, like if you go to Family Tree Nursery. They didn’t have a retail shop there, but the greenhouse range, they had probably 30 acres in production. He and his family grew and sold annuals, a lot of annuals and vegetables. So he grew up with that, so he already had that love for gardening, and nursing.

When we got married, his grandmother moved down here to be near her sons as she aged. We were in New Hampshire, so we moved down here to help take care of her.

That’s how I got in Kansas, and our love has always been to go back to New Hampshire, we do have property up there. And we may. That’s probably where we will retire and grow flowers, because it’s a cooler climate, it’s a little bit easier to grow flowers there.

When you give someone flowers, it brings so much joy. So a bouquet of flowers will, on a good day, make someone happy, and on a bad day, make someone happy. It just brings a smile. You can have a really bad day, and you can bring flowers to someone and they’ll cry, you know, thank you.

So the first three or four years when I joined the Specialty Cut Flower, I said to my husband, let’s just rip up the whole backyard, the kids aren’t there anymore. Let’s just start seeing what we could grow, how to grow it.

And so, it’s been our education lab. We’ve met a lot of wonderful people, and in 2019, we decided, we’ve wanted to do something for a long time, we’ve wanted to move back to New Hampshire, we have 30 acres up there where the greenhouses are, his brother ran the greenhouses and his brother passed away back in 2009, so nothing’s being done with the farmland.

So, we toyed with that but our children are here. Seeing that we’re here, we said we’ve got to do something, we’ve got to learn. That’s why we turned our yard into the experimental lab, we call it. There’s things that we’ve never grown that we grow.

Dahlias we’ve grown, but they’re so hard to grow. I feel they’re hard, they’re my hardest plant. Some people say they’re easy to grow. Bugs get them. Now, New Hampshire, I could grow a Dahlia, hands down, because it’s cooler.

Lizzie Anthis is one of my specialty crops that is my favorite flower to grow. They’re a long, patient flower. You have to start them in December by seed. And they don’t bloom till July, so most people do not grow Lizzie Anthis. So it’s nice that Lizzie Anthis is something that other people don’t have.

But anyway, my passion is just to bring joy to people because everybody works all the time. It seems like we don’t ever slow down and rest. And I don’t either, but my rest, even though it’s laborious out there, growing is not easy, so when you see all of this in magazines and the pictures of my favorite author here, Floret, it looks glamorous, but when you’re out there working, it’s hard work.

But for me, that hard work is glamorous. It keeps me in shape. I love watching a flower unfold, so you see it out of seed. To me, it’s miraculous that a seed, all of these different seeds — and some seeds are so small you can’t even see them, they’re like dust — and they bring on this big, beautiful flower, and every flower is different. Every flower is different.

For me, it’s amazing. I’m religious, so I believe in a god. It’s amazing that someone can’t see the hand of God in anything in this world that grows, including human beings.

So to me, that’s my passion, and I want to share it.