Planting a seed in the soil and believing that it will germinate, grow and develop into a fully-formed and resplendent flower is a revolutionary and fiercely courageous action in my humble flower-farming opinion. There truly are SO many things that could (and often do) go wrong. Too much rain. Too little rain. Freezing or soaring temperatures. Not enough compost. Too much compost. An incorrect balance of nutrients IN the compost even when you apply exactly the right amount. Wind. Insects that attack roots. Insects that attack stems. Insects that attack foliage. The wrong kind of bacteria or fungus on your plants. Lack of air circulation. Birds that peck your flowers out of the ground….you name it and I can guarantee hundreds of enterprising farmers across the world have valiantly attempted to nurture a plant through it.

The miracle of farming really is that we are as successful as we are as often as we are. It really is a testament to the knowledge, experience, persistence, patience and pure grit of farmers who have some of the most innovative and creative minds I have ever come across.

I have to step back here, just in case it sounds like I am boasting that I have one of the most innovative and creative minds. I did not grow up in a farming family. My mother is an artist, educator and art therapist. My father was a composer and musician. Creativity we have, but I will never be as enterprising and self-sufficient as some of my friends who have been farming for a lifetime. I consider myself a humble flower farmer. Now in my fifth year of growing, I feel like I have made it to the third grade in the flower farming world. Long enough that I am painfully aware how much I do not know, and still enough in love with the flowers that I continue to press seeds into soil and plant new life with great hope year after year in spite of the odds.

This flower season has been cold and exceptionally wet. Now that the sun has finally started appearing on a regular basis my flowers are being chewed to death by insects loving the warm, moist weather. Most days I head to the field with a list of things I want to accomplish and leave having spent most of my time battling insects to just try to keep my babies alive. After months of nurturing and tending, it can be a little discouraging to have so much turning into insect fodder.

The one thing that makes it all worth it is the joy and connection that the flowers that do make it bring to my community. The edible flowers that a local confectioner turned into sweet lollipops and biscuits. The stray strawflowers that I had on my farmers’ market table that I gave to two curious little girls who delighted in their texture and bright colours. The joy on my dear friend Hope’s face as she married her love a couple of weeks ago holding a bouquet I had made.

When you purchase a bouquet of local flowers to take home with you this summer, in addition to taking pleasure in its colours, textures and perfume, maybe take a moment to celebrate all the hope that each of the blooms that was carefully nurtured, harvested and arranged in it represents. Hope for the future of agriculture. Hope for our continued and deepening relationship with the natural world. Hope that future generations will also have the bounty of interacting with nature. Hope that we hold onto the awe and pure-hearted playfulness and joy that we have as children into and through adulthood. Hope for the promise of another bountiful season to unfold in the coming weeks and months.

Have a great weekend, friends!

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!

I have been thinking a lot about community lately. As any small business owner knows, no small business ever succeeds without considerable community support. Since moving onto the property that I currently grown on at the Mount Continuing Care Community and starting to sell at the Charlottetown Farmers’ Market my community has grown considerably, and many of the interactions I have had with my community have moved me deeply, so I want to share twelve snapshots of my red roots community from this past season.

Snapshot 1:

Last season I had one customer who purchased her Community Supported Agriculture weekly bouquets long before anyone else. Rebecca ordered four weeks of spring flowers AND twelve weeks of my summer flowers and edible flowers. When you are just getting started with a business you hope for investments like these from close friends and family. But receiving this order from someone who had, until then, been a complete stranger to me gave me faith that I will some day achieve my goal of actually being able to support myself fully growing flowers. With my mother getting sick in the late summer and my having to shut my farm operation down sooner than expected, her twelve weeks of flowers were cut short. I offered to reimburse her for the weeks I would not be able to deliver flowers, but instead she opted to receive multiple bouquets for the weeks leading up to my departure. I have been sitting here in California this winter planning out my season ahead and wondering whether I will manage get signups for my weekly bouquets this season being on the opposite side of the continent. Then the other day I received Rebecca’s order for the 2019 season. Receiving that vote of confidence from her was just what I needed to kick off a new season.

Snapshot 2:

The first time I met Iris she was standing on the edge of my flower field quietly peering down at me from the road. I asked if she needed anything and she asked if it would be alright if she came and wandered among my flowers. Of course I said that would be fine, so down she came. She wandered quietly among the flowers while I worked without interrupting my flow, and it was kind of nice to have her quiet company in the garden for a while. After that first visit Iris came by a number of more times during the season for a quick chat and to see what was in bloom. After I left to come care for my mother in September Iris sent me a note asking if it would be alright if she went and picked some flowers. Again I agreed. A few days later I received an email with photos of what she had created from my garden. A couple of weeks later I got another message from her with more photos of her arrangements. Seeing that my flowers were being enjoyed and that all my hard work was bringing the people in my community joy was the perfect wrap up to the 2018 season.

Snapshot 3:

I received an instagram message from Alistair from Australia who was looking for flowers for his girlfriend. His mum had apparently met me while I was interning at Field of Roses in New Zealand. He and his girlfriend were on Prince Edward Island because she is an islander and they were visiting her family. He wanted to give her some locally grown flowers so his mum had suggested he look me up. When he contacted me I had just left for California, so I explained that I wasn’t able to make him a bouquet, but that if he wanted to he was more than welcome to go to the farm and harvest flowers and make his girlfriend a bouquet himself. It sounded like a lot of work, so I wasn’t sure if he would do it, but a few days later I received a message from him with the following photo. His girlfriend must have loved his creation because this sweet couple are now engaged. I love that my flowers got to play a small role in their love story!

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Snapshot 4:

In September I received a message from Justine. Justine works on a farm in Quebec, but was coming to Prince Edward Island at the end of September for a family reunion event, and was writing to see if she could purchase a couple of buckets of flowers from me that she could arrange herself. Again, I had already left, so was in no position to be harvesting flowers for her, but I let her know that if she wanted to harvest flowers herself for the event she was welcome to. A few weeks later I received the following photo and a thank-you note from her. I am really happy that these fall blooms got to be a part of this family celebration.

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Snapshot 5:

When I first started growing at the Mount I didn’t know any of my neighbours. Shortly after starting to plant the neighbour right across the street from the farm came over to introduce herself and ask me what I was growing. It turned out that her name was Michelle and we had a friend in common. Throughout the season Michelle would stop by to check in on me and see how it was going. A couple of times she ordered flowers from me. Once she could see I was running low on energy so she brought me out a much appreciated glass of homemade iced tea. One of the problems on my current piece of land is a lack of storage space. I mentioned this to Michelle in conversation one day, and she offered to have me put some of my farm equipment in her shed for the summer. In exchange I took flowers over to her place once a week for the remainder of the season. Michelle went out of her way to make me feel at home in the neighbourhood, and her friendly waves on her way in or out and kind gestures of friendship made me feel welcome in my community. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of her holding my flowers. Will have to add that to my bucket list this season!

Snapshot 6:

One hot mid-summer afternoon while I was working in the garden I had the sense that someone was standing in the pathway between flower beds next to me. Looking up I found one of the builders from the construction site on the property where I am growing looking down at me. I asked him if he needed something, and he explained that he was wondering if I would make him a bouquet of flowers for his daughter. “Right now?” I asked. “Yes” he said. I asked him if his daughter had a colour preference. He said her favourite colours were pink and purple. After a little more discussion I discovered that his daughter was seven years old, and that he was on his way to pick her up from school. I made the bouquet in the field and took it over to him. He paid and then jumped in his truck and headed off to pick her up from school with his pink and purple bouquet. The sweetness of his gesture made my day.

Snapshot 7:

This past fall I had to head to California to help support my mother who is battling pancreatic cancer before my season had ended. I left a field still blooming profusely, which was really, really hard to do after all the hard work I had put in to grow so many flowers. I know I made the right choice — family always comes first — but I didn’t have time to break down my field for the season before the snow arrived. After I got to California I started thinking about my field and the fact that I really didn’t want to leave all my netting and support rods up in the field all winter long — both because it would damage my equipment, but also because it would not be very aesthetically pleasing for my neighbours. So many people had already offered so much support to help me pack up my apartment in such a hurry that I felt terrible about having to ask for additional help, but I eventually decided to reach out anyway. I figured if it was too much to ask the person I asked could say no. The person I asked was my dear friend Stephen and he immediately agreed. He untangled all my netting from the remaining crop and rolled it up, painstakingly pulled all my support rods up out of the earth and transported all of my gear to his home where he and his wife have it stored safely for the winter. His willingness to help me in this way actually moved me to tears. When I say I couldn’t be farming without the support of my community, this is a perfect example of what I mean.

Snapshot 8:

I have one customer who I have nicknamed the Sweet Pea Lady. She has told me her name but I am terrible with names (I’m hoping that I see more of her this season so I can ask her again, and this time write it down!!). We had a very cold spring and a super late last frost, so my sweet peas, generally a late spring/early summer crop on PEI, only had a very short window to grow before the heat kicked in and growth slowed. After the initial very short burst of flowers I was no longer happy with the quality of the blooms because of the impact of the heat, so I stopped selling them at the Farmers’ Market. I did however pick one or two bunches per week to have on my table at the market for kids to smell. I always like to have something that children who visit my booth can smell. It gets them engaged with the natural world (something that is really important to me) and watching their faces light up when they inhale all that sweetness makes my day. The first week that I took my little jar of sweet peas that were only for display to the market I had a lovely woman come by the booth and bury her face in them. She emerged from the cloud of colour and sweetness glowing with delight and asked me how much I wanted for the sweet peas. I explained that they weren’t for sale, but after she explained that they reminded her of her mother I finally caved and sold them to her. The next week I brought two bunches: one for the kids to smell and one for her. She came most weeks all summer long. Every week I cautioned her that this would probably be the last week of sweet peas and every week she smiled at me and said “you said that last week.” Every week she came back, and perhaps because she did, every week when I checked the sweet peas there were always just enough still blooming through the hot, dry weather for two bunches for my table. One of the last weeks that I was at the market I asked her if she would let me take a photo of her with the sweet peas. She graciously obliged. Here is my Sweet Pea Lady. I’m really hoping to see her back at the booth this summer.

sweetpeas

Snapshot 9:

When I made the decision to pack up and come to California to help support my mother this past fall it meant leaving my farm, but it also meant leaving my part time English as a Second Language teaching job. A few days before I was due to leave, my boss Judy handed me a sheet of paper with a list of twenty flower bouquet orders on it. Out of a desire to be supportive of my having to give up my job and the accompanying salary my colleagues had all ordered bouquets to help me sell some of the flowers that were still in the field before I left. Their support and encouragement both before I left and while I have been on the west coast has been unwavering. I will never forget the surprise flower order that they placed, and the vote of confidence that they gave me.

Snapshot 10:

Operating a booth outside at the Charlottetown Farmers’ Market means having a tent to set my table up under. I managed to purchase a tent from my friends Lorna and Brian, but the tent is a heavy unfolding contraption that is impossible to set up alone. This past season my dear friend Claude offered to help me set up every week. I would pick her up on my way to the market, we would set up the tent together, and then she would do her weekly market shop. It only took a few minutes, but knowing that I had her support took a huge amount of stress off my shoulders every Saturday morning. Claude doesn’t have a car (or a driver’s license), so once she went home from the market with all of her groceries I did not expect her to return. But every week that I sold at the market this past season, without fail, Claude walked back to the market to help me break down my booth and pack it into the car. Sometimes she would even manage the booth for while I ran inside for a bite to eat. I’m not sure if she realizes what a life-saver she was, but I wouldn’t have gotten through my first market season without her. Here is Claude being the boss lady that she is at my flower booth last season:

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Snapshot 11:

Lorna and Brian had a permanent booth indoors at the Farmers’ Market until this past season. They farmed; they cooked; she wove; they pickled….they are exceptionally talented human beings. When I needed to buy a tent, I bought one from them. When I ran out of space to plant things at the farm Lorna took my extra seedlings and planted them at their farm. And when i needed somewhere to dry my flowers Lorna offered their barn. I had not managed to harvest all of the drying flowers before I left this past fall and so Lorna, in her endlessly generous way, offered to harvest what was left for me and add it to what was already drying in the barn. Lorna and Brian cheered me on through the season and were always available to offer suggestions or support. Their encouragement and support are another example of why I am farming today.

lorna

Snapshot 12:

Because I headed to California in mid-September I had to stop selling at the Charlottetown Farmers’ Market before the season ended. My community knew why I was cutting the season short, and so my last Saturday at the market customers turned out in droves to purchase flowers. I had so many people come to buy flowers that Saturday in fact that I sold out before noon and spent the last two hours of the market sitting at an empty table awkwardly smiling at customers who I had nothing to sell to. Not that I’m complaining!

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Photo by Dave Alex

 

I have many more stories about the ways in which my community supported my fledgling flower farm this past season, but those will have to be shared in a future post. Suffice it to say that the reason why I named my farm Red Roots Flower Farm is because it wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the unwavering support of my community. Do you have any stories about ways that Red Roots flowers have contributed something positive to your life this past season? I’d love to hear your story in the comments section below this post. Thanks so much for reading friends!

Many people don’t realize that for farmers, production begins in December. While most of my friends are shopping for Christmas gifts and celebrating the holidays, I am pouring over my notes from the previous season to decide which crops were well-loved by customers, had a good vase life, long stems, and provided the best colours, textures and perfumes to make it onto the following year’s seed order list. Some tried and true flowers I will even purchase in December. But come January 2nd the online flower seed shopping arena is a battle of the fittest — one in which only those with a well-organized and executed plan come out on top. The last few years I had my list organized alphabetically, and the minute online seed shops opened I was a mouse clicking machine! Despite my wicked finger clicking skills however, every year by the time I make it to checkout someone else has gotten there before me and I receive the groan-worthy message when I try to pay: “this item has sold out and has been removed from your shopping cart.” It is always seeds that are in high demand, and I always kick myself for not splitting my order up into smaller groups that I pay for along the way even if it means that I have to pay more in shipping just to make sure I score the seeds I most want to grow.

seeds

This year I developed a new strategy: Organize my seed order list with the seeds I couldn’t do without at the top, divide my order in two, and have someone (in this case it was my dear mother) help me with placing the order. She had her list. I had mine. When the shop opened we both went into a clicking frenzy, calling out whenever we finished ordering something and cheering for each variety successfully added to the order. This year my strategy worked pretty well. I only had two things removed from my card at checkout! It wasn’t perfect. I’m still waiting for Floret to restock the things I didn’t manage to score the first round, and that means more shipping, but I got most of what I wanted and I’m looking forward to another bountiful season overflowing with swoon-worthy flowers to use in my arrangements and bouquets in 2019.

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By the end of January I have spent a pretty penny on seeds. It is expected, but it leaves the barrel pretty empty at a time of year when I have almost nothing to sell. By February I am beginning to organize my seed-starting plan and budget for seed-starting soil, trays, and heating for the greenhouse. Especially on Prince Edward Island, my seeds need to be started and grown in heated greenhouse space from the end of March through the middle of June. Once we are finally past last frost I have to prep my field. This means doing soil tests to see what my soil needs to yield a healthy harvest this season, purchasing and spreading compost and any other soil amendments that are needed, transplanting my babies out into their new beds, and then babying them with row cover and water and whatever else they need until they are strong enough to stand on their own stems (with netting support!)

greenhousephoto

Bulbs like narcissus begin to bloom some time in June and, depending on the year, can bloom into early July. A few perennials like lilacs start blooming in early summer too. But unless we have an unusually warm spring (which has not been the case the past couple of years) my seeds often don’t start blooming in any great quantity until mid July. This means that I have been investing in my crops for over six months before I begin to see any return on my investment. Why am I sharing all of this? Because I want to communicate what you, my customers are investing in when you purchase your Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share in December, January or February. The idea behind a CSA is that customers are invited to invest early so that the farmer has the income necessary to be able to invest in seeds, compost, heat, irrigation, and everything else that guarantees that you receive gorgeous flowers come summer. Your early investment makes a world of difference in the quality and health of the flowers I am growing for you.

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I am very excited to be embarking on my 3rd season of growing at the Mount Continuing Care Community this spring. In 2018 you told me that you loved my Sweet Peas, so this season I am going to attempt two rounds of sweet peas: one in the spring and a second in the fall. The Foxgloves (one of my all-time favourites) and Icelandic Poppies were also a hit at the farmer’s market, so there will be more of those beauties this season, as well as my old faithfuls, Zinnias and Snapdragons. A couple things did not make the cut this season. While Cerinthe has always been a favourite of mine in bouquets, it did not hold up well in market bouquets last season, so I have decided that until I am doing more design work in air-conditioned spaces I am going to have to put that beauty on hold. Another flower that did not make the cut this year unfortunately is Stock. I love love love this flower, but we have been having some super cold springs that then turn into super hot, dry summers overnight, and this past season my Stock sat in the garden all summer taking up valuable space and doing very little, and then burst into bloom in the fall. I may give it another go in the future, but given our long, bitterly cold springs lately, it won’t be for a while.

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There are a number of flowers I have never grown before that I am going to give a try this season, like Geum, Astrantia, Sicilian Honey Lily, Tuberose and a variety of Gladiolus that I have fallen in love with this winter in California (I had never been much of a fan before). I look forward to receiving your thoughts and feedback on my selection this season!

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I will be selling at the Saturday Charlottetown Farmers’ Market for you to pick up individual bouquets, but if you are at all intrigued by the idea of pre-ordering and receiving a weekly CSA bouquet this season (or gifting one to someone else) I hope you will hop on over to my shop and place your order now. A few good reasons for joining my CSA:

*CSA bouquets are larger and fuller than market bouquets. More bounty for your table or desk!
*My CSA customers are guaranteed flowers every week (I will not sell that gorgeous bouquet to someone else before you arrive at the market)
*Starting this year, CSA customers will receive early-bird discounts on Christmas wreaths and design workshops
*CSA customers are the first to receive news on upcoming seasonal floral events and workshops
*CSA customers can pick up their bouquets at the Saturday Farmers’ Market or from convenient downtown locations during the week

All that to say that I hope you will join me! If you have any questions feel free to shoot me a message via my contact form

Wishing you all a great weekend!

I won’t lie — it has been an incredibly challenging week on the farm. Just like every profession, there are times when the sun shines just enough and the rain falls in perfect amounts and the flowers look happy and healthy and I feel incredibly blessed to be doing something so beautiful with my life…..and then there are times when I find myself wondering if I am really cut out for this calling after all. This week I asked myself many times over if I am going to make it as a farmer. I still don’t have a definite answer.

This spring on Prince Edward Island has been very long and very cold. We had frost after what was supposed to be the last frost date, and after many days in the teens and 20s. The temperature has been up in the double digits and then plummeting down to almost freezing on and off for weeks. Those of you who have been following me on Facebook will have seen my dollar store plastic cup TLC strategy — going up the field in the evening and covering each sweet pea plant with a cup and burying it in soil, returning in the morning to pull the cups up again, and then back to the field in the evening to put all the sweet peas back under their little plastic domes. Miraculously, in total I only lost four plants. The others are all finally starting to climb their trellis, and I am really looking forward to being able to share some gorgeous sweet peas with you in the coming weeks.

Due to the crazy weather and heavy rains I had to delay tilling the field later than usual this year too. I finally got my first babies transplanted on June 18th. The rest of the crop went in between the 19th and 25th. This week we have had a lot of heat followed by lots of rain, and my zinnias and now many other flowers on the field have started getting attacked by what looks like earwigs. This afternoon I went around the field setting homemade earwig traps — jars filled with vegetable oil and soy sauce. Apparently earwigs are nocturnal, which would be why I have not seen any of them on my plants when I am in the field. They have been shredding my seedlings, which has been very hard to watch. Initially not being sure what was causing the damage, I sprayed my plants with fish fertilizer to help strengthen them, and tried a number of other home remedies. Unfortunately nothing has worked so far, so when it was suggested to me that it might be earwigs I decided to set some traps and see if I make any progress. I will go back tomorrow to see what I catch. I have always believed that if things are in balance insects will get what they need without wiping out what I need….but having invested significant time and energy in adding compost to my plot this spring and planting a cover crop in the fall that I tilled into the soil this spring, this week I have begun to wonder if my theory about balance was simply wrong.

Today I woke up to a torrential downpour. In general I love a heavy rainfall — both because I find it incredibly peaceful, but also because it gives me a reason to slow down and get caught up on computer work or even reading whatever my current novel is (at the moment ‘The Weight of Ink’). But today as I lay in bed looking out at the wind throwing the branches of the trees this way and that what I was thinking of was my flowers and how much stress they have been subjected to over the last couple of weeks. The more stress they have the more susceptible they are to being attacked by insects. Insects seem to just know which ones are most weakened by the weather conditions and choose those ones to feed upon.

After setting the earwig traps at the farm today I took a walk around, checking each row to see how each variety is doing. Some are doing really well — thriving really, while others have sustained a lot of insect damage — so much that I’m not sure they will recover from it. This is the first year I have had so much insect damage on so many plants. As I was walking back to my car I noticed that the two (still far too short to be blooming, but nevertheless healthy) poppies that I had noticed just starting to crack through their skins yesterday had burst open. Up close they were short-stemmed but in truth also absolutely perfect. I have them in a vase next to my computer as a type this. They make me smile every time I look up.

My farming mentor told me that you have to take time to look up when you farm. You have to find the miracles in the every day experiences on the land, and that if you don’t, you have no business farming. Some days I have to admit that I forget his advice. I am soaked and cold, or tired, or in a rush to get something done so I can get to my other job, but then a yellow-centred white poppy stops me in my path and reminds me to find the signs of hope and beauty. Today it was the poppies. A few days ago it was a robin on a power line chirping down at me as if in conversation. Farming has a way of doing this. It extends constant invitations to connect if we pay close enough attention. Have you had an invitation like this recently? I would love to hear about it in the comments section below. Have a beautiful Canada Day weekend, friends!

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.

Butterstone Farm 3

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.

Butterstone Farm 4

Butterstone Farm 5

Butterstone Farm 6

Butterstone Farm 7

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

Clothesline

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.