This December we breathed a sigh of relief as our first farming year wound down. After a year of nonstop working, there were no gardens to water, no harvest to bring in, no seeds or plants to coddle. As if to further enforce a rest, snow has blanketed the farm in white silence for the past two weeks. Ice has made it too treacherous to walk about looking for work, which there is never a shortage of. But farm-work continues indoors with seed selections, planting plans for the Hugelbed, vegetable gardens, orchards, strawberry and berry patches, high tunnel and my favourite - planning the new cut flower gardens and art Studio.
In October we built the new Studio, it’s just waiting for its finishing touches. This year we will be taking part in the Salt Spring Studio Tour as Alchemy Farm Studio and Gardens. Visitors to the Studio will be able to choose bouquets and art to take home. They can also wander around the cut flower gardens surrounding the Studio, to see what is in bloom, what will soon bloom and to just spend time contemplating the beauty of Nature, enveloped in plant energy and sweet floral perfumes.
The Studio will officially open to welcome its first visitors on the May 19th, during the long Victoria Day weekend. We’ve been preparing and planning for weeks already. Hundreds of bulbs lie in wait - tulips, narcissus, anemone, grape hyacinth and more. The first heritage flower seeds will be started on heat mats and under grow lights in two weeks. A new flower cooler has been purchased to shelter freshly cut flowers from the heat of the sun - nor more wilting flower bouquets!
The new cut flower garden beds have been prepared. Before that could even be done an old rotting and falling-down shed weighted down with decades of heavy moss had to be dismantled and disposed of. The moss was removed from the shed roof and distributed under the fir trees standing guard along the edges of the new gardens. Soil was brought in, wheel barrow load by wheel barrow load. Pathways were created using wood chips made from the boughs of dangerous Grand and Douglas fir trees that have been removed this past year on the farm.
As I make my way through hundreds of seed packets, I am deciding where they will go, how often will they be planted, what will grow beside them, what flowers might join them in arrangements, what shapes and colours will compliment each other. And I am again struck with awe – each packet holds a special magic. When I planted my first flower beds in mid-July I wasn’t sure what would happen. It was late in the season - everything was late being planted this first year at our farm. I worried, I doubted, and then I marveled as the seeds germinated and grew. Within a few weeks I had bouquets of flowers to share – I was hooked! There is such a feeling of completion as I hand a bouquet to someone and watch their face light up - who doesn’t love flowers?
I sometimes find myself wondering: do you miss your art practice? do you miss teaching? Yes and no. Most of the time it’s a straight up: no. In truth, there is nothing I’d rather be doing than growing flowers – flowers that provide nourishment for insects and other beings, but also nourishment for your Soul - and mine. The Alchemy Farm Studio and Gardens feels like a deepening continuation of my environmental art practice. Instead of creating work in a gallery I’m creating a very personal site-specific project that I get to share in a profoundly satisfying way. I feel like I’m finally walking my talk, I’m being authentic and true to my being. I’m making a difference in my small corner of the world, not only by growing food for the Soul but also food - fruit and vegetables - for sustenance for ourselves and those who visit our Farm Stand. I am fully present as I tend and nurture this beautiful and sacred property. I am honoured to share this journey with my husband, Robin and our dogs and cats.
I, we, look forward to welcoming you to the Alchemy Farm Gardens and Studio.
For months I have been telling myself that as soon as I have time I’ll sit down to write…maybe tomorrow or the next day. I’ve managed to take photos of our journey but have just not had time to post them on a regular basis. We have been going nonstop to get, Alchemy Farm up and running. We had a blank, overgrown, slate to start with – so everything had to be done. Hugelbed, fruit trees, nut trees, berries, garden beds, compost, greenhouse, irrigation, farm stand, driveways, culverts, ponds, dangerous tree removals – the list just went on and on. And before that list it was making the house liveable, trust me, another huge list.
Today, for the first time since we began this incredible journey, it really began to feel like we are making progress. The irrigation system began swooshing it’s way across the gardens, water turned on in the greenhouse – there were actually some plants in the greenhouse! Blueberries are plump with promise, the apple trees are laden with beauty, the plum hangs heavy with fruit – and we picked our first cherries! I planted Black Beauty Zucchini and Spaghetti Squash in the Hugelbed and tomorrow more seedlings will be joining them. The blackberries are blossoming and filled with bees – from our hives.
Today, the clanking sounds of a tractor echoed through the farm, one of many busy tracing the contours of our Burgoyne Valley. The farm was a flurry of extra activity, preparing for the coming week. The carpenter was arriving in the morning to begin installing new stairs, doors and windows in the upper floor of the barn – my future studio space. The cement truck is arriving later in the week to begin pouring more concrete floors in the lower floor of the barn – home to the cold storage room and my husband, Robin’s woodwork shop.
Today, as the day ended, I took a break and walked down to the fields that the tractor had drawn over …
The soft purple light of evening washed over the hayed field. Daisies, buttercups, thistles and tall grasses lay down beside each other in soft waves of green across the fields. The cool dampness of evening approached – suspended, waiting for the sun’s final rays to disappear behind Mount Maxwell. The dogs rushed about excitedly nosing soft hills, playfully tossing grass in the air. The last time they were here they plowed across the fields making tunnels through a tall swaying ocean of green. I stood transfixed and gazed at the dark maroon maple tree – the beacon that first led me to this farm a year ago. It stood proud in the centre of the field. I was overcome with a sense of grace, a sense of deep belonging…a deep sense of awe and wonderment.
I am slowly becoming one with this land that beckoned me with its maple sentinel.
Hoar frost has etched the hibernating orchard and fields white. These days the winter sun rises low in the sky in the mornings, and by late afternoon disappears into Burgoyne Bay. My husband Robin and I, are new to this magical property and still finding our bearings. Still in awe. Our first five months were spent indoors, loving the farmhouse back to life. As the house has become more comfortable we have turned our thoughts to the land, the ten acre farm we call Alchemy Farm…a place of transformation.
Daily planning treks through the property have been spent watching and listening to the land, noting the movement of the sun, observing the places water springs forth. Evenings have been spent staying warm by the fire, dreaming possibilities to life: a poly tunnel greenhouse, a farm stand, and a small gallery gift shop. A tiny Air BnB eco sleeping cabin with a composting toilet and outdoor shower – so that we can share this special place, a working farm. A black and white kitten, Hunter, has joined our two dogs, Lucy and Scout. The bee hives are arriving in the spring. Other animals are being discussed, a mini donkey, goats, chickens, maybe a Jersey cow. An herb garden, more fruit trees, mulberries, blueberries, a market flower garden and organic skin care products made with ingredients from the farm. We are being transformed.
This morning I was sifting through a catalogue of flower seeds, choosing what to include in bouquets this summer at the farm stand. As I moved seed packets to my online cart I suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of intense gratitude fill my heart. I was finally beginning to walk my talk–and not just as an environmental artist.
Working as an environmental artist I created (and still create) gallery exhibitions in response to natural sites. With each new exhibition I had started to feel an increasing sense of unease. I was doing a lot of art-making and art-talking – talking about how we are interconnected with the Earth and Nature. Meanwhile I was living in North Vancouver, in a third story walk-up apartment, that didn’t even have an outside deck. I was feeling disconnected, on a daily basis. My soul responded immediately to Salt Spring Island when I first stepped onto her beautiful shores. Something deep within me understood that I was home. I didn’t hesitate. Within 24 hours I had given up my apartment, studio and teaching position in the city.
Six years later I’m placing seeds for market flowers into an online cart. My heart filled with peace and gratitude. Tears flowing as I realize that I am reconnecting to my thirteen-year-old-self. To a time when I belonged to the 4H Garden Club in Victoria. A time when I researched and concocted insect repellents for my garden and created my own special compost mixes. I can still remember the feeling of the earth warm, and inviting, under my hands as I planted my dahlia bulbs. Giant dahlias. Dahlias that won first and third prize ribbons at the PNE in Vancouver.
Always, the Earth, Nature has been my muse. What a long journey it has been to reach myself again.