Farm, flowers, and work work work work work work…2019 in review

2019, for me, was a year of work! Which is not a bad thing! If you’re doing work you love, you’re hardly working, am I right?

Maybe.

We built a studio! It has been so lovely to have heat in the winter and a/c in the summer. After living in this for 9 months it sure doesn’t look like this any more! I’ve managed to fill it up and already wish I had double the space. It’s a huge improvement over my shed!

This was a year of exponential growth here at Passalongs Farm. I almost tripled my wedding work. I more than tripled my growing area. I built a studio that had electricity, air conditioning and heat!!  I stopped doing farmers’ markets (mostly) but doubled the flowers I sold by the road. I hired people to help me! (That was a big step.) I put more money into my farm, but bought more product elsewhere. I started a reflowering project, where I re-made flowers from weddings into small bouquets for folks in local nursing homes. I went to two growers’ conferences. I worked. I worked a lot. I learned as much as I worked.

The reflowering project has been lovely! Sometimes my wedding clients don’t take all the flowers home, or sometimes they can’t, so when I go pick up my stuff after the event I repurpose many of the flowers and distribute them to local nursing homes. It’s fun! And gratifying.

What I learned: 2 full weddings in a weekend (which I did a number of times, and twice did 3) IS NOT FOR ME. It was exhilarating to get all those bookings, and I’m really, really bad at saying no, especially when someone is telling me they love my work, but when it came down to it, 2 full service weddings over 2 days was too much. I had help, yes, which was wonderful, but for my not-young body it was very physically taxing, and the enjoyment and artistry and feeling that I was doing something beautiful and fun and fulfilling (which usually is how I’m feeling when designing a wedding) wasn’t true 100% of the time. Or even 75% of those particular days.

I tripled my weddings from 2018 to 2019, which was both good and bad! I learned so much from doing this. Number one lesson: I do not like to do more than one wedding a day! Or weekend. So I’m changing my approach for 2020. (This wedding, by the way, was a joy to create, and I did NOT do more than one wedding this particular weekend!) Dana and her bridesmaids. Photo by Kelsey and Liam, KeLi Photography

I learned that doesn’t work for me. Which is good. That’s why I took on those bookings (plus, obviously, problems with boundaries.) I also learned that while I valued all the work that my helpers did for me in 2019, I don’t really want to expand much beyond what I did in 2019. The amount of help I had, especially when it came to the farm tasks, was just about right. Same with weddings, but I’m going to reign it all in next year. Yes to great help! No to feeling overwhelmed!

Flowers on the cart. I miss summer!

Another thing I learned: I LOVE my roadside cart! And I love the little patch of flowers I trialed last year down in the spot by the road, where my cart is located. Being out there on an early summer morning, picking armloads of zinnias and sunflowers, listening to a podcast, watching the packs of bikers zoom by, and occasionally getting one to wave or say hi – this is such a meditative and pleasant task. Making those bouquets are pure pleasure. I use what I have, as much as I have. I don’t have to go anywhere or buy anything – it’s all me. So ideally I will do more of that in the coming year. We are going to renovate or rethink the cart so it can hold more and is a bit more polished. I’m going to cultivate relationships with local places to sell these kind of arrangements. More of this, please!

Some other things I learned:

Dahlias and marigolds. Both like sun!

Dahlias need sunlight. If you move them to a spot that doesn’t get enough sunlight you will not get enough blooms! Expansion is only a good thing if what you plant in your new beds will thrive in your new beds.

Communication when it comes to weddings is key. Last year every wedding reminded me that for most of my couples this was the first time they were doing it, so more information, especially about process, timing, etc., was better. I really only had one communication mishap the whole summer, but it was enough so that I rethought some basic procedures that to me seemed obvious, but clearly needed a new look.

I went to two conferences this year: the Flowering in the North Conference in Portland, ME, in the winter, and in November, the Making a Profit Selling Cut Flowers conference in Nashville. Both were fantastic! Conferences are invigorating! Also maybe a little too inspiring, leading me to try new things that I have no market for, and which take my attention from other tasks. Which definitely happened. But as with everything, I lived and I learned.

Lots of weddings = little time for artwork. I miss my art! In January I’m going to spend time with my pressed flowers in a more meaningful way, and I’d love for that work to become equal to my wedding work in terms of time on task, focus, and even sales.

It’s odd to distill an entire year down to a few paragraphs and a few images, but it’s also useful to think about what worked and what didn’t. As a ‘solopreneur’ I need to take time to reflect. How else is a business  to grow sustainably?

Notes like these, stuffed into the cashbox at my cart, ARE THE BEST!
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Who knew? 2018 in review!

photo by Time Bandit Photography

Last night I was at a New Year’s Eve party with friends I hadn’t seen in person for a couple of years. We moved to Massachusetts in 2015, and so while most my North Carolina friends and I stay in touch via social media, many of them I usually only see once a year, if that.

Here’s the cool thing, y’all: every single one of them told me how beautiful my flowers were, how much pleasure they got out of seeing the bouquets, and many of them also said: WHO KNEW? Who knew you could do that? Who knew you had that business in you?

I didn’t. I hadn’t. But guess what? I did and I do!

Continue reading “Who knew? 2018 in review!”

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Year 2: flowers I’m loving, flowers I’m not

This is half a note to myself for next year, half a blog post!

Now that I’m smack dab in the middle of year 2 of my little flower farm, I’ve developed some clear favorites and discovered some flowers that simply were not worth space or money. Some are too fiddly and not very impressive, some are kind of ugly, and some simply aren’t worth the bed space.

Plants I grew this year that I could do without:

delphinium. I know! It’s gorgeous! Its blooms make a nice flower crown. But in the kind of arrangements and bouquets I’m doing right now it’s too tall to use effectively and it flops over. Plus, when I started the seeds a mouse ate all but 10, then out of the 10 only 2 did much, then the ones that grew were gorgeous, but like I said, not practical for what I do.

statice. I have really mixed feelings about this stuff. I think it’s ugly, but it provides good stiff structure for some of my floppier flowers. It grew really easily from seed, though, so that’s a plus.

celosia. I bought celosia plugs and they’re doing awesome, but they are very, very ugly. Maybe I bought the wrong kind (Sunday mix) but every single one is orange or red. There was supposed to be pink and salmon in there, too, but there isn’t. Maybe once the zinnias and dahlia start popping and I have more hot flowers I will like them, but for now they don’t go well with anything I have.

allium. Gorgeous, I know, but the chipmunks or whatever garden rats are out there ate every single one. Same with the anenome and the ranunculus. They are expensive but if I have to grow them in individual wire cages they are too fiddly for me.

Things I love (new this year, besides the obvious dahlias and peonies!) or wish I’d grown again this year:

orlaya. Brilliant overwintered hardy annual. Will definitely plant again in the fall.

garland chrysanthemum. I didn’t grow it this year but really wish I had. It was such a nice little flower to add to arrangements, it smelled sweet, and it grew from seed super easily. The foliage was pretty, too, and added some airiness and green to bouquets. I might start some now to try to get some for fall. I had hoped I would get volunteers but I didn’t.

ageratum. Blue! Study stems! super easy to start!

clary sage. So easy to grow and while the flowers are small, they add a really nice pop of color, they started early, and the foliage was one of the earliest fillers I had.

nigella. I don’t know why I fight the nigella! I should just give in to its hoop house domination and grow as much as possible. The flowers are gorgeous as are the pods, and the only thing I’ll change for next year it to provide support, because flopped over and bent it’s not much use.

More filler! And preferably something perennial. I’m definitely investing in some mountain mint plugs for next year, and while I like the scented geranium it is not holding up well at the roadside cart as it sometimes gets full sun.

There’s a pattern here: more small, useful, hardy filler flowers and greens, especially those that I can easily grow from seed or find in plug form, and fewer fiddly, expensive corms and bulbs and focus flowers.

 

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