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Blank Slate

It’s not very often you get to erase a year’s worth of mistakes and start over.

That’s the thought that crossed my mind as I rode the tractor back and forth across the field today in the late autumn light, tilling up the old planting beds and pathways.  When I was finished, the field was a blank slate again.  Really hardly a trace was left of the long hours of labor, sore knees, achy backs, beads of sweat, and potent sighs that shaped the field throughout this last season, producing the beautiful blooms that make this little flower farm what it is.

In some ways, this erasure also smudges out the successes.  Gone is the dahlia bed that was rampant with the most bountiful and stunning harvest to date.  Gone is the stand of perfectly punchy-pink coxcomb celosia that made bouquets sing.  Gone is the thicket of cosmos that just kept pouring their hearts out with cheerful buds no matter how many we cut each day.  Gone are the billowy purple lisianthus that grew taller than any others had before, easily mistaken for hot-house roses.

Yet again I am struck by how much farming has in common with Zen meditation.  Create. Observe. Erase.  Rediscover.  Start again.  Create. Observe. Erase. Rediscover.  Start again.  Always creating.  Always erasing.  Somewhere along the way, one begins to sense the fundamental nature of existence, how everything is just as it is and nothing more.

Would you be surprised to learn that at one time I was a certifiable control freak?  A few years of farming fixed that.   And choosing an ephemeral  media (flowers) for my art certainly has helped me to adopt an enthusiastic appreciation for living in the  moment, drinking in a particular beauty as if I’ll never see it again.

Because in all likelihood, I won’t.

At Winter’s Door

Like clockwork (pun absolutely intended — I’m usually good for the cheap jokes), the switch out of daylight savings time each year always signals a decided change in my life.  Yes, I’m thankful for the extra hour of sleep on a chilly Sunday morning just like everyone else.  But more importantly, it means that the hours of daylight are noticeably shrinking and my schedule decidedly shifts from long days of exhausting work in the fields and the studio to a more relaxed pace, often involving quiet long evenings at home (an unheard-of luxury during the growing/wedding season).

I cook.  I bake.  I drink a glass – or two – of chardonnay or port (I can’t drink during the growing season because I’m so exhausted, I immediately fall asleep at the first sip!).  I go to bed not feeling wrung out of every single ounce of energy in every single fiber of my body.  I knit.  I read.  I hang out with friends (those that still recognize me after such a long hiatus from any social life at all).  I might even watch a few guilty pleasure shows on TV (I’m looking at you, Gossip Girl).   Gosh, I feel “normal” for a few short months.

white lisianthus

This weekend I finished the last of the weddings for the 2012 season.  And there is going to be a hard freeze tonight and tomorrow that will surely kill off what remains in the field.  The hoop house will keep providing flowers through Thanksgiving, but then it’s all over for another year.  I am grateful for the much-needed rest.  I am also, as I am every year, a little anxious.  It’s a truly unusual and daunting experience to look into the long, dark, cold days of winter without the high-paced routine of the last nine months to keep you on track.   Don’t get me wrong… the winter is not exactly dull and boring around Love ‘n Fresh.  It is full of meetings and proposals for the next season’s weddings as well as tons of reflection on how the past season went and planning for how to make the next season better.  I haunt antique and thrift stores for vintage finds to add to our rental collections.   I also always seem to have a few special projects up my sleeve that inevitably take up way more time than I anticipate (this winter, I’m hoping to overhaul the website).  There’s a huge stack of seed catalogs on my desk that I want to get through before the stark reality of what worked and what didn’t this year fades into fanciful memory.  And there’s an even larger stack of receipts and other bookkeeping tasks threatening to bury me alive if I don’t finally sit down and do the dreaded data entry.  More wine please!

Limelight hydrangeas

But for now,  I’m starting with the first long dark evening after the clocks have “fallen back” by making a hearty homemade meal (veggie lasagna) and spending time with those I love.  It’s been a long time since I’ve had the chance to do this.  I’m ever so grateful for the season that is about to pass and the season soon to come and all of you who have followed the journey.

ALL PHOTOS IN THIS POST ARE BY THE LOVELY MARIA MACK PHOTOGRAPHY and were taken in the Love ‘n Fresh flower fields. 

Seasonal Change

Love 'n Fresh Field

Photo by the amazing Michael Persico

It has been so long since I blogged that I bet most of you didn’t even know that there was a blog.  Actually, before I was a full time flower farmer, I was a big time blogger.  But life has a way of ebbing and flowing.   I have more than a few passions in life, namely flowers (obviously), photography, baking  and writing.  I can’t decide if knitting belongs on that list or not?  Nah, it’s just something to keep my hands busy while watching TV.  Anyhoo, when the weather turns chilly — especially when it turns damp at the same time  —  my brain gets the itch to play more with words than flowers.  A famer’s prerogative is to turn to other tasks in the winter.   Alas, it’s not quite winter yet and there is still much to be done in the flower fields before putting them to bed, but I couldn’t resist  gathering together some thoughts in a blog.

Dahlia 'Teddy'

The dahlias have been rioting the past two weeks.  I harvest buckets upon buckets nearly every day and yet they still throw up their colorful faces in succession after succession of stunning blooms.  I’m not complaining that they are so needy.

Van full of pretty

The dahlias went into making this van full of wedding flowers especially colorful and sumptuous.   The bride couldn’t have been more happy.  She and her ladies looked amazing holding their bouquets.

Bride and bridesmaids with bouquet

The flower field changes its topography almost every day as crops begin to fade in the cold and we prep newly empty beds for fall planting.  Already tucked in the freshly tilled earth are several million (yes, million!) seeds for 6 varieties of larkspur, 4 varieties of nigella, 3 varieties of queen anne’s lace, a tried-and-true variety of buplerum, and the ever-classic bells of Ireland.  Coming this week are about 4,000 tulip bulbs that will be in the ground by Friday (I hope).  There are also several thousand daffodils arriving that I hope to naturalize along the fence line so we can pick as needed but not give up precious bed space to give them a home.  Plus won’t that be a lovely display each March and April, ruffled happy heads encircling the field, cheering us on with our spring chores?   And then there are the 150 peony roots that will be added to what we already have.   Not to mention the 1500 ranunculus and 600 anemone corms that need planted before the end of the month.

Flower field

Ever present amongst these autumn additions  is the time-consuming task of harvesting the blooms that are still pouring out of the current-season’s rows of flowers.   At least until frost comes.  The air seems to be chilling more rapidly this year so the frost may not be far off.   The topic of frost is poignant for a farmer and deserves its own blog post someday.

Putting plastic on a hoop house

One gargantuan task that finally got checked off the to-do list (just in the nick of time if frost is indeed nigh) is finishing the hoop house construction.  I bought the “kit” last November and it took nearly a year to get this puppy finished!  Granted,  we only focused working on it for about a total of 15 days, but those days were spread out over the entire year and it felt like this wonderful addition to the farm would never. ever. ever! be complete.  I am so grateful for all the amazing help I got from my family, my staff, and my landlord.  It really does take a village (and maybe a mini van) to build a hoop house!   Now the plants inside (dahlias, mums, lisianthus, dianthus, salvia, ornamental cabbage, cerinthe, ranunculus, and more) are feeling snug as a bug in a rug, and I’m breathing a huge sigh of relief.  It will be a wonderful place to escape to on winter days when it feels like spring may never come.  Though at the moment, I honestly can’t wait for winter.  I am very tired right now.  I never knew a person could work so hard and exist on so little sleep.  I look forward to many winter naps!!!   And hopefully more blog posts.

Jennie Love at Love 'n Fresh Flowers

Aquilegia Barlow

Aquilegia Barlow


Today I felt like a kid on Christmas morning that came downstairs to find a pony after preparing herself for a pair of roller skates.   Don’t get me wrong – roller skates are fun.  But a pony is AMAZING!  And that’s just what these blooms from the Aquilegia Barlow series were for me.

Over a year ago,  I got an order of Aquilegia Barlow plugs from Gro ‘n Sell and, with some trepidation, gave up a long portion of a row in the overflowing perennial beds to these plants that I knew wouldn’t produce anything to cut until the next season.  It was hard to have faith that the investment, in both money and space, would be worth it.   I figured I would at least get roller skates out of them, which means they’d be delicate and useful for small bouquet work like the many Aquilegia canadensis I already grow.


Aquilegia Barlow


I had learned about the exquisite Barlow series of wild columbine from flower maven, Erin B.  I saw photos  of hers and couldn’t believe how tall they were.  And the dark rich colors were much more saturated than the pastels typical of Aquilegia.  I had to try them!  But I was skeptical that mine would be as nice.  Erin, after all, surely has flower fairies that work for her since all her organic flowers are simply out-of-this-world stunning!  Mine never seem to be as tall or as beautiful as hers.

I would have kissed her today if we weren’t separated by a continent!!   These blooms are AMAZING!  They’re the pony I always wanted!  The stems are so very very straight, sturdy and tall – most are nearly three feet!   The plants are absolutely loaded with buds.  I harvested a big armful today and suspect there will be many more to come.  The colors are really wonderful and “vintage”, perfect for this spring’s weddings!   The petals are so ruffly and romantic.  Sigh…

I floated through the rest of my day after harvesting these, on a pure flower high.   It didn’t hurt that there was a soft patter of rain drops too.  It was a good day!


When I saw this book reviewed on Design*Sponge a few weeks ago,  I was decidedly intrigued since Grace (Design*Sponge  extraordinaire) has great taste and a similar fondness as myself for lush blooms.  Certainly the cover image in alluring!  But I was also decidedly skeptical about two things…

First, it’s an expensive hardbound book.  In today’s economy, it’s hard to justify forking over $45 for just one book.  Especially if it’s essentially a picture book, which is the impression I got from the description on Design*Sponge.  I’m all for pretty pictures of flowers, but I’m very lucky to get to see pretty flowers every single day so it would take a lot for me to buy a book to see the same.

Second, Bringing Nature Home is billed as a book about local seasonal flowers.  Forgive me, but I’ve gotten my hopes up high before about such books, only to cringe at seeing imported roses or orchids on every other page.   I couldn’t help but suspect this one might be the same.

However, dear Lovelies, I was absolutely wrong, on both accounts! Much to my gleeful delight!!  I saw the book today during a stop at Terrain, my inspiration haunt.  I started flipping through its pages, finding my heart skipping a beat with each new stunning and positively seasonally appropriate design by Nicolette Owen (proprietress of Brooklyn’s Little Flower School).  I was also immediately pleased to see the book broken down into four sections — Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter — and it adhered closely to those headings.  The  photos are beautifully styled and decidedly inspirational.  I was so impressed by how approachable flowers in the home were made to be in each luscious image.   And not a single floral design had even a hint of imported, out-of-season elements.  Bravo!

The book does mostly consist of pictures.  But they are breathtaking and also come with detailed captions that give the proper (you don’t know how uncommon this is until you have paged through several floral design books) names of every element in the arrangement, both flowers and foliage.  It also serves to inspire one to use both simple and elaborate displays when showcasing flowers in a room.  At the back of the book are a few pages that give more details on how to create a floral design and what flowers might be in season when selecting blooms, foliage, and seed heads from your own backyard to bring inside.  It is nice to have a bit more technical information included, but it really is very basic and not reason enough to purchase this book.

The reason to buy this book is for unadulterated inspiration.  I promptly plunked down my $45 at Terrain (yes, it was an impulse buy and I could have gotten it for half price on Amazon, but then I wouldn’t have gotten the pretty gift bag…) and am happy to place this beautiful tome in my studio for my own and for clients’ future inspiration.


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