The first year - Kiddal Quarry Farm

The first year

Phewf. What a wild ride it has been. My first spring/summer/autumn as a flower farmer, almost a year back in England after years away, and my first year's foray into full time farming. I've built a website, started a blog, started to build a business, grown and arranged countless flowers, and shed some tears along the way. Spending more time here behind a screen, and on social media, has been a source of repeated frustration. Realising that I am a terrible saleswoman, so reluctant to blow my own trumpet, has presented a hurdle that is yet to be overcome. Realising that I love playing with flowers, playing with colour and texture and form, creating something beautiful, has been a relief. But not always, not completely. Churning out bouquets for market can be tiring and lonely. But no job is perfect.

I have loved almost every minute spent outside, come rain or shine, being in my garden has brought me endless joy. Sometimes I just go and stand there and feel choked up with gratitude for all the beauty. I've learned so much about flowers and growing, just by paying attention. I've discovered a whole new world of depth to the seasons, the plant lifecycle completing in front of me. I've watched seeds sprout and grow with eternal amazement, it just does not get old, each one a celebration. I've learned more about creating a garden by doing it than I ever could have learned from a book. Almost everything was in the wrong place, next year a little less will be, and after, a little less still.

It has been slow progress but I've met some wonderful people, a few superstars who have really buoyed me up with their commitment and care. I tried hard to reach out to the community early on, going door to door posting flyers, offering volunteering and meditation, but as the months wore on I lost enthusiasm. Those who came seemed to really benefit, as I did, but I lost the energy to fight to find people who cared. As the summer wore on, I lost the energy for anything beyond my day to day existence.

But I continued to sell flowers. Not lots, but enough. I made bouquets for market, for special occasions, for the local shop. I did flowers for a very dear wedding, and a very dear funeral. And I experienced the thrill of seeing people marvel at the beauty I had co-created. I shared the garden with guests at our open days, and lapped up the wonder and appreciation for the space I'd made, feeling my own enthusiasm reflected back at me. And I experienced the disappointment of flowers unsold, taking time to dry them or press them or enjoy them myself so they wouldn't feel unloved.

I have felt deep gratitude for everyone who has bought any flowers from me, as I figure out what flower farmer means. I've been surprised by just how much there is to learn when it comes to floristry, and how quickly out of date the floristry books can be. We are at the forefront of something, by reverting back to the old days and the old ways, of moss and chicken wire in place of a slab of toxic green plastic, in place of sad dehydrated flowers flown thousands of miles.

I am proud of all that I've achieved, proud to be part of this beautiful creative community, and I'm excited to try again next year, applying all the things I've learned. What a waste it would be to walk away now, after such a lot of learning. But I am also tired, worried about work life balance, and occasionally troubled by what it would take to make any money at this. And I have struggled with loneliness and isolation and then struggled some more, reaching deeper into my yoga and meditation as a result, seeking some steady company inside myself. Being surrounded by family is not always a comfort. I have left the best friends a girl could dream of to be here, and those achingly beautiful mountains, and it breaks my heart just a little daily.

Perhaps this deeply personal reflection is not what you came here for, but I don't apologise for sharing it all. The highs and lows of being a flower farmer are entwined with the highs and lows of my life, the two can't be teased apart. But I'll happily share my flowery successes and failures with you. Share that from a whole packet of eucalyptus seeds I have grown four five inch plants that I am immensely proud of, that there were at least three flowers that I grew from seed that I still can't identify, that I grew dahlias as big as my head that went mainly into making petal confetti. My sunflowers were ever generous giants, my amaranthus almost my only dependable foliage, and Salpiglossis sinuata my greatest pride. My dahlias and stock were destroyed by flea beetle, only the dahlias recovered. My cleome was almost destroyed by slugs early on, and later on I wished it had been. How is it still appearing?

I found an early appreciation for dried flowers, preserving what I could not use and creating something different but beautiful. I have loved creating dried flower wreaths, astounded by the delicate complexity of something I'd made so simply. And I have found myself inundated, weighed down with boxes and boxes of dried flowers that I have felt too overwhelmed to know what to do with.

I discovered the addictive joy of collecting seeds. I just couldn't stop. What magic there is in watching a flower turn back to its original form. It's like being shown a secret, a reward for the initiated. I wandered around other people's gardens for weeks sneakily gathering pockets full of seeds. And I let everything that wanted to create the next generation in my garden go to seed, and then cursed myself when cynglossum seeds kept turning up in my underwear and my bedsheets.

I have cursed myself daily, and continue to, for how little it seems I am able to achieve in a day, my list of tasks only ever growing, never receding, like a strange and unstoppable sea. I curse my inefficiency, my inability to let go and make do creatively, and the hours I seem to spend lost down the rabbit hole of decision making. But I also know that I have never worked this hard, not really, not as doggedly, not even as a lawyer. That to do work that I find meaningful, work that I love, has given me access to a new level of energy that fuels me from dawn until dusk.

And despite my self criticism, I marvel at all that has changed, all those small metaphorical mountains methodically climbed. Tasks that seemed enormous from the outside, accomplished with patience and time. Like this summary of a season, written as I spend two hours on hold to Wix, fixing my website, as the last glimmers of day fade and I have not yet stepped outside. As I sit here and write I am alive to my own nuggets of wisdom, to let go of perfection, to look with kinder eyes.

I make no promises to the future, no demands of the next year. I hope always to do better, whilst striving to be grateful for the me that is already here. I can say with faith that I have done my best. That it has not been easy. That it has been a test. But I still believe this is where I'm meant to be. That there is gold underneath. I will try again next year. And I hope it will be easier, but I don't expect it to be easy.

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