I can’t tell you how delighted I am that there is so much interest, energy and momentum behind the Seasonal Flower Movement now. I get so many messages and notes from beginning farmer-florists around the world who are embarking on their first voyage into the wild and wonderful world of flower farming. Millions of tiny flower seeds are being lovingly sown in greenhouses and under grow lights this spring with so much hope, promise and wishful thinking. It’s thrilling to imagine all of the new beauty that will be grown and created this season as part of this incredible movement.
When I think back to my early years of flower farming it is with a mix of heartbreak, regret and compassion. I made so many mistakes, which is normal and to be expected when you’re learning something big and new. The sad part is how hard I was on myself through the learning process.
The early years were lonely, and scary and I felt so insecure that I beat up on myself the majority of the time. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing and reading something in a book or on a growing forum is very different than actually doing it. In addition to feeling completely lost when it came to growing flowers, I was spending long, backbreaking hours planting, weeding and battling insects that I couldn’t even identify. All with two small kids in tow while my husband was at work. I felt like a failure on every front.
With so many hours alone, my head was filled with thoughts of doubt about whether I was doing the right thing or if I had really just made a huge, expensive, stupid mistake. Everyone who stopped by would tell me that I was “living the dream” and they wished that they too could stroll through the field and “play with flowers” all day.
Those visits always ended with me sitting alone in the field, crying to myself that something must be very, very wrong because I didn’t feel like I was living any sort of dream (more a nightmare!) and flower farming never felt like play. If I could go back and tell my younger self anything, it would be to lighten up and fail proudly! It was through those massive plunders that I learned EVERYTHING I hold dearly now. But back then I thought they were proof that I was on the wrong path and that I was a failure.
Here on the blog I try and share the very best of what is blooming in the fields and the most wonderful snippets from the week. But I want you to know that for every photo I post, I have at least 100 others that didn’t make the cut. I also chose not to share the ugly side of our life too much. The overflowing, unturned compost piles, the stem-strewn disaster area that is the studio after a big order or wedding, or the diseased plants that are loaded with aphids that Chris and I fret over with sick stomachs. And hardly ever do I post images of me looking as tired or stressed as I actually am. While all of that is very much part of the mix here at Floret, the beauty and positivity is what I choose to highlight.
I’ve worked really hard to create a space that is filled with inspiration and useful information, so I focus more on the abundance and less on the toil. My belief that the world is ugly and negative enough on its own. The media, our Facebook threads, the industry forums, the radio, they are all filled with fear and negativity and drama.
I want to cultivate a space that focuses on the best and most beautiful moments of my life and our flower business. If you were here in person, you would see that the majority of my day is filled with putting out fires, solving problems, cleaning up messes and brainstorming fixes to things that seem impossible. But this space allows me to stop, and sift through the chaos and highlight the gold. To share what I’ve learned so hopefully you can have an easier, more successful time than I’ve had.
But today I want to take a minute and send a big ole dose of encouragement to all the newbie flower farmers, farmer-florists and greenhorn gardeners out there. I feel your pain! I know you’re excited, and scared and probably walking in circles freaking out about the upcoming growing season and how the hell you’re going to get it all done. I’ve been there, felt it, survived it and lived to actually love it in the end. I’m still doing a bit of it today myself. It really does get easier as you go along though.
I thought I’d pass on a few things I’ve learned along the way that I wish I had known way back then. I’ve also included images from the early years in this post, before we had a team, a fancy camera and the kids and Chris (after work) had to help with every aspect of business. It was pretty rough around the edges those days and we’ve worked really, really hard to build what we have today.
Farming if HARD work and so is running and growing a business. The process of taking your passion and hobby and turning it into something that can not only sustain itself one day, but also generate a profit to pay you is no easy task. Give yourself a huge amount of credit for even trying! If I had known how many times I would fail before I got the hang of it, I probably would never had ventured in. But luckily a few very wise and very patient souls mentored me in the early years. It was their steady counsel and generous sharing about their own journey that paved the way for mine.
If you can find a mentor, someone who has actually done what you want to do, I highly recommend investing in this relationship and listening to their hard earned wisdom. But beware of free advice! Everyone has it and if you’ll listen they’ll drown you in it. The lady at the bank, well meaning friends, total strangers, your neighbors, your husbands best friends mother in law! For me, advice is poison and I avoid it at all costs.
Early on I didn’t trust my own knowing or intuition and assumed that the folks with a lot of confidence and a loud voice must know more than me. Many of my biggest mistakes were because I didn’t listen to myself or seek wise counsel from someone with real life experience and instead followed bad advice. My rule now is unless I ask for it and the person has actually done what I’m trying to do, I completely disregard what they are saying. That sounds harsh, I know. But I do take in the love and genuine good will they are trying to impart to me, but I make sure to let their words fall away as soon as they leave their mouth. Most of it is just fear and concern anyway.
What I’ve found is that the most successful people I’ve ever met, rarely give advice and when they do, it’s never unsolicited. When they share, it’s always rooted in their own experience and comes with wisdom, humility and compassion.
You’re going to kill a lot of plants. It is best to just resign yourself to this fact now and avoid a lot of heartache through the years. Even after flower farming for so many years now, I still overwater plants, accidentally run over rows with the tractor while mowing, or “misplace” flats only to find them totally dried up and dead in the corner of the garage because I got distracted by a drop in visitor.
Killing your baby flower plants that you’ve tended for weeks or even months can be so frustrating and heart-wrenching. But it’s going to happen a lot along the way, especially when you’re first starting out. Don’t let it get you down. Think of it as a rite of passage. Just jot it down in your notes, learn from your mistake and I promise you’ll laugh about it someday sooner than you think.
There is more than enough for everyone. Enough business, enough money, enough new customers, enough followers, enough happiness, enough doors that will open, enough opportunities. In the early years I got a lot of flack from more established growers and designers because I was “giving it all away”. That trade secrets are just that, secrets. But from day one I have been blessed with so many generous opportunities, tips, tricks and looooooong emails from very patient people explaining exactly how they achieved such amazing success.
When I first started writing for Growing For Market, I asked Lynn if it would be ok to interview all of my flower heroes. We joked that they’d never even return my email, but it was the only excuse I could think of to actually contact them and ask a bunch of my most burning, personal questions. Before each email I would say a little prayer, that if they agreed to talk with me and they shared their secrets, that I promised when I had something of value to share myself I would always pass it on. Every time, amazingly enough, they agreed to the interview and told me the most amazing things that have made a HUGE impact in my own life. It disproved the theory I had heard so often, that if you shared what you had, you would end up with less. Those generous souls taught me the true meaning of abundance.
Just because you don’t love to weed doesn’t mean you’re a bad farmer and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! While I so badly wanted to be Eliot Coleman and have the perfect weed free show farm, the first year I grew flowers, my cutting garden was a ridiculously delightful jungle of flowers and chest high weeds. While I loved the process of selecting varieties, planting and picking I didn’t anticipate just how much energy would be used battling weeds.
After losing the war on weeds my first year, I borrowed $1,000 from my Mom and invested in landscape fabric and have never looked back. It was a significant initial investment up-front, but it has saved me-and my back–a lot of work in the long run. Be sure to check out my article “the lowdown on landscape fabric” for a few tips for use and installation. When you come out someday, you’ll see I still hate weeding and there are quite a few growing in amongst the flowers. We go for a “good enough” approach and now weed just enough to not inhibit the flowers blooming ability.
It is possible to be both a farmer and a florist. I have heard so many behind the back whispers and spiteful comments over the years from both farmers and florists along the way, that you can’t do both, that you have to pick just one. Well, it certainly isn’t the easiest route to be a farmer-florist, but it is indeed possible.
What you put in you will get back out. (or) You reap what you sow. Cutting corners, skimping, trying to cheat the process will always bite you in the ass, so don’t even waste your effort! Chris and I have come back to this truth hundreds of times. We’ve planted stressed plants, sown seeds into very poor soil, under watered, ignored what we knew was right and not once, ever, did it turn out alright.
Years ago we rented a two acre field down the road, in addition to the two acres we tend here at home. At the rented site we were in a hurry and were out of money so we barely prepped the beds. A tiny sprinkle of compost, minimal fertilizer, no fabric on the beds and overhead sprinklers instead of drip. That year about killed us. We weeded and drug hoses all summer, hired extra labor just to stay on top of the weeds, battled insect pressure and disease like never before and had to scrape for good quality flowers tossing at least half of everything we grew. The crops at home were grown in heavily amended beds, with consistent irrigation and produced literally three times the amount. When we did the math at the end of the year we found that the entire rented plot had been a financial loss. In an effort to save time and money up front, we paid for it in the end.
The next year we let that field go, tilled in all of our grass paths around the farm and added another 40 beds when we thought there was no way to expand. We also worked super hard to grow the best possible blooms and packed every square inch with production. That massive failure taught us such a great lesson, and our farm has been profitable ever since. Now we work really hard to do our best because half-assing things never pays off in the long run.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe it has been seven years since I officially became a flower farmer and nearly 10 since I started down this flower road. While every mistake has led to so much growth and learning, I do wish I had gone easier on myself and enjoyed the ride a little more, even when things seemed hopeless. When the kids were small I felt bad that we worked so much, but the flower business is what allowed me to be a stay at home Mom and also help pay the bills. It sure has been a beautiful, crazy, growth inducing ride.
My wish for you is that the beauty on your journey outweighs the hardship. That when you’re scared or feel like you don’t know, that you can listen to that quiet whisper inside yourself for the answer. And when you make a mistake or try something and it doesn’t turn out like you had hoped, fail proudly my friend. The growth that comes from failure is worth its weight in gold and bruised ego’s heal faster than you think. Then, if you can trust in the abundance of the universe enough, try passing on what you’ve learned to the next person behind you. I promise, you won’t regret it!