photo credit: www.brooklynmariephotography.com
"Flowers are essentials", Clara of Meadow & Thicket flower farm of Wildwood, AB emphasizes...even better if they are locally grown. This Local County Stories interview is as fun and inspiring as I'm sure you can imagine, looking at Clara's trademark welcoming smile pictured here. One of the many reasons I enjoy doing these interviews is being able to share the contagious enthusiasm of these amazing local people who are pushing their limits (i.e. climate challenges), prioritizing relationships, and genuinely loving what they do. If you think that Alberta would be a tricky place to be a cut- flower farmer you may be right, but according to Clara, it is definitely a rewarding challenge. Here now is my interview with Clara:
Laura: What is the nature of your farm and can you tell a bit of the story about how you started growing flowers as a business? (Did it start as a hobby?)
Clara: We are late-comers to farming; we are both over the half century mark and realized that we were running out of time to pursue this life-long dream. We wanted to be close to Edmonton because my parents live there, and it is where I grew up. I am strongly attached to, and love YEG! Our farm is just north of the little town of Wildwood, west of the city about a hour and a bit. We grow our flowers on a carefully tended 0.5 acre. The remainder of the farm is comprised of meadows and thickets that are left wild, as those areas are marginal for agriculture, but superb for wildlife and birds and insects. We are adding more perennial beds, but the intensively managed part of the farm will not get much bigger, as we are focused on intentional, small scale production. I had always grown flowers as a gardener, and the idea of growing them for sale evolved from the opportunity of the additional space to grow that the farm offered.
Laura: Is there a variety of flowers that you'd consider to be your favourite to grow?
Clara: That is the most difficult question to ask a flower lover! I love everything in its season, from daffodils, tulips and irises in spring, to sweet peas and peonies in early summer, dahlias, sunflowers and zinnias in late summer and dried everything the rest of the year. We are so lucky to live where we can enjoy the cycles of the seasons and the ebb and flow of life in the garden.
Laura: Are there any flowers that you can't grow here that you wish you could grow?
Clara: Oh, I am a plant addict and have more “zone-envy” than I'd like to admit, but it is subsiding as I figure out how to work with my micro-climates and learn how many amazing plants we can actually grow here. I do wish I could grow kniphofia (pronounced nee-FOF-ee-a) and magnolias though…
Laura: Which gardening zone would be your ideal if you had a choice (or it's ok if you wouldn't change a thing- gardening in zone 3 keeps life challenging and interesting?).
Clara: I actually garden in a full Zone 2a, and I love the challenge of it. It is very rewarding to learn to nuances of the various special microclimates and soil conditions around our place and to find out what is possible. For example, I am hoping some of the hellebores I planted in a very sheltered wooded spot might survive the winter, they are Zone 4- but with the angles of the slope resulting in consistent good snow accumulation in that spot, the dappled shade, - maybe I have a hope! It is this type of thing that I love: the quiet, intentional observing of patterns, and the feedback from the land when I finally “get it”.
Laura: What local connections have you made through this flower business?
Clara: I have made so many friends at my farmers’ market, other producers and customers, I can’t tell you how much I love my market! And the other flower farmers in and around Edmonton. They are just the warmest, most supportive group; I am blessed. And I am so excited about the relationships I have made with Glow Juicery, Black Diamond Distillery and Bench Creek Brewing (Edson), where we are closing beautiful loops, with their fabulous by-products being used to made top quality compost that I use for building soil and on the farm!
Laura: What do you think is the benefit to people of buying local flowers?
Clara: Thank you for asking this question. Buying local anything can build communities and real relationships between humans. Also, in the case of flowers or food, it can renew
our relationships with the land we all depend on. Choosing local and investing the time in knowing where and from whom your daily essentials (and yes I think flowers are essentials!) are coming from and how they are produced or created are ways that we each can become more connected and become change agents for a healthier future. I know that sounds lofty, but I so believe this. Local flowers connect you with the abundance of beauty that our growing seasons here produce. The rich variety is phenomenal; what is available changes every week. They are only here for a finite time, but in that, they are like life and great tomatoes! Indulge in their unique gloriousness while they are here, reminisce about their exuberance through the quiet of winter, and savour the anticipation of their return!
Laura: How do you find time to rest during the busy summer months?
Clara: This is one of my biggest challenges, but I am super lucky to have some additional part-time help this summer. Good scheduling helps, but also just intentionally slowing down and accepting my limits is what I am working gently away on.
Laura: If you had to pick a favourite season what would it be?
Clara: Oh, I can’t. I love the ebb and flow of the seasons. They feel like life, I need all of them.
Laura: How can people best follow you/contact you to learn more about your farm?
Clara: I love to meet people in person ( I am old fashioned!) so visiting me at my market stand at the City Market Downtown in the summer is one great way- please drop in just to say hi and literally “smell the flowers”- this just totally makes my day when people bury their noses in the bouquets! No sales pressure- just do come and say hi and enjoy! But folks can also contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, check out my website at meadowandthicket.ca, or for social media- you can find me mostly on Instagram @meadow.and.thicket, I struggle with Facebook but am trying to improve! If people are interested in “nerding out” on sustainable flower growing, they can also tune in to the podcast I co-host with Heather from Boreal Blooms in Cold Lake. It is called “The Sustainable Flowers Podcast” (sustainableflowerspodcast.libsyn.com,) or on itunes.