This year begins my deep and thoughtful journey into both flowers and self care.
If you’ve been reading my blog or following along with my story on Instagram for any amount of time, you know self care is something I fight to fit in on a daily or weekly basis. It’s not always easy, and with the chaotic seasonality of my life, some days it’s near impossible. But my approach has expanded. I no longer tell myself that a two hour hike, an hour-long bubble bath or some other obnoxiously time-consuming foray are the only acceptable forms of self care. Those are lovely when they’re possible but let’s get real: there’s just not always enough hours. So, I’ve simplified, finding calm in a spritz of lemon balm and peace in the lighting of a candle. I work to create habits of gratitude and try to find moments to celebrate the nature I’m surrounded by everyday.
Then, somewhere along the way, I stumbled into a deep respect and admiration for flowers. I don’t grow the flowers myself because that is the ultimate form of self care: knowing your strengths, knowing your weaknesses and knowing when adding one more thing to your sprawling enterprise is just too much.
But I found flower farmers all around my region and I began watching what they were doing. I followed as many of them as I could on Instagram. I marveled daily over the bouquets of beauty they were sending out into the world. I partnered with a flower farmer to offer bouquets to my own CSA members and began receiving a biweekly delivery myself. I let the flowers transform my living room into something a bit wilder and more colorful. I took my love of flowers further and wrote about some seriously kick-ass flower businesses surrounding Madison.
That’s how I found Erin Schneider of Hilltop Community Farm. Schneider co-owns the diversified CSA and market farm in La Valle, WI with her husband Rob McClure. They specialize in organic fruit and flower production and design. Her writing and approach to farming reflects her passion and love for the people, plants, and ‘dirt-scapes’ in communities near and far. She enjoys giving voice to humans and the humus-sphere, sharing the essence of what the current realities are and what the future of food and farming might be. All of these things (alongside a passion for flowers as self care and nourishment) are why I invited her to share her story on my blog today. She shares her journey into flower farming and a lovely recipe for peony petal tea. I hope you enjoy it all as much as I did ♥
With love and joyous solstice blooms,
Guest post by Erin Schneider of Hilltop Community Farm
It must have started with plucking a daisy’s petals, in my mom’s garden. Mindlessly chanting, “He loves, me, he loves me not,” as I plucked petals daydreaming of a crush I was too awkward to approach in my gangly teenage years. It’s interesting to note that the daisy, along with several thousand species of aster family members, usually have an uneven number of petals, so if you start with ‘(s)he loves me,” that’s probably where you will end up! Maybe the flowers seduced me, as I plucked the petal love. Regardless, the theme of love and trust has stuck with me as I love flowers and continue to learn what it means to trust in their wisdom as a flower farmer.
I have always grown flowers – in my mother’s garden, as part of my own landscapes, apartment balconies, and kitchen windowsills as I worked my way around one mountain peak to the next in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska Interior as an outdoor educator and native plant restorationist, and later returning to my Midwest roots, wherein among other adventures, I fell in love with a farmer and well, a Farmer Florist was born. When I started farming with my husband Rob at Hilltop Community Farm in 2009 flowers were always part of the field mix, work/life balance, experimentation, and soul nourishment. The last 7 years, however, I have been consciously shifting from vegetable production to fruit and flowers and this is my fourth season with a ‘formal’ flower csa program and 11th season with wedding flower work. I enjoy how flowers balance and compliment other areas and market channels for our farm including our fruit and vegetable share program.
Flowers provide more than beauty on the farm. Flowers and herbs paint our landscape, servicing a variety of ecological functions—working in tandem with the microbes as soil builders, adding structure and fertility to the rhizosphere, offering up their influorescence and nectar spurs as food for our honeybees and native pollinator friends, manipulating the olfactory airwaves as pest managers, networking with our fruits and vegetables above and below ground as companion plants, adorning the landscape with color in their peak evolutionary expression, and to provide for a diversity of culinary and medicinal uses on our farm.
Flower farming starts with walking the land and reading the landscape. My farmer florist workday begins early morning, and I wander the fields, coffee and camera in tote (the morning light on the fields is just magic—whatever the season), taking notes for what to prioritize for the day. Whether it is prepping beds for a succession of zinnias, gomphrena, or celosia, setting up irrigation for watering, dividing dahlias, weeding the flush of purslane in the delphiniums, or taming the hardy kiwi vines, I run a mental inventory of what to do, what to pick, and when. After breakfast and just as the morning dew lifts, it’s back to the fields to harvest flowers for bouquets to design later in the day for tomorrow’s CSA delivery (flowers need some ‘chilling out’ time (don’t we all) in the shade or cooler before making bouquets).
As a local flower farmer, I not only grow flowers that have quality stems and blooms and are long lasting, but I can also grow flowers that don’t hold up well in shipping and longer term storage. By marketing directly to clients, I can add value through education – telling the stories behind the flowers, the various roles flowers have played in different cultures and ceremony as well as their various roles on the landscape. I think people are also attracted to (or at least I like to think so:-), our commitment to sustainable production and an emphasis on growing native plants suitable as cut flowers and a diversity of perennials is also unique. I can offer both the dinnerplate dahlia plummage and contrast this with aronia berries and baptisia with a gesture of hop vines, there are endless stories to tell in the design.
If you want to geek out on numbers: Of the 122 different species (not counting the number of different varieties of the same species), that we intentionally cultivated and wildcrafted for bouquets, 47 were perennial cut flowers, 23 represented woody perennial fruit, shrubs, and vines, 44 were annuals, and 8 were vegetables. If you want to geek out on ecology – From an energy and conservation perspective, growing a diversity of flowers and perennials in particular means a minimal footprint on the land, including: less time needed for site preparation; less soil disturbance and microbial disruption that comes with tillage; reduced need for investment in infrastructure such as hoop houses and greenhouses that use energy for heating and materials (plastics); increased soil and water holding capacity; increased diversity of pollen for our honeybees and native insects, birds, and bats that feast on flower ‘power’; and (hopefully) increased intrigue and appreciation of what can be grown locally and withstand Wisconsin’s fluctuating weather and growing season length.
I’ve also learned over the years that flowers and their tree and herb friends can heal the body. Many cultures have known this, and science continues to prove them right. Plants, and I believe flowers in particular, have properties that can support our emotional well-being.
I think of flowers as distillations of nature’s music, with the resulting resonance supporting our well-being. There is a body of wisdom on flower essences (or elixirs) that captures the energetic essence of flowers by floating freshly picked blooms in bowls of spring water and leaving them in the sun or moonlight. These were used as remedies to support emotional health, self-discovery and growth—for thousands of years. This was long forgotten in the West until (re) discovered in the late 1920’s by Dr. Edward Bach.
One of my favorite flowers for distilling nature’s musical mojo is Peony. A renowned healing herb native to China and loved throughout the world, Peony’s layered flounced petals are symbolic of self-expression and honesty. Its seeds give off a faint red phosphorescent glow, the perfect invitation for a lunar stroll in the garden. You can find a recipe for peony petal tea below.
In all cases, there is a simplicity that comes when we spend time with flowers and their energy is available to everyone. Now go ahead, let your honeysuckle heart skip a bit, make arrangements and be inspired, delighted, confounded, wowed, and curious by the changing menu of nature’s blossom bliss. These growing acts of beauty are for you!
PEONY PETAL TEA
Developed by Erin Schneider of Hilltop Community Farm
As peony petals rain on your table, you can drink in its ardent love through this simple infusion:
- Let peony petals rain on your tablecloth, blanketing the base of your vase
- Collect these petals
- Bring water to a boil
- Pour over peony petals in your favorite mug
- Steep for 5 – 10 minutes
- Drink in ardent love any time of day and for a layer of extra sweetness add a dollop of honey
Variation: Collect petals, put in a clear glass bowl with water. Set out in the sun (or moonlight) for 12 – 24 hrs. Add your petal distillation to your bathwater or pour over face for a peony love bath.