Little did I know that when I started farming flowers, I would become a student to some of the most determined, quirky, loving, generous, hilarious people in the world. This description fits every flower farmer in the Maryland Cut Flower Growers Association, but Kathy York is my Grandmother Willow-– she knows everything, is hilarious, and has more energy than her teenage-boy-like dog Cooper.
Kathy comes out from the flower beds to meet us wearing bright red 80’s style pants, flip flops, and a pearl necklace. After hugs all around, she puts us to work pulling weeds and pruning perennials. She won’t let me weed with my hands– I have to protect my skin, she says! She hands Ellen and me brand new gloves, and when I am about to stick them in my back pocket instead of wearing them, she orders me to put them on, which I do sheepishly. As it happens, they are the most comfortable gardening gloves I’ve ever owned.
The soundtrack of Mary Poppins wafts over the flower beds from speakers in the barn. Kathy tells us stories while we work. Whenever she sees “volunteers” (plants that have traveled to other beds than their own) Kathy, following the flower farmer way, digs them up for my own farm– aweet annie, May Night salvia, perennial sweet pea, poppies, bupleurum…
We are cut short by rain, and move on to the next phase of “farm camp,” as Kathy is calling it: snack time! After snacks and a trip to another local flower farm,
we settle in the kitchen for hours of conversation over delicious ratatouille, wine, and beer that Kathy has on tap (!) in her kitchen. We talk about everything, including Kathy’s wonderful late husband Sandy, who I love even though I never met him.
Kathy and Ellen share their wisdom late into the night, to the soundtrack of 80’s tunes. They share concrete things like what categories to use when organizing your spending accounts so that taxes are easier at the end of the year, and also more emotional/spiritual advice, like how new business owners feel terribly guilty whenever they are doing anything unrelated to their business, and how that’s normal (it describes my experience exactly). Kathy lets me copy her crop plans so that I can use them as a reference on when to plant what; she gives me lists of what went into her flower shares last year, and she shows us pictures of her beautiful work growing and designing flowers for weddings. She answers my long list of questions: can you seed scabiosa directly into the ground? How do you prevent “damping off,” which is a disease that seedlings get when they are too moist? What are good fillers that don’t cost much to grow? What flower food is best, if any?
Kathy also shows me things that I don’t ask for, but want to know. Namely, what kind of farmer do I want to be? I will strive to be as optimistic as Kathy, as generous, as silly and fun, as brave, as accepting.
After dinner, we retreat to bed, delicious bed! In the morning, we gather in the kitchen again, and talk more about flowers and life. Kathy feeds us the most delicious wild rice I have ever, ever, ever had. At my offhand comment that I could really use a little greenhouse, she says, “I think I might have one,” and she whips one out of her barn and gives it to me, just like that. Ellen watches (bemusedly, I think) while Kathy runs around giving me more plants to take home, while I accept the gifts, a bit dumbfounded at Kathy’s exuberance.
Ellen and I finally tear ourselves away– back to the brightly painted Local Color van and our lives back home! We both wish that Kathy lived closer, so we could see her all the time.
Energized by Kathy and warmed by the flower farming community in which I find myself (by some crazy luck), I prepare the flower beds for spring and plant seeds and perfect my crop plan… I’m ready!
I wish you all a cherry blossom and a daffodil.