Sarah Ryhanen discovered the mysterious power of flowers in a bouquet of black dahlias on her twenty-fifth birthday. “Being given flowers made me feel very special, and black dahlias, which I had never seen before, are so sexy and alluring. I was touched by the sentiment of the gesture as well as the beauty of those velvety dahlias,” recalls Sarah. It didn’t matter that the flowers died the very next day; “their work had already been done.” The power of the dahlias was revelatory and ignited her passionate love affair with flowers. Having always been an artist—she did performance art in college and was working at the time as an assistant curator in a New York gallery—Sarah finally found her true medium. Soon she began to haunt the flower market, asking questions and learning as much as she could about flowers. Before long, she was running her shop, Saipua (from the Finnish word for soap, saippua), in the Red Hook neighbourhood of Brooklyn, selling an unusual combination of olive-oil soaps made by her mother and wildly beautiful flower arrangements by Sarah.
The quest for more “natural” looking blooms, not the perfect hothouse-grown varieties led Sarah to start growing her own flowers on a farm some four hours outside of New York City. World’s End, named for a favorite T. C. Boyle novel, is a picture of bucolic beauty, complete with a nineteenth-century white farmhouse, a lily-covered pond, twenty acres of cleared fields with rows of flowers and grazing Icelandic sheep, and a weathered barn that’s been painstakingly restored. The reality of life on the farm is not always so picturesque—punishingly harsh winters, challenging soil conditions, and demanding physical work—but the rewards are manifold. “The life lesson of the farm is patience,” muses Sarah, “a magnolia tree planted today will be magnificent in thirty-five years.” Meanwhile, she feels like “the luckiest flower arranger in the world during peak season,” selecting exactly what she wants for her bouquets from the field, picking not just her favorite brown bearded irises, black hellebores, and rare martagon lilies, to name a few, but also “the branches of juneberry that are delightfully crooked, the coral bell leaves that are mottled and speckled with brown spots, and the wild grapevine and native berries that grow everywhere.”