Chicago's Southside Blooms offers eco-friendly, homegrown tulips for Valentine's Day

"We're able to grow 18,000 tulips in our basement over the course of three months."

ByTerrell Brown and Blanca Rios WLS logo
Tuesday, February 7, 2023
Englewood flower shop offers eco-friendly homegrown tulips for Valentine's Day
Chicago's Southside Blooms figured out a way to grow 18,000 tulips in a basement garden ahead of Valentine's Day this year.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- An Englewood neighborhood flower shop is trying to start a new Valentine's Day tradition.

Swapping roses for tulips that are literally home-grown.

"You gotta use what you got, we're a small organization," said Quilen Blackwell, president and co-founder of Southside Blooms. "We're able to grow 18,000 tulips in our basement over the course of three months so that's pretty amazing."

Southside Blooms, located at 6250 S Morgan St., is an in-house flower shop social enterprise that started in 2020. It's belongs to the non-profit Chicago Eco House just a couple of blocks away at 64th and Peoria.

"We're fully vertically integrated, we grow our own flowers, we design our own flowers and we deliver our own flowers," said Blackwell. "So our youth, you come in here, you can learn about floral design, you can learn about farming, you can learn about sales, customers service.

But up until now they were only able to grow their own flowers on their urban farms during the warmer months. That meant they had to rely on wholesale florists to keep their youth employed during the winter.

Cue the tulips.

"Tulips are going to be easier to grow in the winter than summer flowers so we're basically just speeding up the spring process," said Travis Wilkinson, the farm manager at Southside Blooms.

After a lot of research and science they figured out a way to speed the growing process to just less than three months. And they save energy through solar power.

"The tulips start in the rooting room, explained Wilkinson. "They stay there for about a month, then we bring them into the grow room where they're here for three weeks to a month where they bloom into these flowers."

Some people might find roses more appropriate than tulips for Valentine's Day but Southside Blooms hopes you'll think outside of the box this year.

"We're offering something new. These flowers come in all different kinds of colors, they come in pink, they come in red, they come in everything you can think of for roses and more," said Wilkinson. "It gives us a lot of playing room and also I think it creates a new kind of more real tradition for Chicagoans.

Locally grown flowers also provide a more sustainable Valentine's Day option.

The U.S. imports nearly 80% of all Valentine's Day flowers from overseas, which means they travel thousands of miles to get to Chicago in refrigerated planes and trucks.

In 2017 air travel alone produced about 360,000 metric tons of CO2, according to the ICCT.

"Besides the emissions it's the pesticides, the herbicides, the synthetic fertilizers, all the runoff from the flowers, including even what happens to those flowers afterward," said Wilkinson. "Those pesticides, those herbicides are still there, there still existing."

The flowers grown at Southside Blooms are not only planet saving, they're cost saving too.

"We save about 60% compared to purchasing them at the wholesaler," said Blackwell. "Our flowers are more affordable because we can grow them ourselves, so everybody wins."

"This is creating jobs for youth on the South Side of Chicago. It's creating sustainable flowers, beautiful flowers that are connected to Chicago," said Wilkinson. "If you like flowers, you don't even need to know those things to enjoy these flowers."

A special bouquet of tulips wrapped in up-cycled South Side Weekly newspaper starts at $50. To support Southside Blooms order HERE