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!

CultivatedbyChristin2

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

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

CultivatedbyChristin6

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

CultivatedbyChristin8

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

CultivatedbyChristin5

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

CultivatedbyChristin3

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

CultivatedbyChristin9

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

CultivatedbyChristin10

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

CultivatedbyChristin7

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

CultivatedbyChristin11

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

CultivatedbyChristin12

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 7.51.08 PM

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

Prince Edward Island

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

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

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

SeasonalBouquetWorkshop

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

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

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

Red Roots Flowers 1

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

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 8.43.25 PM

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

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

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

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

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

poppies

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