As I reflect on the different seasons in my life, I am able to see how being aware of, tending to, and cultivating the earth has shaped me in subtle and significant ways. I am thankful for these different memories and experiences and how they have led to today.
I attribute my start in flower farming to three aspects of my life. The first is the fact that I was raised in a family that loved the outdoors. Even though we lived in a flat, hot, humid city, we were able to get outside and make memories hiking, sailing, and camping. There were many adventures through the years with many tales as a result. I am thankful for my parents, for their love of the outdoors, and for their instilling in me a love for getting outside.
The second aspect that has defined my start in farming is my faith. My faith in Jesus compels me to take seriously stewardship of the earth. This means that my family and I make choices to limit use of plastic, excess waste, and water. We use cloth napkins, recycle, compost, combine errands into one trip in the car, and try to buy as much locally as possible. Growing your own food and flowers is about as local as you can get.
The third aspect that has shaped my love of growing flowers is a pursuit of creativity. This is also linked to my faith in that I believe that there is an inherent ability or desire to create in each of us as we reflect our Creator. I seriously started pursuing creating and making in 2003 soon after getting married and moving to a new city. Finding myself with excess time alone, I learned how to quilt, sew, and knit. (I am wearing one of the first hats I knit in the picture on the left, knit years before but still going strong). It was amazing to follow a set of directions and end up with something tangible. It was even more amazing to take the basic principles and add my own spin on them to get a unique creation. My desire to learn and create has led to embroidery, building furniture, baking bread, and many other pursuits. Growing plants was one of the outcomes of learning and stretching my abilities. In this, though, I am not creating the plant as much as I am tending. However, I have found that, just as you start with the basic directions and then branch off from there, I am expanding my creativity as I investigate drying flowers, breeding plants, and many other potential areas of interest.
My first real experience with tending plants was the first home that my husband and I bought in Asheville, NC. It was a small historic Sears catalog kit house on a close-knit street. After renovating the house over two years, the last and most rewarding part was landscaping the outside of the house. Planting a weeping cherry tree, hydrangeas, and many more beautiful plants around the house while fending off kudzu and ivy was a great experience. Andy and I traveled down to Hendersonville to visit their Flower Festival and came home with trays and trays of annuals and perennials. We tucked those into the ground, hung our hammock, and enjoyed the beautiful flowers. It took 3 years to get to that spot; but it was worth it.
After this season came an adventure in a completely different terrain. We moved to Honduras to assist a medical clinic eight hours from the capital, off the beaten path on the border of El Salvador. The Honduran terrain was tropical with hills, mountains, and streams. The land was bare in some places because of deforestation. Mud slides were common during the rainy season. We were in Honduras for two years. Where we lived, many men and women walked out of the small town into the surrounding countryside each day to get to their milpas. This also refers to the crop they would grow. These men and women would farm their small patch of land day in and day out, trying to scratch out a living from the overworked ground. During the rainy season, there were weeks of monsoon-like weather that would leave the dirt road full of pot holes. During the dry season, there was no rain for months at a time; dust covered everything. You can imagine the challenge of growing crops without water. Walking the hills of Intibuca with a baby in a backpack gave me an opportunity to visit these farms and learn about life in this region. I saw what crops the farmers grew, how they incorporated livestock and poultry into their farms, and the mango and papaya trees that grew around town for anyone to enjoy. I remember walking by a mature mango tree in the forest with ripe mangoes littering the ground around it, rotting as they were not picked or eaten. While I did not have the opportunity to get my hands in the dirt during this season because of chasing around a toddler, I appreciated the life the people of Santa Lucia were living, their generosity, and how hard they worked to provide for their families.
When we moved back to the States, we moved to an area know for agriculture. Hendersonville, NC is known for its apples, but it also grows tomatoes, berries, corn, and many other crops. The home we landed in is surrounded by mature shrubs against the house with trees surrounding the yard. We put up a small raised garden bed in the sunniest spot we could find and grew some beautiful foxgloves for two years. The garden bed never grew tomatoes, cucumbers, or peppers because the trees always filled in and shaded the bed by the time summer rolled around. So we pulled up the wood around the bed and tried planters on the back porch. All this time, we watched our neighbors who lived behind us tending to their beautiful garden in full sun. We spent time with them and were the beneficiaries of their generosity over the years.
The day came when we had the opportunity to buy the land behind us as our neighbors were too old to take care of it. At this time, their garden had turned into grass again, but there was still a faint outline of where it had been. As spring crept in that year, the first thing I worked on was the new garden. It was amazing to have a sunny patch of land.
I diagrammed everything, put in new beds, mulched pathways, and requested and was built by Andy a fence to keep out deer and the goats that we had at the time. I grew tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, squash, and more. We planted asparagus and rhubarb, blueberries, and kiwis. Finally, I planted sunflowers, zinnias, and peonies. I loved getting food from the garden; but I loved the flowers even more. Those flowers made my heart happy. They brought joy and cheer to our home. I gave away jars full of flowers and bags of produce as we had way too much (zucchini) for our family. In tending to the land, I had a sense that I was participating in something that was beyond me and yet so very me.
Starting plants from seed, planting them in the ground, and caring for them as they produced fruit and seed made sense to me and tapped into the way I am wired. Learning about crop rotation, no-till farming practices, regenerative farming, compost, and mulch also tapped into my love of learning and helped me as I balanced out my observations from Honduras with different methods and resources.
Each year after that first year, more and more of the beds have been turned over to flowers. Last year, I grew a majority of flowers with a smattering of tomatoes and lettuce. I tried out so many new-to-me varieties to find out what grew well, what I liked, what would make a good filler for bouquets, and what worked well together. This year, the fifth year tending the land, the beds will consist entirely of flowers except for our perennial asparagus and rhubarb beds. The farm will be full of color and joy. I can't wait.
I see, looking back, that learning and being stretched continues to be a theme in my life. I look forward to continuing this journey of flower farming and learning more and more each season.