Garden Travel

Slow Flower Farming at Terra Ceia Farms

terra ceia farm

It was bound to happen. We have been living in a fast world for way too long—fast food, fast friends, fast culture with ten countries in ten days. Thankfully, our fast pace is being replaced with what is now referred to as the slow movement—slow food, slow travel, slow gardening, and slow flowers.

Terra Ceia Farms has been leading the slow flower and slow gardening movements for decades, but it was just thought of as a family farm.

Located in Pantego, NC in the eastern part of our state, Terra Ceia Farms is part of a small town community, growing bulbs and flowers as it has been done for generations.

Early Beginnings

In the 1910s, 35 Dutch families moved to Beaufort and Hyde counties because of economic hardship in Europe. America provided new opportunities. This begs the question, doesn’t it? Why did they end up in eastern North Carolina?

The most plausible explanation, according to co-owner Carl Van Staalduinen, is “They learned of the climate and soil from Dutch engineers who were employed to drain Lake Mattamuskeet.” The immigrants were mostly farmers; flower growers, dairy, and grain. The land was cheap and for the flower grower, the climate was right for Easter tulip flower production. “Most of them had either family or community connections to the same areas of Holland,” he added.

In 1938, Leerndert Van Staalduinen, with his wife and 10 kids, made their trek to America, first by way of a five-year stay in Ontario, Canada. It was there they waited for war-time immigration policies to relax so they could immigrate to the United States. “The economy in Holland and the impending second World War precipitated the move,” Carl says of his grandfather’s move. Finally, in 1943, the family arrived in Pantego, establishing Terra Ceia Farms.

Mr. Van Staalduinen found the eastern part of North Carolina to be ideal bulb-growing conditions. The area was originally known for it’s dense swampland, and all that decaying organic matter made for ideal growing conditions.

During the 1950s, Leerndert Van Staalduinen built his business by selling bulbs and cut flowers, mainly gladiolus, to the big-city markets up north, particularly in the boroughs of New York.

When he became bedridden after a fall, he was concerned about the need to care for his family. That’s when he got the idea to go through his contact list—stacks of index cards with customer information—and created a mailing list to launch Terra Ceia Farms’ mail-order bulb business.

After Leerndert retired, his son, Cornelis, ran the business  until he himself retired and turned the company over to his sons, Mark, Casey, and Carl.

The Farm Today

Terra Ceia Farms is a diversified farm with Mark managing the grain and corn acres, Casey handling the 300 acres of bulb and cut flower fields, and Carl running the mail-order catalogue business.

In addition to bulbs, Terra Ceia Farms continues to operate as a cut-flower business. If you go to Wholefoods in May to buy peonies, you are, no doubt, taking home a bloom from Terra Ceia Farms. Filling the niche from when the flower growers further south finish their blooms, and before the farms in the Delmarva Peninsula begin theirs. Terra Ceia Farms fills the market void with their peonies—lush, outrageous petals, carrying a light fragrance, and bringing joy to moms and brides and floral aficionados, alike.

I like the idea of slowing down and the concept of the slow movement. This year I plan to go slow down a bit myself, and take the time to smell the flowers.

If You Go:

Terra Ceia Farms
3810 Terra Ceia Road
Between US 32 and US 264
Pantego, NC

Showroom Dates/Hours:
September 15 to January 15
March 15 to June 15
Monday through Friday: 10am-4pm
Saturday: 10am-2pm

For information on fundraising, contact Carl at 800-858-2852.

Photo courtesy of Terra Ceia Farms.

Helen Yoest is the author of “Gardening with Confidence®–50 Ways to add style for personal creativity.” Helen is an award winning garden writer, garden coach and a sustainable gardener caring for her ½-acre wildlife habitat, Helen’s Haven, in Raleigh.

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