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Selling a lifestyle: Family's flower field a quick retreat

STERLING – The seed was planted 3 years ago, and Brill's Penrose Flower Field is starting to bloom.

Ed and Sue Brill, along with daughters Hannah, 16, and Beth, 12, moved into their quaint country home at 26488 Penrose Road in 2008. The house, full of family history, sits on about 2 acres of land between Sterling and Milledgeville.

"This has been in my family since 1868," said Ed, an engineer at Wahl Clipper. "We got it from my grandmother, Violet Fisch. They actually had the farm down the road, and this is where the hired hand lived."

After getting settled into their picturesque surroundings, the Brills began to wonder how to best make use of their property.

"We had about an acre to use for some purpose, so we made a list of ideas," Ed said. "We all liked to grow flowers, and we were looking to raise some money for the kids' educations."

Sue said they thought about growing flowers for farmers markets, but what doesn't sell there is lost. So they decided to cut out the middle man, and let customers come to them to pick their own flowers. A plastic pitcher is given to patrons, who can then fill it up with whatever they want for $10.

The family lightheartedly agreed that the dynamic is similar to the food buffet concept.

"Some people try to put a lot of flowers in their pitchers, and others don't put many in at all," Beth said with a smile.

Now after years of planning and digging, the nicely landscaped flower field is open for business. With roosters crowing and sunflowers standing at attention, customers can wind their way through the rows of flowers, with a seemingly endless view of the countryside on the horizon.

The fragrant scent of oriental lilies, peonies, and rosa rugosa, often used in potpourri, provide some aromatherapy for those who appreciate respite from the city.

The Brills have tried to mix up the offerings to accommodate more specific needs.

"We have several flowers that will appeal to crafters," Sue said. "Some, like status, dry nicely, and others such as lavender and chamomile are common ingredients for making soaps and lotions."

Other flowers work well in a country wedding motif for budget-conscious planners.

"We don't do the arranging right now, but if you have someone to do it for you, you can really save some money," Sue said.

Herbs, which some people like to mix with their bouquets, are sprinkled among the floral offerings. Included are rosemary, parsley, lemon, thyme, oregano and dill.

The girls, who are homeschooled by Sue, play a key role in the new family business.

"We help a lot – it's all divided up, and everybody has 14 beds to take care of," Hannah said. "If we keep up with it, we only have to spend about an hour a day with it."

Beth is a big fan of the straw mulch that helps ward off the weeds.

"I like taking care of the beds, but the weeding is not as enjoyable as some of the other jobs," she said.

Sue spends much of her days mowing and taking care of the beds. Because she is home quite a bit, she encourages calls for appointments if the flower field's hours don't work for someone. The hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The Brills are still trying to get the word out, and draw people to their country gardens. A sign on a telephone pole at the corner of state Route 40 and Penrose Road now points customers in the right direction.

While the family loves flowers, they are also hoping to share their country sanctuary with those who need to downshift from a hectic lifestyle.

"I think there are a lot of people who just don't know about us yet," Sue said. "I'd like to open this up for people to just come out and relax. People are so busy – they just don't stop to enjoy anything."

The Brills would like to bring in more tables, chairs, and books, so the property can be used for anything from church picnics to business meetings.

"We're still learning about business, but we are always kicking around ideas," Ed said. "But much of it is about sharing a lifestyle that our family loves."

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