Flower Farmer Grows Joy

Story and photos by Drew Myron

Paul Matalucci of Apple Core Farm grows a bounty of blooms that he arranges in hand-picked bouquets and delivers to customers weekly. Photo courtesy of Apple Core Farm

Sometimes the road to home is a trick of nature and a traffic jam. In 2017, Paul Matalucci and Tom Osborne took a road trip from their home in San Francisco to Eastern Oregon to view the rare solar eclipse. The 600-mile trek was a fun adventure, but the drive home was snarled with traffic.

As daylight turned to dusk, the tired couple took a detour to stay the night in Hood River. Their directions took them through town, then further and further south. In the dark, they arrived at the rental home and went to sleep. They spent the night in Parkdale, 16 miles south of their Hood River destination.

“We woke up the next morning, looked out the window and said, ‘My God, Mount Hood!’” Paul says. “I just fell in love. That trip changed our life.”

Charmed by Hood River Valley, Paul and Tom bought a defunct Christmas tree farm with plans to grow flowers and heirloom apples. By 2020, they had traded city lives for country living and corporate jobs for dig-in-the-dirt farming.

Apple Core Farm & Cut Flowers is an 8-acre property midway between Odell and Parkdale, on Endow Road and Highway 35.

The flower farm blooms with more than 60 varieties of every size, shape and color. It includes a bountiful mix of David Austin roses, heirloom narcissus, ranunculus, peonies, phlox, dahlias, snapdragons, sweet peas, sunflowers, tulips, yarrow, zinnias, amaranth, celosia and cosmos.

Paul tends to heirloom narcissus on the farm.

Paul sells flowers as a weekly subscription, in vibrant bouquets he hand-delivers within a 20-mile radius of Odell or in The Dalles area. Modeled after the Community Supported Agriculture format used in vegetable farms, subscribers receive a fresh bouquet weekly from May to October.

Paul also offers Flower Flights—a weekly delivery of cut flowers combined with a hardwood stand holding individual slim glass vases. He patterned the do-it-yourself subscription after wineries that allow customers to sample small glasses of wine varieties.

Paul also partners with local growers to sell flowers at the Portland Flower Market and provides flowers for local florists.

“Paul has passion for growing and is willing to learn and listen,” says Lucy Gorman, owner of Lucy’s Informal Flowers in Hood River. “We enjoy working with and buying from him because he has unique products to include in our floral designs, like purple basil. And we enjoy visiting his farm, as we can see firsthand his passion for growing.”

At 56, Paul has turned his lifelong joy into a full-time pursuit. He was drawn to flowers at an early age, tending the garden with his mother as a child and growing his own blooms by age 10. By the time he was a teen, Paul was hybridizing tall bearded iris— a flower that remains his favorite.

Charmed by the Hood River Valley, Paul Matalucci, left, and Tom Osborne departed California for Oregon and created Apple Core Farm & Cut Flowers near Odell.

“They don’t travel well, and they are delicate, but the fragrance to me is catnip,” he says. “I’ve made it my mission to make tall bearded iris a good cut flower.”

Paul spent more than two decades working in San Francisco as a corporate communications consultant for top-tier companies, but flowers always held his heart. He became a certified California master gardener in 2015 and an Oregon master gardener in 2020. He now combines his love of learning with nature.

“This is what brings me joy,” he says. “My favorite part is delivering flowers to customers. I’m an extrovert. The hardest part of farming is having so much time by myself.”

At Apple Core Farm, Paul spent two years creating healthy soil and gained practical knowledge through extensive research and workshops. He made some initial blunders, he admits, such as planting heirloom narcissus too close to the surface.

“That was a rookie mistake,” Paul says with a laugh, “but the tulips were sensational. I’m learning on the fly. I’m naturally curious and I’m a sponge.”

While Paul focuses on flowers—a crop with a short production time—Tom’s endeavor with apples can take five years to bear fruit. In 2021, they planted root stock for a new orchard of rare fruit.

Tom, 64, spends his days working in the corporate world of cyberfraud and security, and evenings in their serene setting planning propagation.

“I really like the community in the Hood River Valley,” he says. “There’s a lot a civic engagement and a sense of long-range connection to land. It really feels like home.”

Aside from their love of apples, there is more meaning to the farm’s name. When Paul’s nephew was a toddler, he couldn’t pronounce Uncle Paul. It sounded like he was saying apple core. When it was time to name the new place, Apple Core Farm seemed a perfect fit.

“I feel like I’ve been a flower farmer my whole life,” Paul says as he cuts daffodils and admires the fresh air and mountain view. “I feel like I belong here.”

Make Your Bouquets Better

Flower farmer Paul Matalucci offers these tips and tricks:

  • Pick blooms in early morning or late evening, when flowers are most hydrated
  • Strip off all leaves except one or two near the blooms – Leaves use water that you want for the blooms and will decay below the water line in your vase
  • For woody-stemmed flowers, such as lilacs and roses, use a sharp knife to scrape the skin/bark off the bottom inch – You also can split the stem – Both techniques expose more plant cells so they can better absorb water
  • Blanch stems in boiling water for just a few seconds – Dip the ends into the water from the side to keep the steam away from the blooms – This tip works for both woody and soft stems

Want to learn more? Paul has partnered with WildCraft Studio School to offer workshops on harvesting, arranging and caring for flowers. For information, go to the WildCraft Studio School website.