The Ranunculus Flower Fields, aka The Flower Fields, are the ones you see as a blaze of color driving by them on I-5 in Carlsbad, framed by the windmill of Andersen's Pea Soup Restaurant & Hotel, just north of Palomar Airport Road, about 30 minutes from Fallbrook.
The main flower grown at the Flower Fields, as you might guess, is ranunculus, which is grown from seed to produce tubers for sale throughout the world. Only 1% of the flowers are cut and sold. The ranunculus are grown in north-south bands of similar colors, including bands of mixed colors, so there are patches of different colors marching up the hill that they are grown on.
There are seven other varieties of flowers in 1999: Adam's Rib, Babiana (Baboon Flower), Blooming Shamrock, Gladiolus, Sparaxis (Harlequin Flower), Tritonia (Blazing Star) and Watsonia. These varieties extend the blooming season earlier and later. In 1996 and 1997 they tried to have sunflowers blooming on 1 May, shortly after the ranunculus begin to fade, but in both years they actually began blooming at the end of May, just as the Fields closed. 20,000 sunflowers were planted in the shape of a large sun with lines extending out like rays.
The nearly 50 acres that are devoted to flowers are owned by the Carltas Co., a development firm controlled by the Ecke family of Encinitas, better-known for the wildly popular Ecke Poinsettia. The surrounding acres were devoted to flowers in the past, but are now being developed for, among other things, Legoland. The Ecke family pledged as part of being allowed to develop the rest of the property to maintain the flower fields "forever", since it was so linked by Carlsbad, although I don't think they formally agreed to do so due to "the difficulties of knowing exactly what the future may bring".
The Flower Fields are open daily from 10 a.m. to dusk, except during rain, from around the beginning of March through mid-May. (The dates change yearly.) Admission for adults was $1 in 1996, $2 in 1997, $3 in 1998 and is now $4 in 1999. Children 6-12 pay $2 in 1999, with children under 6 free. Season passes were $10 in 1997. Parking is free. See their website or call 760-431-0352 for more information.
For the last several years, the Ecke family has said that the flower-growing part of the operation loses money - $400,000 in 1996, and another loss of $80,000 on the retail operation, justifying the increase in admission prices in 1998. They have also added a "mining sluice attraction", where $5 buys you a bucket of dirt seeded with "gemstones" that you pan in running water. (10 gemstones guaranteed, each about the size of a thumbnail!) I don't know if that attraction has returned in 1999. In 1999, they justified the increase in admission prices by new signs and fencing, a resurfaced parking lot (improved from dirt), and a new display pavilion.
One thing my wife and I have never understood is why they don't cut their extremely high prices for cut ranunculus blooms and sell ~20% of their flowers to generate more income and to make their visitors much happier. If they cut their prices by a factor of 4, yet sell 20 times more flowers, they would make 5 times more income and visitors would walk away with wonderful bouquets of ranunculus. The bloom display would not be significantly changed by the loss of only 20% of the flowers.
In 1997, the peak bloom was expected to begin the weekend of 22-23 March 1997, and last about four weeks. I visited the fields on 22 March, and the color was really just starting. I estimated that about 20% of the total color was seen then, and that it would be a week or two before maximum color is reached. As of 15 May, only the northern end was still in bloom.
In 1997, it seemed that the planting was more staggered, so some of the fields would bloom several weeks later than the rest, giving those that come late in the season a chance to see what the rest of the fields looked like at peak bloom.
The Flower Fields began their website in 1999, and there is now a colormeter that displays the amount of bloom. As of 6 & 11 March 1999, the colormeter was near 0, displaying the words "first bloom". On 26 March it was about 40% of the way up, displaying the words "half bloom". Michael Cardosa, the fields' general manager said:
The first of the 50 acres have begun to bloom, but the rest are running about 10 days behind schedule because of cool and dry weather in December and January,He expects peak bloom to be about April 5, with good color through May 9.
About 200,000 visitors came in 1996 and again in 1997, but attendance was "down significantly" in 1998, perhaps due to the heavy rain in 1998 and perhaps due to the increased admission price. With the increased admission in 1997, the ranunculus display generated a profit to defray a small percentage of the flower-growing operation's annual loss.
Sources: Personal observations; SDUT 3/26/99, B12; earlier articles which I failed to record.
Copyright © 1997-1999 by Tom Chester.
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Comments and feedback: Tom Chester
Last update: 26 March 1999.