The question I get asked more than anything else is what types of flowers do you grow? When I first started growing I would immediately launch into a long, enthusiastic list of all the flowers I grow, but soon realized that listing the names of the flowers I grow almost universally elicits a glazed over look in the listener. The reality is that even those of us who love flowers rarely learn the names of more than the most common blooms. Last season I grew more than 40 different plants and even though I spend so much of my time surrounded by flowers I meet new ones every single day. The world of flowers is a very humbling one. I love that they are constantly beckoning to us, inviting us to learn more about the plant world.

With the early bird signup for my weekly flower bouquets ending on March 31st this seems like the perfect time to introduce you to some of the beauties that those of you who are signed up for my weekly flower bouquets (aka Community Supported Agriculture or CSA shares) will be enjoying this summer. I am retiring some things that did not do so well last season, continuing to grow the blooms that have consistently been workhorses for me, and adding quite a number of flowers that I will be growing for the first time this season! I share the seasonal journey on my Facebook page and Instagram feed, so follow me there to see regular updates on what is happening on the farm this season.

Here are some of the flowers you can look forward to seeing in your CSA bouquets this season:

1. Zinnias.  Zinnias are one of my workhorses. They take a while to get going because they like it super hot, but once they get going they churn out bright, happy flowers week after week all summer long. Zinnias are cool in that the more you cut them the more they grow and bloom. The key to having constant supply is to make sure you give them good air circulation (I find they often get powdery mildew as the season goes on if there isn’t enough space between plants), feed them (I apply foliar fish fertilizer every couple of weeks all summer long to keep my plants strong) and finally cut, cut, cut. Even if you don’t need every stem, cutting deep and often will guarantee that fresh blooms keep coming. If do you do all of these things they will only start to slow when the weather cools off in the fall.

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2. Snaps (a.k.a. Snapdragons). Snaps are another workhorse for me. They get started in early to mid-July and then crank out consistently long-stemmed, bright towers of colour all summer long. Unlike the zinnias, most insects avoid them for some reason, so I rarely have leaf, bud or blossom damage, which is always a godsend. I have been told by more experienced growers that if you literally saw off your entire zinnia row once you have harvested they will grow back. Maybe it is the shortness of our season or maybe it is something I have yet to figure out but even though I cut these babies hard all season long I have yet to have a second crop from the same plant. Some growers pinch their snaps to encourage the growth of multiple stems instead of one larger, taller stem. I tend to pinch some and leave some so I have a variety of stem lengths and sizes to work with. The pinched flowers also tend to bloom slightly later so even though I have multiple successions to guarantee constant blooming all season I find pinching staggers bloom time too.

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3. Foxgloves. Also known as Digitalis because the bells can be fit over the ends of fingers like a thimble, I fell in love with foxgloves while interning at Field of Roses in New Zealand. They had lots of varieties that had re-seeded themselves and grown taller than me. I love how they are creamy and elegant on the outside but if you peek inside each of the “bells” hanging from the stem you enter a world of rich and vivid colour and texture. The leaves of the Foxglove are super soft and silky. I find that Foxgloves like consistent moisture and slightly cooler temps than we have had on Prince Edward Island the last couple of summers, so mine hung out for a good portion of the summer before finally shooting up and bursting into bloom in August. It was worth the wait as those who purchased some of these beauties from me at the farmers’ market can attest to. I’m looking forward to seeking out other varieties of these in the years to come. For an interesting read about the etymological origins of the name Foxglove, click here.

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4. Frosted Explosion. I simply love the name of this grass, and how perfectly it captures the way it literally explodes like a firework come summer. I plant and use a lot of this grass and it grows and grows and grows, all summer long. The focus in any bouquet is usually the flowers, but in its own way, Frosted Explosion is a showstopper for me, and I get lots of comments about it and how magical it looks in bouquets. You can see the dreamlike green spray from the Frosted Explosion in the arrangements below:

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5. Nigella. Also known as Love in a Mist, this flower comes in various shades of blue, pink, white and purple. The plant is very hardy, so if being direct seeded it can go in earlier than many of my other plants. It has lovely airy, star-shaped flowers but I find they shatter faster than I would like in bouquets so I mainly grow it for its seed pods, which are to die for, and add pops of colour and texture to late summer and fall bouquets that I couldn’t do without. There are a number of varieties. My favourite is Love-in-a-Mist Starry Night which is a combination of Delft Blue, Midnight and African Bride. Here is an up-close shot of a nigella seed pod, followed by a bouquet that has seed pods in it.

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6. Poppies. My relationship with poppies is an ever-evolving one, but the more I learn about these beauties the more I plant. Poppies are interesting in that they have to be harvested when they are just beginning to open and long before the flamboyant unfurled phase, which, if I am doing my job well, should happen after they get home with you in the vase. Another trick of making sure that poppies have a vase life is to singe the bottoms of the stems. I use a blow-torch, but for a smaller quantity a lighter will do the trick too. When I do this they can get a vase life of a full week before dropping their petals. I have tested out a few varieties. The ones that do best for me are Icelandic poppies, which look like whirling dervishes in arrangements. I also grow a Breadseed Rattle Poppy. It looses its petals too quickly to use in arrangements, but its enormous seed pod is a great addition to my late summer and fall bouquets.

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7. Ranunculus. I have been wanting to grow these for a while, and 2019 is my first foray into finally doing so. I have yet to find a Canadian source for Butterfly Ranunculus (my favourites, and one I will most definitely be adding to the mix at some point) but this season I am growing a few ranunculus that those signed up for my CSA are going to love. The multiple layers of fine petals in many ways remind me vaguely of small roses, and the variety of hues is truly breathtaking. This year I am growing Elegance in a range of colours including Salmone, Viola, Pastello, Bianco Sfumato and Bianco. Keep your fingers crossed for this new adventure! I cannot wait to share these with you once the weather warms! this is a photo of me holding some of Kori’s ranunculus this spring.

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8. Mums. When we hear the word Chrysanthemums in Atlantic Canada, most of us think of the humdrum bedding flowers we see in pots at Home Depot. This past fall and winter I have been volunteering at Dawn Creek Farm, owned by Kori Hargreaves. Kori is an heirloom Mum whisperer, and spending time with her has introduced me to Mums that I never could have imagined existed. I have been in search of a Canadian source for heirloom mums ever since and finally placed an order this week, so if things go well I will have a beautiful crop of fall heirloom mums to share with you this year. Below are two photos: one of me holding one of my favourite varieties (River City) at Kori’s farm and another of an arrangement I made with some of Kori’s mums.

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9. Sweet Peas. I have had a long-standing love affair with sweet peas ever since Erin at Floret introduced me to them back in 2013. Having grown up in the Mediterranean, this was not a flower I had been familiar with until then, but now that I live in a climate that is conducive to growing this vine I have been growing an increasing number and variety every year. Last year we had a very cold spring so my sweet peas really struggled to get started. I had just barely started harvesting them when it got so hot that they basically stopped growing. They did very little for the remainder of the season, but then in September as the temperature cooled they started blooming again! I had never planned on offering fall sweet peas, but this year I have two sowings planned — one in the spring and a second in the late summer. Fingers crossed you will see sweet peas in your bouquets in September as well as in June!

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There are so many other flowers that will be blooming in the garden this year, but I will share more about them in future posts. If you have any questions about the plants I have mentioned above, about my CSA, market bouquets or individual arrangements please leave me a comment below this post or send me a private message. I hope some of you will join my CSA this summer by signing up for either five or ten weeks of fresh local flowers! You can do so in the online store. Remember: Early-bird prices end on March 31st!

With it being International Women’s Day this past Friday I have been thinking a lot about the women who have influenced me and my farm business this week. I find that inspiring people inspire, and that even if you never personally meet any of these women, the simple act of sharing their stories has an incredible power to uplift and empower. So without further ado, here are some of the leaders in the flower world who have influenced my journey:

Erin at Floret Flowers. Photo credit: Floret.

Erin Benzakein is a flower farmer, floral designer, teacher, leader and successful business woman. She and her husband Chris own Floret Flowers, a flower farm in the Skagit Valley in Washington. I came across Erin online quite by accident and was inspired by her entrepreneurial, trailblazing spirit, enthusiasm for flowers (not a crop I had ever considered growing before) and her out-of-the-box thinking. Erin began growing flowers as a mother at home with two young children out of a pure love for flowers. I don’t think she ever could have imagined that planting those first sweet pea seeds would end up playing such a major role in transforming flower farming and floral design across the globe, but it has. Erin started small, but her passion for learning how to grow the best flowers and for sharing her learning with others has led her to test out thousands of varieties of plants from all over the world to find the varieties with the longest stem length and vase life, the most interesting hues and textures and the most aromatic blossoms for the cut flower industry. I came across her and a course she was co-teaching with Jennie Love at Love ‘n’ Fresh Flowers in Philadelphia a month or so later. Following my intuition, I signed up for the workshop and flew down to Philadelphia. I spent the next few days totally immersed in the world of cut flower farming and learning how to design with locally grown flowers, surrounded by a slew of experienced farmers and designers who have gone on to rock the flower farming world. Since then Erin has honed her skills, grown her team, offered workshops on her own farm, developed an online workshop, launched a line of flower seeds, published a bestselling book, won a Martha Stewart award, and is soon to come out with her second book all about designing with seasonal flowers. She also has a blog in which she shares her learning and insights with flower farmers and designers around the world — an incredible resource for both beginner and more experienced flower farmers, florists and home gardeners. I feel incredibly grateful to have been able to work with Erin on her social media marketing early on in her journey, and to have helped her launch her beautiful line of seeds. Working with her taught me a great deal about focus, discipline, strategy, branding, generosity and the power that is generated when a woman chooses to empower other women around her. You can learn more about Erin and the incredible work she is doing in the flower world, browse her shop and read her blog here.

Barb Jewell from Island Meadow Farms at Farm Day in the City, Charlottetown PEI

Barb Jewell is a flower farmer and floral designer on Prince Edward Island, in Atlantic Canada. Her family has run Jewell’s Country Market — a garden centre that sells seasonal garden planters filled and overflowing with blooms for many years. She is also the most experienced flower farmer in Atlantic Canada now, and has built up an incredible amount of knowledge that I often wish she would write about so I didn’t have to pester her all the time with questions! Fortunately she is incredibly generous in sharing her knowledge with the rest of the growers in our region. Barb has a booming wedding business all summer long. Most of the gorgeous Prince Edward Island-based wedding floral arrangements that you see photos of on instagram are her creations. I spent one spring helping out in her greenhouse, and then working with her on with her social media for the season, taking photos of her flowers and wedding arrangements before they were whisked off by brides. It was quite an honour to be able to accompany her through a full season, capture her business and share her story with her customers online. More recently she has started a CSA, which makes sure that islanders have access to fresh, locally grown flowers on a weekly basis all summer long. Barb has taught me a lot about taking responsibility for my own successes and mistakes. She has also taught me that no two seasons are alike, that I should always expect the unexpected and that investing in perennials is one of the best things I can do for the long-term success of my business. Busy as she and I both are, I rarely see her in person, but I am grateful to have her in my community because she always turns up in her humble, quiet way when I could use an extra hand or have a question I simply cannot find an answer to on my own. All her work over the years in the community has laid the groundwork for our current flower industry which would not be what it is had she not invested so much in building it to its current state. She also injects so much beauty into my instagram feed, our community and the lives of all the couples whose wedding flowers she has done over the years. You can learn more about Barb and her flowers here.

Zoe and Sue at Field of Roses. Photo by Mandi Nelson

I have been following Zoe and Sue from Field of Roses in Gisborne on New Zealand’s North Island on instagram for some time. This mother-daughter duo have a flower farm that always looked like a dream to me. I love Zoe’s intuitive sense for colour palettes and textures that turn bouquets into exquisite works of art. Sue is Zoe’s mother, and is a natural born farmer — her grandmother loved to garden; her mother has a garden behind her house that feels like something out of a historical novel brought to life, and Sue’s passion for gardening and growing and nurturing plants is obvious the moment you meet her. In the fall of 2016 I headed to New Zealand to do an internship at Field of Roses. The farm is every bit as magical in person as it is on instagram, and Zoe and Sue have the best mother-daughter fun loving and supportive working dynamic I have ever come across. Their 1,000 rose bushes climb a steep hill next to their home and lie adjacent to a cut flower garden bursting with sweet peas, foxgloves, zinnias, dahlias, scabiosa and many other flowers that complement the roses. Before interning there I had never realized what a diversity of perfumes roses had. Each variety they had had its own distinct aroma, and the combination of all of these mingling on a single hillside made it feel like I was working in heaven every single day. Most of the roses from Field of Roses are shipped to flower markets and florists in Auckland, but Zoe also uses them in her wedding floral designs, and she recently launched a floral crown DIY box with instructions for brides wanting to make their own floral crowns. Zoe and Sue have also hosted a number of international floral design workshops on their farm over the years led by designers like Nicole from Soil and Stem and Tanya from Oh Flora. What I respect most about Zoe and Sue is how they create space for each other to be authentically and wholeheartedly themselves as individuals; how they celebrate and nurture each other’s differences; how much pleasure they take in each other’s company and how each of them uses their individual strengths to create a business that is joyful, empowering and inspiring to others. Now that I am back on my own farm I often think of Sue and how she always recognized how important humour is to maintaining a light atmosphere when you have been working hard on the farm all day and trying to figure things out as you go. One of her favourite sayings, which still makes me chuckle when I think of her, is: “Why do something once when you can do it three times?”

Mimo Davis owns Urban Buds, an urban flower farm in St. Louis, Missouri with her wife Miranda and their darling boy August. I met her for the first time at the first flower workshop I attended in Philadelphia back in 2013. Like Erin at Floret, Mimo and Miranda are pros at growing a massive quantity of flowers on a very small piece of land. I have yet to have the pleasure of getting to know Miranda well, but Mimo is the Regional Director for the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers, and before starting Urban Buds Flower Farm she operated Wild Thang Farms — the largest cut flower farm in the state of Missouri — for over a decade. She also worked at the Missouri Wildflowers Nursery where she specialized in native plants. What inspires me about her is her no-nonsense attitude and practical approach to growing flowers. Yes she wants to bring beauty into this world, but she has figured out how and when to grow each flower she wants to grow so that she gets the highest price for every single stem. Growing this way minimizes input of time, financial investment and energy, and maximizes output and income so that she can support herself and her family and continue to do work that she loves. I will never forget her asking me the first time I met her why anyone would grow bleeding hearts in the spring or summer when you can get ten times the price per stem if you force them in the greenhouse and sell them in February for Valentine’s Day when nobody else has them. In addition to being practical, Mimo is exceptionally generous with her knowledge, traveling all over North America to share her techniques with fellow flower farmers. I have often wished I could download all that knowledge she has stored in her brain, so am grateful that she turns up over and over and is always so willing to share with those of us who have far less experience than she does. You can learn more about Mimo and Miranda and their urban farm here.

Kori at Dawn Creek Farm in Rio Linda, California

This past fall I had a serendipitous meeting at Temple Coffee in Sacramento, California. My mother noticed that the woman sitting next to us had a beautiful bouquet sitting next to her table. Mom asked her where she had gotten it from, and it turned out that she had grown and arranged it herself and that she was a flower farmer growing in Rio Linda, on the edge of Sacramento. The woman’s name was Kori Hargreaves, and it turned out that in addition to being a flower farmer and designer she was also an experienced weaver and natural dyer, among many other things. The two of us exchanged information and made a tentative plan for me to go out to her farm for a visit. A couple weeks later I got in touch and headed out for a tour of Dawn Creek Farm. It turned out that Kori was originally from Santa Cruz. After attending university at UC Davis, she and her carpenter husband Toby decided to settle in Sacramento a couple of years ago to establish their own farm. I asked if she would be open to having me come out and volunteer once a week while I was on the west coast, and (thankfully!) she agreed. I have helped Kori disbud and then dig up and pot her mums for the winter; pull up last year’s beds and irrigation tape; spread compost on new beds for this season; roll out irrigation tape; burn landscaping fabric; plant this year’s ranunculus, anemones and narcissus; start seeding, and with a number of other small things that needed to be done on the farm.

Kori sells to around fifty wedding florists located in and around the Sacramento area. She grows all sorts of flowers, but her spirit flower is the mum, and she grows over 100 varieties of mums which she has collected from her network of fellow gardeners spread across the state over a number of years. I had been really looking forward to helping her harvest her mum crop, but she was hit with an unexpected early hard freeze that wiped her whole crop out just as it was starting to bloom. In true Kori fashion she took a few days to regroup and then decided to utilize one of her other fortes — natural dyeing — to turn what she had left of her crop into another product that she could sell: hand dyed silk ribbon. The way she turned what was a pretty massive loss into a gain is just one example of Kori’s creativity and industriousness. Working alongside her for the past six months has taught me a lot about how to take a vision and create a step-by-step plan to unfold that vision into reality. I have deep admiration and respect for her ability to organize, systematize and execute a plan; for the creative solutions she comes up with to the problems that come up on the farm every day; for the way she listens to understand rather than simply to respond, and the way she always shares her knowledge with a quiet yet generous humility.

As the flowers that I helped Kori plant in the fall begin to bloom I am truly blown away by the quality of each and every stem we harvest. Getting to take some home every week to arrange and enjoy has shown me what a tremendous difference the quality of the flowers makes in beauty of the final arrangement. Many of my friends have pointed at a bucket containing flowers I have carried home from the farm with the intention of arranging them and commented on the beauty of the “arrangement.” That a bucket of not-yet-arranged flowers looks to my friends like an arrangement is a testament to me of what a quality product Kori is growing. It is a reminder to me of the importance of caring for my soil, watering consistently and tending my flowers all along the way. Follow Kori’s flower journey on instagram here.

There are so many other growers and designers who have inspired and continue to inspire my work including Nicole Land at Soil and Stem; Katie Davis from Ponderosa and Pine, and Emily Avenson at Fleuropean. Here’s to all of these inspired and inspiring women and to all the rest of you whose paths I have yet to cross but who are blazing new trails in the flower industry in your own unique ways!

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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…

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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.  

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!