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Field of Creams, and Reds and Yellows ...

The sea of color that is Carlsbad Ranch these days proves that it's ranunculus season.

April 10, 1999|JULIE BAWDEN DAVIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Looking for a great family activity that appeals to just about anyone--including gardening enthusiasts and children? Take a drive south to Carlsbad. There, just off Interstate 5, you'll find acres and acres of flowers in full bloom from now until early May. The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch is a working ranch whose main goal is the production of thousands of ranunculus tubers to be sold throughout the United States. Unlike at most working ranches, guests are allowed to wander the lush, productive fields and soak in nature's beauty.

"Each year, 200,000 people of all ages and walks of life come from all over the world to see the flowers. It's a great place for kids to run and adults to linger," says general manager Michael Cardosa. Children's entertainment--clowns, magicians and bubble blowing--is available today and Sunday.

"When the fields are at their peak, literally millions of flowers are blooming at once, and visitors are overwhelmed and stunned by their beauty," Cardosa added.

The slightly ascending hills of the ranch overlook the Pacific Ocean and feature a series of specifically arranged horizontal stripes of ranunculus. Members of the buttercup family, ranunculus flowers come in single and double varieties and resemble poppies or camellias.

The fields are amazing to see not only because of the intricate planted patterns, but also because of the stunning colors of the ranunculus, including golden yellow, pink, bright red, light rose, rose-red, pastel salmon, vivid orange and apricot, as well as pure white, cream and lemon-yellow.

One of few ranunculus growers in the world, the Flower Fields unofficially began more than six decades ago, when horticulturist Luther Gage and his family left their native England to live in Southern California. Before his immigration, Gage had taken an interest in ranunculus, especially the giant strain known as Tecolote, which is grown at the Flower Fields fields today.

Gage brought seeds with him and found the San Diego area climate perfect for growing the stunning flowers. One of Gage's workers, Frank Frazee, and his three sons helped care for the ranunculus and eventually started a commercial ranunculus business of their own.

Eventually Frank's son Edwin quit school to work full time at the family's developing three-acre ranunculus farm; the business steadily grew to the 53 acres it is today.

Through the years, Edwin Frazee became highly regarded for his research and development for ranunculus hybridization. The Frazee family officially ended their ownership in 1993, but Edwin continues to consult for the ranch, helping develop new ranunculus.

Every fall at the ranch a new ranunculus crop is planted from seed. The planting is staggered during three months to allow for successive blooms. The seed is mixed with sand and water and distributed by machine, followed by a thin layer of mulch.

The fields bloom from the first of March to the end of April or early May. During the bloom season, workers weed out colors that have appeared in the wrong sections. About 1% to 2% of the flowers are removed for sale as cut flowers and shipped throughout the U.S. and Canada. Of the rest, the healthiest and brightest plants are tagged as mother plants, which means they're used for seed production. After the foliage has died back, the remaining tubers are sold.

Harvesting is done with a machine similar to a potato harvester, at a rate of about 200,000 bulbs per acre. There are no bees at the ranch, because ranunculus don't create nectar. The crop is pollinated strictly by air movement.

* The Flower Fields, at Palomar Airport Road and Paseo del Norte, Carlsbad, are open daily from 10 a.m. to dusk through mid-May. Adults are $4, children 6-12, $2; children 5 and younger get in free. (760) 431-0352; http://www.theflowerfields.com.

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