This month I have been ordering and beginning to receive boxes and envelopes stuffed with seeds. Seed ordering is both an exciting and overwhelming process. Exciting because I get to spend time browsing photographs of hundreds of different varieties of flowers choosing what I want to grow in the coming year, and overwhelming because there are so many gorgeous flowers out there and my farm is so humble in size that I am going to have to select just a few of these beauties to nurture and share with my customers in the coming season.

I live in Charlottetown, which is the capital of Prince Edward Island. I have often joked that perhaps I should re-name my farm Rootless Flower Farm because thus far it has not been in the same location for more than one season. The year I began growing flowers I planted everything at a community garden in Charlottetown where I had six beds. The next season I expanded to half an acre on the organic farm of some close friends in Springfield, PEI. I decided to look for opportunities to move my farming operation back into Charlottetown in 2017 because as long as I am living in town I did not like the amount of time and energy I was spending getting out to my flowers. Since most of my customers are in Charlottetown, basing my operation in town made much more sense. Through the grapevine I heard that there might be an opportunity to grow my flowers at the Mount Continuing Care Community. The Mount used to be a convent, and sits on a beautiful piece of undeveloped land right in the centre of Charlottetown. It was purchased by pharmacist and businessman Paul Jenkins a number of years ago and has been turned into a community for the elderly with the Sisters residing on the top floor.

Although the area I decided to begin planting on used to be the Sisters’ vegetable garden, it had since grassed over, so my first task was to find a creative solution to growing a small quantity of flowers while at the same time killing the grass so that I could expand production in 2018. My solution was to truck topsoil in and build my first two beds up on top of the grass. I lay enough cardboard down on the grass for two 60 foot long by 4 foot wide beds, piled the soil on top of the cardboard, added compost and a few other additions that were lacking, and then rolled my landscaping fabric out over the top to suppress weeds. I wasn’t sure if this plan was going work, but I took a leap of faith. Overall my leap worked out much better than I had hoped. Despite the super dry summer I produced a small but healthy crop of flowers in 2017 and hosted my first floral design workshop for the residents at the Mount, which was a fun and joy-filled event that I cannot wait to repeat many times over in 2018. I ploughed up the remaining area and planted my first ever cover crop of oats and field peas, which miraculously grew and thrived before dying with the frost, leaving me with a lovely ground cover for winter.

In the spring of 2018 I plan to plough up the area where the cover crop is, roll out my landscaping fabric and plant this year’s flowers. But for now I am ordering seeds, in awe of the potential within each tiny little vessel. I am feeling a mixture of unbridled joy at the beauty that lies ahead along with an equal amount of fear. Owning your own business takes a lot of courage. Running a farming business requires courage and more optimism than is probably healthy for one individual. I am not at the stage in my business where I am able to support myself solely on what I make from my flowers. I have two other jobs that take up a considerable amount of my time and energy right now. Since I am not willing to allow this to prevent me from pursuing my passion to the best of my ability, this means that my flowers fill my early mornings, evenings and weekends, and even so I often wish I could give them more undivided time and attention.

I love living on Prince Edward Island. I love the full-on intensity of the summers and how the island landscape swells with the bounty of the land and sea as well as people from all over the world who pour onto our red shores to savour the distinctive beauty this island has to offer. I love the crisp falls and the flaming collage of the foliage. I even love the cold, snowy winters, and how the weather put us in our place in the natural order of things, insisting that we slow down, reflect, and take time to connect with each other over strong cups of tea around the wood stove before we hurtle into another cold, muddy spring that is instantly forgotten when everything bursts into fullness again come summer. People often ask me why I stay here since I do not have family in the area. My immediate reaction is that I cannot imagine attempting to farm anywhere else. Farming requires a super supportive community — one where people surround you with encouragement and hold you to your commitment when the going gets tough. It also requires an investment in staying put and building life-long relationships with people and a life-long commitment to the land. I have both of these things with this place and people, so in all truth I only feel able to contemplate farming because I am here.

As I open one package of seeds after another and start lining everything up for the summer ahead, I feel excitement for all the beauty and joy that I will get to share with you this season. I am excited to share the journey with you. If you continue to read my blog you can look forward to learning about seeds, soil and rain, and nurturing, patience, colour, texture, connection, sweetness and abundance. Whether you join me by purchasing a CSA membership this spring or summer; by sending an individual bouquet to someone in need of love or healing; by picking up some of my flower greeting cards, or simply by following me on instagram or Facebook and reading my blog, I hope you will follow along this season. I love farming because it is a constant learning process, and one that is a never-ending source of humility and patience. It is also a reminder of the essential connection between each of us and everything around us from the tiniest seed to the people in our lives. I hope to use this blog as a place where I can share the learning that I am immersed in with you, and that you can ask questions, share insights and ideas, and hopefully learn new things about flowers, farming, the land and my humble efforts to build a business!

Here’s to a new year, friends! And to growing and learning together. I look forward to sharing the 2018 season with you!

For the past couple of weeks I have had a simple piece of yarn tied around my wrist. To most people it no doubt just looks like a ratty grey string. But when I look down at it I am reminded of my strength. The other day at yoga I was doing a pose that involves balancing on one leg. As I teetered there with my arms outstretched attempting to find my balance my teacher reminded the class that just as focusing the eyes on something steady in front of us helps us find steadiness in our physical balance, noticing when we are feeling unsteady internally and finding something that IS steady in our lives to focus on can bring strength and balance during times when we feel overwhelmed or uncertain about what comes next.

The past two years have felt a bit like someone is attacking me with a machete. If the losses had been physical it would have been a bit like watching as a number of what I have until now considered essential body parts were hacked away one by one. First my father passed away very unexpectedly after a brief and very aggressive battle with heart cancer. Three weeks after he passed away my best childhood friend from back home in Cyprus lost her battle to cancer, leaving her two sons with no mother. During this time I also met the man I thought was the love of my life and married him, surrounded by my friends and family, only to have him decide that I was not the love of his life after all less than a year later. After every loss I noticed myself desperately trying to adapt to losing someone I loved so deeply that it felt like a little part of myself had just died too. And while they say that trials and loss make us stronger, the immensity of the losses that I have experienced over the last two years has been so tremendous, with so little time between them for healing or processing the grief, that I started noticing an increasing sense of losing balance and pulling further and further from my centre with each wave of loss.

I have just returned from four months in New Zealand. I spent the year after all of these losses just trying to stay afloat. By the end of the year I felt so emotionally and physically exhausted that I knew that I was not going to be able to keep going without taking some time out from my normal day-to-day schedule to do something to re-fill my tank. I have always dreamt of visiting New Zealand, and for the last couple of years I have been following fellow flower farmers at Field of Roses on Instagram and wishing that there were a way that I could go learn about growing roses with them. I wrote to the owners, Zoe and Sue, and, surprisingly to me at the time, they said “yes–come ahead.” Since New Zealand is so far away from PEI, I decided that if I was going to take the time to visit I might as well take advantage of the fact that I was going to be there during what would no-doubt be a rather brutal winter on PEI and spend a few months exploring after my internship.

I will write more about my time at Field of Roses and in New Zealand in at least one if not a series of separate blog posts as it was such a transformational learning experience on so many fronts that it deserves more attention than I can give to it here without turning this post into a book. But I noticed that apart from learning about how to cultivate roses and exploring one of the most powerful countries I have ever visited, there were a few essential things that I learned about balance on this trip that I thought might resonate with others.

Back to balancing on one leg. If you had asked me what balance looks like a year ago I would have talked about what stability looked like to me on the surface: Owning my own house; a car to get me from place to place reliably; with any luck, maybe some land. About having a partner to share this journey with and possibly the bounty of giving birth to and raising children. Stable income. A combination of physical and intellectual work. All of these things can be a reflection of balance–don’t get me wrong. But my trip to New Zealand taught me that real balance happens at a much deeper level.

Shortly after I arrived in New Zealand they had a magnitude 7.8 earthquake off the east coast of Kaikoura in the South Island that ruptured 21 faults — possibly the most number of faults ever ruptured in an earthquake according to recent reports by seismologists. The earthquake was so powerful that it actually created new land areas that had been beneath the sea before they were thrust upwards during the quake. Earthquakes are nothing new to New Zealand obviously. Christchurch is still in the process of re-building after their devastating 2011 earthquake. Having grown up in Cyprus and lived for periods in California I am used to the idea of regular quakes, but being in New Zealand made me reflect more deeply on the role they play in disturbing and creating balance.

Photo by Iain McGregor

The effect of the Kaikoura earthquake was tremendous. There was widespread infrastructure damage–the coastal highway that is usually the main thoroughfare for traffic traveling south along New Zealand’s South Island was so badly damaged that anyone wanting to travel south had to take a detour through the heart of the centre of the island–a beautiful, but nevertheless more circuitous route. Communities along the north eastern coast of New Zealand are sustained by tourism, so the challenge of accessing them easily had a severe financial impact for those living there. Out of interest in what was happening beneath my feet while I was there, I often visited the website Geonet, which shows all the earthquakes happening in New Zealand every day. Today alone there have been eleven. Most of these are very mild — likely barely felt by the population. But I began to get the sense that that the ground I was hiking on was constantly shifting and moving beneath me as opposed to being an immobile source of balance and stability. If you speak with the residents of Christchurch many of them will tell you that they used to live in a great city, and that some day it may be great again. Walking around the city in 2017 and seeing construction site after constriction site; derelict and abandoned buildings and road works everywhere I looked, it is easy to understand why the residents would be feeling frustrated and even a little discouraged. When I first arrived in the city to visit my friend Pascale, whose family lost their home twice in 2011 due to quake damage, she was telling me that often she will leave home to run an errand along a particular street in the morning, but when she goes to use the same route in the afternoon it is under construction. There were a number of times when we were out that I noticed her hesitating before deciding which direction we needed to head in. When I asked her about this she explained that the last time she was on that particular street half of the buildings that I was seeing had not been there. With so much of the city being new and unfamiliar to those who have lived there their whole lives I was thinking how disorienting it must be to feel so uncertain about where you are. When you base your whole sense of direction on landmarks and they are suddenly all gone, how do you orient yourself in space?

Photo from GNS Science

My friend Pascale told me that before the Christchurch earthquake the residents were far more insular. They were less connected to their neighbours and communities and more inward-looking. The scale of the destruction caused by the 2011 quake meant that there really was nothing stable to rely on. In her neighbourhood liquefaction had even turned the streets viscous. Pascale and her family turned to the only thing that was stable — relationships with those around them — helping their neighbours and connecting to their community in any way they could. She explained to me that although the emotional impact of losing their homes is still very real for many residents, the shift in consciousness that has taken place as a direct result of having experienced so much physical loss has transformed the city into a place that is far more community-minded. Neighbours now know and support each other. I got the sense that this deep sense of mutual support and collective action may not have developed had it not been a necessity.

I am noticing that I am gradually becoming aware of what my time in New Zealand taught me since I got back to North America and embarked on the personal challenge of figuring out what comes next in my own life. Knowing that the transition back into life in North America might not be entirely smooth, my first port of call upon returning was Salt Spring Island in British Columbia.

If you have been following my adventures for a while you will know that my dear friends Ahava and Gregory live on Butterstone Farm, a sweet little farm nestled into the side of a mountain off of a dirt road among the clouds on Salt Spring Island. This visit was a special one because Ahava was celebrating her fiftieth birthday. It is hard to believe that Ahava is fifty. She looks not a day over thirty five and has far less white hair on her head than I do at thirty eight. Ahava has redefined many things for me from friendship to what love looks like to the many different ways that we take care of ourselves. This year she also redefined what fifty can look and feel like for me. I have never seen anyone so excited about turning fifty! A couple of days after arriving from Auckland her husband Gregory wisely escaped to the mainland leaving Ahava and I and 16 of her close female friends to honour and celebrate the beginning of this next chapter of her life.

The party was held in Ahava’s yoga and writing studio which stands separate from the house next to a creek and surrounded by gardens. The space has a wood floor that is perfect for dancing, and during the day is flooded with silvery light. On this particular evening the sun was setting as the guests began to arrive. The guests were women that Ahava had met all over North America through her many creative initiatives. They were all ages and came from all walks of life. Some she had danced with. Some she had written with. Some had met her at a performance that she had given. Others had worked with her on choreographing movement pieces. Her oldest friend present was a woman that she had originally moved to British Columbia with many years ago when she was first striking out on her own.

I had been a little bit uncertain about how the evening was going to go since I had not met many of these women. Ahava had asked each of us to come planning to share a little bit about how we had met her and something that we had done together that had impacted our lives in some way. While I thought this all sounded wonderful in theory I was also a little bit uncomfortable with the idea — wasn’t it going to be awkward both for her and for us to sit in a room of people and listen to everyone share what they appreciate about her?

After everyone had arrived we all settled in a circle on the studio floor. Someone pulled out a ball of yarn and Ahava explained that the person with the ball would share how they met her and share something that they had shared together or that she had brought into their life that was meaningful. When that person was done they would hold onto the end of the ball of yarn and toss the ball itself on to someone else in the circle, allowing the yarn to unfurl the distance from one person to the next, effectively weaving a slowly-spun relationship web as the ball was passed from one woman to the next.

Despite the fact that I did not know any of the women in the room when I walked in, from the minute people started sharing it was as if our common bond with Ahava made us all old friends almost instantaneously. I had assumed that that the exercise would yield many new gems about Ahava, but in truth I learned a lot of very intimate things about each and every woman present because as they shared how they had met Ahava or how she had touched their lives they also shared what they did for a living; where they came from; what their passions were; who they had loved; stories of children and parents; work and struggle; triumphs and losses.

We laughed and cried. We sang. We danced. We made collages. We stayed up talking until the wee hours of the morning. And before everyone left we cut our yarn web up and each of us tied a piece of it around our wrist. To remind us of the power of sisterhood. Of friendship. Of the strength that we have access to when we draw on our collective wisdom, determination, focus, creativity, passion, joy, grace and faith.

Right now I am staying at my mother’s house in California preparing to return to Prince Edward Island despite having no sense of where I am going to live or how I am going to support myself once I get there. I have been saying a lot of prayers about it all as well as working very hard at searching for for more stable work to help me re-gain my footing. This past week I received an email from a dear friend letting me know that if I do want to return to PEI she and her husband would love to have me as their guest for the month of April. The kindness of the invitation and the knowledge that she could tell I needed something stable from which to take my first steps out into the world as a single woman again brought tears of gratitude to my eyes. A few days ago another friend sent me a job application. On Monday another friend sent another job listing that matches up perfectly with my skill set.

When I first got back my mother was dealing with having had her home broken into and her jewellery stolen. Fortunately she was not home at the time, and was not injured, but the experience really shook her up. It is very violating to not feel safe in your home. I was relieved to hear that a number of her friends had stepped up and helped reassure and support her through that first week of living alone after the break-in until I arrived.

Last week one of my mother’s close friends fell and broke her foot. Yesterday mom and I headed over to cheer her up with a ridiculous get-well card and a box of Ginger Elizabeth chocolates. She is waiting for a ramp to be built so that she can get out of her house, and is house-bound until that happens. While we were there we helped her to feed her cats since bending over is challenging with only one functional leg.

When my yoga teacher asked us to notice what we are focused on when we feel unsteady I found myself gazing down at the reminder around my wrist, a smile playing on my lips. Circumstances will vary during our lives and across the globe. Sometimes we may lack external stability. Sometimes we may have lost that internal balance. But it does seem that one thing that is universal no matter what we are experiencing in our lives or where we are located on the planet is the common spiritual journey we’re all on together. We have each other. I can think of no greater source of strength and balance than this. And in truth, it leaves me wondering if without a constant and deep awareness of our common connection to draw upon, true balance is even possible?

When i started this blog my intention was to focus solely on everything I am learning about flowers. I really should have known better, because really, when is anything just about itself? I hope my flower friends will forgive me for branching out a little this week!

Today’s post is inspired by my yoga teacher Kate. As many of you know, I am currently in Sacramento, California. I had a number of plans for this summer. They involved learning floral design with the talented Jennifer at Bloom Floral Design in northern Michigan and working on a flower farm. My plans have since changed, as plans have a tendency to do, and it now looks like I may well remain in Sacramento for the rest of the summer and into the fall. Having spent last winter hibernating in my loft in Charlottetown with piles of historical fiction and endless cups of tea, doing nothing that was not absolutely necessary, I really want to get back into shape, so when my friend Mariela suggested we join a yoga studio I immediately started researching teachers and yoga studios in Sacramento. After a good deal of research we settled on One Flow Yoga Studio owned by Kate Saal.

Since starting at One Flow Yoga Studio I have taken a number of level 1 classes. I haven’t done very many yet, but I was starting to feel that I was making some progress. So on Saturday I decided to attend an “All Levels” class. I figured the class would likely be challenging, but I love a good challenge, so I turned up for class feeling pretty damn proud of myself. Those of you who practice yoga on a regular basis are probably already chuckling here. You are right to chuckle. The class totally kicked my butt. I have been having what the doctor thinks is an inner ear issue recently that has been making me feel dizzy. By a third of the way through the class I was feeling so dizzy that I was worried I might pass out, so I settled into child’s pose and stayed there for what felt at the time like an eternity. While I was down there feeling both painfully aware of the fact that I was the only person in the room in child’s pose, and equally aware that if I stood up I might pass out, Kate started sharing some insights. I haven’t been taking her classes long enough to generalize, but so far I have found that Kate somehow seems to know exactly what I am thinking (often before I realize that I am thinking it), and always seems to share a thought, insight or piece of music that helps me to become aware of my thought process and invites me to consider the situation from a different perspective. On Saturday, as I lay on my mat in child’s pose feeling intensely the fact that my body is not as strong as I would like it to be right now I heard Kate say “and if you are in child’s pose, be there with intention. Don’t just be there. What are you thinking right now?”

I am deeply grateful that when Kate asks us to become aware of what we are thinking she does not ask us to share out loud (because really, nobody should have to listen to the vast majority of what goes on in this head), but just hearing the question and becoming conscious of what I am thinking inevitably makes me laugh, forgive myself for not being where I would like to be, accept where I am, and celebrate the fact that I have turned up and am ready to grow and shatter self-imposed limitations that I may not have even been aware that I was placing on myself.

On Sunday I went for an early morning run. Normally I love to run. But lately I have been having a hard time with my running. It has been hot, and I have been struggling to adjust to the change in temperature between Canada and California. I have been feeling dizzy on and off. And since I am so out of shape right now I have been struggling to enjoy the run while it is happening. This Sunday as usual I got out there and was sweating, my heart pounding, struggling to keep my breath steady, and calculating how much smaller the distance between me and my house was getting with every step that I took. Mid-stride I remembered Kate’s question: “what are you thinking about? What are you focusing on?” I was focused on my own discomfort. On how much longer I had to be running. On how I could get my run done as quickly as possible. In other words, not at all on the reasons that I love to run: the sunlight filtering down through the canopy of trees, the breeze against my skin; the feeling of air filling my lungs and my heart pumping, and, when I hit my stride, the glorious sensation that I am flying.

I find it pretty easy to have realizations after the fact. But real growth happens when I’m having them while I am in the experience. It doesn’t look graceful, and it demands that I keep returning, over and over again, to a posture of humility and learning, letting go of that ego voice that is always standing there ready to take charge. So while I was running on Sunday, and again on my run this morning I stayed aware throughout the run of what I was thinking, and every time I noticed myself drifting into thoughts about how much further I had to run or where I was feeling pain in my body I consciously told myself to refocus my thoughts on what brings me joy. This morning it was the dappled light on the sidewalk; sooty black bodies of crows pecking along the pathway; happiness on the faces of people who I made eye contact with and wished a good morning; late summer roses tumbling over a brick wall; the clear blue sky; the sound of my own heart beating in my chest. I also reflected on how much joy the sensation of running brings me, because even in the early stages of getting fit again the joy that I find in challenging my body is present if I take the time to look for it.

Kate has been sharing a lot about intention, and it has made me reflect upon the fact that intention is not the same as plan. I had a lot of plans over the last two years, and many of them have not worked out as I had hoped they would. If I focus solely on the plans that I made over the last two years I can get pretty discouraged. But if I take a step back and look at the last two years from the perspective of intention, my whole perception shifts. Because while many of my plans have not worked out, when I think about it, my intention has remained firm and clear. I lost my marriage this year, but I have remained true to my intention, which was to continue growing and learning, share love with those around me, be faithful to my beliefs, and serve my community. All of this I have done.

Another lesson Kate has been sharing with us in class is the importance of transitions. As she put it, at least 75% of our lives are spent in transition. We live in a goal-oriented culture, and it is easy to forget that the result is shaped by the quality of the process of creation. Transitions come in all shapes and sizes. Just getting from my house to the yoga studio is a transition of sorts. A relatively painless one, but a transition nonetheless. Losing my father and my best friend this past year has been a harder transition. Losing my marriage right after losing my father and best friend an even harder one. In my faith tradition we have what is called a year of patience. If a couple decides to separate, they must spend a year living separately but not getting involved with anyone else — taking the time to really work on the marriage to see if they can find ways to come back together. If at the end of the year it appears that this is not possible, then the couple is free to divorce. My husband does not hold the same belief system as I do, and has not been participating in this year of patience. It is his right, but his absence from our year of patience has left me with a lot of questions about how I honour my year of patience without him.

On October 23rd 2016 it will be exactly one year since he left, and I have spent the last year honouring my commitment. Sometimes it feels pointless, but most of the time I feel grateful that I am intentionally taking this year to reflect on what turned out to be a very brief marriage — what took me into it; what my intention was in unifying my life with my husband’s; how to let go of what is not meant for me with grace; how to learn to open my heart wider but with greater wisdom in the future instead of withdrawing or deciding that relationships are just not for me; how to forgive him and myself; how to move forward with purpose and joy; what I want to take with me that will help enrich my next relationship, and what I want to let go of; and, in the last few months — figuring out who I am now and what I want to do with this next chapter of my life.

I share all of this because when Kate started talking about paying attention to the quality of our transitions it brought me back to the truth that ultimately the key here is purity of intention. What is my intention when I step onto my yoga mat, and can I remain conscious of this throughout my practice? How do I remain conscious that not only am I embodying my intention when I take child’s pose in the middle of my practice, but that my child’s post is an integral and essential part of staying true to my intention in a way that pushing through the practice to the detriment of my health never can be? All of these questions and their answers can be applied to life off the yoga mat too of course, and I am finding answers and hidden truths in the most unexpected places.

Last night I attended a Native American poetry reading. Four Native American poets who have poems published in an anthology of Native American poetry from California shared their poetry. Much of the poetry that they shared was about the natural world and their connection to it. But what struck me most was the purity and clarity of their intention. One of the women came from a tribe called People of the Meadow. They used to live in the mountains all summer, returning to foothills and plains in the winter. During the gold rush 85% of her tribe was entirely obliterated. She said that she is often amazed that she is standing here today. And yet she is, and she is here with the intention to carry forward stories of connection, community, love, prejudice, fear, pain, courage and justice with integrity and purpose — sharing it with others without blame or bitterness, but with the intention of inspiring healing, connection, understanding, and, ultimately, bringing about positive change. Another of the readers shared that he is the nephew of the last member of his tribe to speak his native tongue. He shared that his aunt spent the last five years of her life at the Smithsonian working with anthropologists and linguists recording her language and documenting it so that it can continue to be learned and shared with future generations. A third woman shared how she has been learning her native tongue as an adult — re-learning the language of her people after it had been lost because they had been forbidden to speak their native tongue to their children. The intention of all of the readers came across crystal clear in the poetry that they shared. They were using poetry to reach out, forgive, invite us to connect, and share the wisdom that they have kept sharing even when nobody was listening.

Listening to the language that the poets used last night also reminded me how essential the precise words we use to describe our experience are to the quality of the experience. Referring to the earth as Mother Earth, for example establishes an underlying expectation that the relationship will be based upon love and respect. In yoga I notice that the simple act of telling myself that I am “flowering” my fingers up into the sky as opposed to simply stretching or reaching upwards changes the entire experience of the pose. The other day Kate shared the idea that rolling onto our side in fetal position before moving out of our practice was a good way to pause a moment, absorb everything that we had just asked our bodies to do, and then be aware that if we choose to, all our thoughts and interactions for the rest of the day can be shaped by what we learned in our practice. As such that last pose is a preparatory pose for a re-birth of sorts — a letting go of previous ways of thinking and an embracing of new ways of being.

Back in the yoga studio yesterday evening balanced on one very shaky leg with sweat pouring down my face and dripping onto an already drenched mat, my thoughts drifted to worry about losing my balance; uncertainty about how much longer I was going to be able to hold my leg up in the air, and irritation at how hot the room was getting. All of a sudden the music changed and a Brazilian love song started playing. The change of pace pulled me out of my train of thought and I looked up and caught Kate smiling. Nothing like some playful Brazilian music to remind us to not take things so seriously. To loosen up. Breathe. Let go. Be present.

Here’s to becoming more aware of our intentions this week friends. And to finding ways to be more playful. Because as Richard Lingard said, “you can discover more…in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” 

Although my ancestors hail from an island (Sicily), I grew up on another island (Cyprus) and live on a third island (Prince Edward Island), I have never lived on an island that is only reachable by ferry. Friends that lived on Prince Edward Island before the Confederation Bridge was built have told me about the rite of passage that taking the ferry over to that island was. How watching the reality of the mainland slip away — the brilliantly reflective ripple of the sharp blue Atlantic closing like a curtain in the wake of the ferry, and Prince Edward Island’s surreal red cliffs slowly emerging out of the blinding haze gave the body time to slow down and prepare to embrace the pace and rhythm of the Island.

Salt Spring Island 1

The only way to get to Salt Spring Island in British Columbia is by boat. My dear friend Ahava and her partner Gregory have made Salt Spring Island home, and for this I will be forever grateful because I doubt I would ever have visited if they had not. Ahava and I joined the slow crawl of vehicles boarding the ferry on a cool late spring evening. The water between BC’s Gulf Islands was inky dark and only slightly rippled. I could sense the depth of the water beneath us, and imagine why whales are drawn to these nutrient rich sheltered channels. The ferry ride only lasts about thirty minutes, but the shift in rhythm begins the instant we propel ourselves away from the dock. Outside, leaning against the car for a better view, I watched the highest points of islands slide past us, rising out of the deep evening shadows like the rounded bellies of sleeping giants. Unexplainably, like the water itself, I had a sense that unlike Prince Edward Island, which seems to be in full bloom, cradled on top of the waves, the secret of the Gulf Islands lies deep beneath the water line. If Prince Edward Island is floating, the Gulf Islands are snorkelling — shoulders just beneath the surface, heads only above water momentarily.

Salt Spring Island 2

We used the weight of the water behind us to push us into harbour, and joined the slow but steady collective crawl back off the ferry boat and onto the winding road that immediately climbed upwards steeply, curving into the tree covered darkness.

Butterstone Farm

Ahava and Gregory have the good fortune to live on a farm that belongs to friends of theirs. It is half way up a mountain off of a gravel road. To get there you have to meander through farmland and thickly forested areas, through a wide open valley called Cranberry Valley, and then up another steep climb. By the time the car headlights hit the sign reading Butterstone Farm (the photo above was taken the next day) my eyelids were heavy. We coasted down a long driveway. Through the passenger side window I could just barely make out the bodies of two horses in a large pasture. A large wrought iron gate slowly opened in front of us, and Ahava made a large arc and pulled the car up outside her house.

I do not remember much from that first evening. I was exhausted, and fell into the comfy bed that Gregory had kindly made up for me in his office. I do remember lying in bed listening to the creek running outside my window and the branches of trees scratching against the windows and roof.

Butterstone Farm 2

I was woken by the absence of noise the next morning. City noise, that is. All I could hear was birds chirping, the creek running, and the breeze moving through the trees. I swung my bare legs over the end of the bed, set my feet on the floor and wandered from Gregory’s office that doubles as a guest room into Ahava’s yoga/writing studio. The building that I have now renamed my home away from home used to be a garage. Many, many lifetimes ago. Gregory has completely renovated and restored the building, and it is now a beautiful work and creative space that he and Ahava share. Gregory is a creator of beauty. A builder. An organizer. A designer. A carpenter. A gourmet hot dog seller. A sportman. An incredible cook, and many other things besides. Ahava is also a creator. She creates community, nurtures creativity in everyone around her, and is a talented artist and educator. She is also a dancer, a meditator, a free spirit, an award-winning writer, and a courageous leader in the arts community. Her studio is three walls of light, well-loved wood floors, a custom-designed writing desk that Gregory built for her (that I would kill for) and a giant bookcase to house all of Ahava’s beautiful journals. For an artist of any description, being in her studio is like stepping into heaven. The studio opens out onto a low wooden deck that is built in such a way that it feels like it is literally inviting you down the steps and into the garden.

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I spent as much time as I could while at Butterstone Farm wandering barefoot in the garden, writing in my journal and photographing the flowers that seemed to burst out of every bed and tumble over every fence and wall.

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When I was not in the garden I was savouring delicious home-cooked meals often prepared by Gregory (the man’s hands are kissed by the culinary gods), read books, took part in some of the writing groups that Ahava facilitates, and enjoyed some of the most enriching conversations I have ever had with friends. I enjoy spending time with both Ahava and Gregory alone. But I also love to spend time with them as a couple because they actively create a spaciousness together in which individual and collective growth, exploration and dialogue is encouraged and nurtured. As a visitor I was invited into their space. To learn with and from them. To question and agree with them. To challenge and be challenged by them. I always leave their company with new ideas spinning in my head; new creative projects I want to begin; new perspectives on tests or challenges I have been unable to get past…I have always appreciated friendships that enrich the good times, but also challenge me to keep growing and pushing myself beyond any limitations I am consciously or unconsciously imposing upon myself. My relationship with Ahava and Gregory is one such friendship.

photo by Ariana Salvo

In the evenings Ahava and Gregory and I sat and talked. If it was cool enough Gregory made a fire. We read books. We talked about our goals and dreams for the year ahead. We encouraged each other. We challenged each other. We questioned each other and helped each other gain greater clarity on the next steps we needed to take to get us where we wanted to go. At night we slept peacefully, and then woke up and did it all again.

Tea Time at Butterstone Farm

For me, being on Butterstone Farm was an opportunity to temporarily step outside of the normal stresses of life and into a much slower, more gentle version of reality. It helped me to slow down and create the type of space that is perfect for nurturing creativity and new ideas.

writing time


I was only on Butterstone Farm for a week, but hanging with these two gems for seven days was all I needed to leave feeling 100% rejuvenated and ready for my next adventure. Butterstone Farm is such a peaceful spot that it is tempting to never leave the farm. Although it may not sound like it, Ahava and I actually did actually leave the farm to explore the island, and a number of our adventures included flowers. I will share some of the sweet spots that we visited (that you definitely will want to add to your itinerary if you are on Salt Spring) in my next post.


All images in this blog post belong to Christin Geall of Cultivated by Christin. They have been used with her permission. 

As you know if you read my last blog post, I left Prince Edward Island on May 18th for British Columbia. First stop was in Victoria, on Vancouver Island. A few months ago I came across a flower farmer/designer whose design work I love more and more every day. Her name is Christin Geall and her company is Cultivated by Christin. In one sentence, according to her website, Christin owns an urban flower farm and design studio in Victoria BC, and writes a literary gardening column. But it was clear to me from reading the about section of her website that there was a lot more to Christin’s story…


Christin’s love for growing and tending plants began almost thirty years ago when she was a teen in Toronto. She apprenticed to herbalist Heidi Schmidt on the island of Martha’s Vineyard growing medicinal and culinary herbs and flowers, make teas and tinctures, and developing a nursery, as well as educating others about the healing power of plants. Christin completed a double major in Environmental Studies & Anthropology at the University of Victoria, studied ecofeminism at Schumacher College in England with Vandana Shiva, and ethnobotany with Dr. Nancy Turner in Victoria and Dr. Richard Ford in New Mexico. She also became the editor for her university’s environmental magazine. 


At twenty-four, with a small inheritance left to her by her mother, Christin planted her first garden of her own on an acre land on a remote island on British Columbia’s coast. When she wasn’t growing, harvesting and selling the fruits of her labours she took time to travel and intern in other parts of the world. One of her internships was at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in England. 


After having a child and taking her first creative nonfiction class, Christin got involved in green politics and took on the editorship of a museum’s magazine. Over the course of the following ten years she got her MFA in creative nonfiction, traveled extensively, and gained spent time learning and gaining experience working with plants and in gardens wherever she went.


Now married and back in her old stomping ground, Christin launched Cultivated by Christin in 2015 after studying floral design with Floret in Washington and Zita Elze in London. Her goal is to bring together her main loves: plants, flowers, writing and environmentalism. She also teaches two courses at her alma mater: creative nonfiction and environmental writing. 


I reached out to Christin and arranged to visit her mini farm in Victoria the day I landed! My dear friend Ahava actually picked me up from the airport, we threw my suitcase in the back end of her station wagon and headed straight to Christin’s farm. Those of you who are familiar with Victoria will know that her neighbourhood — Oak Bay — is a maze of beautiful older houses surrounded by lush, well-tended gardens. The perfect spot for someone with a green thumb and experience with landscaping. Not being familiar with the city at all, I had no idea what to expect. Needless to say, although Christin had told me that she had an “urban” farm, I was not expecting it to be right in the middle of such a gorgeous residential neighbourhood. By the time we pulled up outside her house I was already in awe from having watched house after house slide past the window — a steady, uninterrupted flow of the type of home you see in home and garden magazines — each framed by enormous bushes and shrubs covered in blossoms and flowering vines climbing walls, spilling over fences, winding around chimneys and arching elegantly over doorways.  


Christin’s home and business is located on a corner property. Her farm is quite literally the garden that surrounds her house. My first impression of Christin was that she is a no-nonsense, highly creative and incredibly astute business woman. It also immediately became clear that she does not shy away from hard work. She met us in the garden in her work clothes, and invited us to take a stroll around the farm with her. She has taken what, admittedly, is a relatively large yard, and utilized every square inch to create her little urban farm. Her garden is surrounded by high bushes that give it a private, secret garden feel. She has landscaped it to maximize space while at the same time creating a visually beautiful space to inhabit and work in. In the middle of the garden, in between raised flower beds she has built a trellis. She is patiently training vines to wind their way up the supporting posts to create a green canopy of shade beneath which she plans to host floral workshops. Her design space is a renovated garage — a work bench set up along one wall and a photo shoot backdrop set up in the corner. As she showed us around she described the vision that she is slowly implementing on her property over time. I could clearly envision what it will look like in a year or two. I cannot wait to see how her vision materializes.


With the international flower movement being led by so many creative women I love seeing how different floral business owners are building their businesses to better fit their busy lives as mothers, wives, sisters, daughters and entrepreneurs. It is interesting to notice how this generation of female flower farmers and designers — for whom family is a priority — are shattering the traditional notions of what a business looks like. While recent trends in agriculture have been towards larger acreage planted with one or two main crops, so many of the women I have been meeting through my floral work are working with extremely small plots of land, planting a wide variety of plants, and finding creative ways to maximize their income by developing diverse income streams. Instead of farming in a rural area and having to ship flowers into the city, Christin has decided to grow in the heart of the neighbourhood that she is serving. Her neighbours are her target market. By building her farm within the community that is home she is able to take advantage of her location by inviting florists and customers to come to her instead of having to invest time and money in transportation and delivery. 


My visit to Christin’s was too short. She was preparing for a trip to the Chelsea Flower Show (you can read about her experience here) and needed to pack, and Ahava and I had a ferry to catch. Her vision and enthusiasm was so infectious that all I really wanted to do was pull on my rubber boots and help her. I also really wanted to have the chance to watch her design because I am a big fan of her romantic aesthetic. Her floral arrangements use foliage to add a weightless, graceful flow to her designs. I am not entirely sure how she does it, but the light always seems to be dancing lightly through the petals. Whether using vibrant hues or a paler pastel palette, her bouquets combine a diversity of texture and shape that I love. They make me feel as though I have stepped back in time into a historical fiction novel taking place in Europe in the mid 1800s to early 1900s. At the same time there is a timelessness to her work that defies any attempt to place it within a particular era.


I left Christin’s reluctantly, with a silent promise to myself to return at some point. I hope to have the opportunity to work on something with her in the future. In the meantime I continue to follow her on instagram and be inspired by her columns and blog posts. If you live in Victoria I highly recommend ordering flowers from her for your next special event. Or just treating yourself to a garden bouquet. If you are a florist this is one woman you need to add to your speed dial. You won’t regret it! Thanks so much for welcoming me to your farm Christin! I hope this second season is a terrific one for you! I look forward to watching your vision unfold, and very much hope that we find an opportunity for creative collaboration in the future!

I am in Sacramento, California, and it is currently 39 degrees celsius outside. Don’t ask me what that is in Fahrenheit. I don’t do conversions. The important thing is that it is hot as hell. Fry an egg on the asphalt hot. Yesterday I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and a sweater and boots, and today the paper thin sundress and sandals feel like too much.

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If you read my first blog post you will know that I have just begun what I hope will be a year-long flower journey. What that means in human speak is that I am taking time away from my own flower farming this season to learn from my fellow flower farmers and designers around the world. When I am not on round the world journeys, I call Prince Edward Island home. If you do not know where that is, you are not alone. It is actually Canada’s smallest province, and I am always surprised at how many Canadians have no idea where it is. It is a small island located off the east coast of Canada in what we call Atlantic Canada. Geographically it is just off the coast from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. North of Maine.

Prince Edward Island

I moved to Prince Edward Island in 2004 to do my Master’s degree in Island Studies. Usually when I tell people that I have a Master’s degree in Island Studies they stare at me blankly. There are lots of cool things you can study about islands. I chose to focus my graduate studies research on sustainable agriculture and fisheries on islands. In other words I got to study and interview some of the most incredible island farmers and fishers about their farming and fishing practices. Islands are fascinating places. Many of the things that happen on islands happens on larger land masses as well, but on islands the effects of many decisions are more immediately felt because they are so small, and resources are much more limited. The interconnectedness between systems is also more clearly visible on islands than it is in larger places. They also have extremely fascinating cultures, language particularities, and usually have a rich history because many islands have been conquered by one power after another in their lifetime.

When I was a child my family moved to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus from the United States. We stayed for 16 years, so I call Cyprus home. My father’s ancestors are from the Italian island of Sicily. I have been fascinated by islands since I was a child, and the more I study them and explore them the more interesting I find them.

But back to the flowers! I graduated with my Master’s degree in 2008. I had not intended on remaining on Prince Edward Island, but in the process of interviewing farmers I realized that farmers are inspiring, empowered and incredibly creative problem solvers. My friendships with the farmers I interviewed led me to get a job with Raymond Loo, an organic farmer on Prince Edward Island who was actively farming and re-shaping the industry by finding and developing new markets for organic produce. I worked with Raymond for two years growing fruit and veggies, and helping him to develop his marketing strategy. Between 2008 and 2014 I had many different farming experiences on a diversity of farms — mostly growing food. In 2014 while surfing the internet I came across something I had never heard of before: flower farming. The website I landed on that day turned out to be none other than Erin Benzakein of Floret Flower Farm. Fascinated by the idea of growing flowers as a cash crop, I started following her blog. Shortly after that I heard that Erin was hosting a flower workshop in Philadelphia with her colleague and fellow flower lover Jennie Love of Love ‘n’ Fresh Flowers. Knowing almost nothing about growing flowers, I registered for the workshop, and dove in at the deep end, immersing myself in the world of flowers surrounded by a crew of experienced growers and designers.


I had no idea when I decided to register for that initial workshop what I was getting myself into, but I do believe in following my intuition, and that was what it was telling me to do, so I went for it. I was in WAY over my head that weekend. As we toured Jennie Love’s fields and she shared about all the different varieties and growing methods I tried to say as little as possible because I was utterly lost, and didn’t want anyone else to know just how little I knew about flowers.

Fortunately feeling lost did not prevent me from realizing that I LOVED what I was experiencing and the company of the community of (in this case) female farmers and designers that are leading the re-birth of the American local flower industry.

I returned to Prince Edward Island that fall, ordered way too many seeds that winter, and planted 25 trays of seeds that I germinated in my attic that spring. I rented six garden plots in a new community garden that was being developed that year, transplanted all of my babies out into my plots, and learned a tonne about growing flowers. I also started a small CSA with a handful of customers that I supplied with fresh local mixed bouquets and edible flowers for the season.

Red Roots Flowers 1

In 2015 I decided I wanted to scale up, so I gave my farm a name — Red Roots Flower Farm (inspired by the red soil of Prince Edward Island), registered my business, and rented about 1/2 acre of land from friends that own an organic farm. With help from my friends, I ploughed up eleven 300 foot long, 4-foot wide beds, and covered half of them in landscaping fabric that I burned holes in to suppress the weeds. My second season was more successful than I had bargained for. I succeeded in producing a massive quantity of flowers. Too massive. I ran my CSA for the second season in a row, had a growing number of individual bouquet orders, dried hundreds of stems that I used to host a successful dry flower wreath-making workshop this past winter, and made flower confetti for weddings, but I still had a lot of flowers that I just didn’t have the time to sell. Lesson learned. Just because I can grow 1/2 acre doesn’t mean I should. I expect I will grow 1/2 acre again some day, but next season I will scale back to 1/4 acre — at least until I have field help. Doing all the field work and the marketing and deliveries on my own was a little bit too much to keep up with and succeed on all fronts. You have to make choices when you are working alone.

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After a number of unexpected personal losses in the fall and winter of 2015, I decided that I needed to refuel, and that I was also at the point where I could really benefit from learning with and from some other flower farmers and designers. Taking time away from my own venture felt scary, but I realized that the further I got with my own business the harder it would be to take time away to work with others, so I decided to take the risk and commit to one full year of learning with and from others before I take my next step.

I packed up my belongings and put them in storage, got rid of most of my furniture, and kicked off my year of learning May 18th. This blog will be where I share with you what I am learning along the way. If you have any questions for me or any of the farmers or designers I am visiting, please let me know, and I will make sure to get answers!

So far I have visited three farms. I stopped at Cultivated by Christin in Victoria, BC. On Salt Spring Island I visited the lovely Molly at Bullock Lake Farm. And this past weekend I spent three days immersed in flower growing, designing, marketing and networking at a Floret Workshop in Washington with the woman who inspired this crazy journey — Erin.

In my next blog post I will share my experiences at Cultivated by Christin and Bullock Lake Farm. The post after that will be all about my magical weekend at Floret Flower Farm. I have just landed in Sacramento, California, where I am visiting my mom and hope to connect with a number of growers and designers. In July I am planning to head to Michigan to spend a few months learning from Jennifer at Bloom Floral Design. And in November I am very excited to be heading to New Zealand to be immersed in the world of Roses with Zoe at Field of Roses on the North Island.

I am calling this blog ‘Where the Flowers Are’ because I have realized this year that home is where my heart is, and my heart keeps leading me to flower fields. If you are interested in flowers, travel, tea, culture, colour, texture, adventure and pursuing dreams, and want to follow along this year, this is where you can do it. I invite you to join me on my flower learning trail, ask questions about methods, varieties, the places I am visiting, and anything else you are curious about along the way. I am aiming for three blog posts a week. You can support me by keeping me accountable. If I start slipping with blog posts I give you permission to give me hell!


Join me for my next Where the Flowers Are post on Thursday. You can also find me on instagram at @flowerconnection or search the hashtag #wheretheflowersare See you Thursday!