The Future

They say the key to successful blogging is regular posting. Obviously, I’ve been remiss, and the reasons aren’t interesting. It’s been hard to write because I’ve been insanely busy. It’s hard to write at all, of course (writing is hard), but for the past six months I’ve counted lucky the days during which I found one hour out of twenty-four to feed and bathe myself. Prioritizing the blog hasn’t been easy during the growing season. Suddenly here we are in November. The flower fields are transitioning to winter, I recently turned thirty-seven (groan and huge eye roll), and it seems appropriate at this moment to say something about the future because although I haven’t been writing, I’ve been scheming, and I’ve got lots in store for next season.

We grew so many great blooms this year, and we’re going to keep doing that. I’ve had lots of inquiries (aw, thanks, guys!) regarding next year’s offerings. Here’s what we’re thinking:

§  Farmers’ Markets: We plan to do a very small number. They’ll be early and maybe very late in the season (ranunculus and peonies in May then dahlias in September). Probably just Ligonier. We’re not at all interested in competing with other local growers at market, but we totally loved meeting people, making new friends, and talking about seasonal flowers with local folks this past year, so we want to do at least some markets next year.

§  Flower Subscriptions: Yes! We’re going to offer them and even increase available shares! I think this was my favorite way of sharing our blooms—on the regular. I got to know people’s tastes and preferences, and it really was so lovely to witness the joy flowers for no reason at all bring people. I had more than one subscriber report actual benefits to their mental and even physical well-being as a result of their weekly delivery. I just love that! I love the idea of elevating your everyday life with flowers. We’ll open subscriptions in February so stay tuned.

§  Weddings: We’re going to be taking on only a few very lucky brides this season. Our plan for the foreseeable future is to keep our wedding business small, personal, super tailored. If you’re getting married in 2019 and would like to carry Summer House flowers down the aisle, get in touch right away! 

It’s clear to me that cut flowers are just the beginning for us. This year I’ll be trialing different varieties and experimenting with new methods. I’ll axe some plants and increase production of others. We’re adding tons of investment perennials to the farm this fall, and we’re hoping to get the place in top shape so we can host farm visits next year. Wouldn’t it be awesome to invite floral designers and, in some limited way, the public to come and see (and cut from!) our flower fields in 2019? It’s a top priority.

Beyond that? Phew, there’s a lot.  

One of the first things we decided when we started farming flowers was that we never want flowers to become a job. We committed ourselves fully to keeping them from ever feeling like a commodity, an action item, a burden. At this we failed. We failed because success was impossible. All that dreamy-eyed nonsense about loving what you do and never working a day in your life is false. It’s false. I love flowers. I really do love them. I love everything about them. But make no mistake: they are work. They are endless, back-breaking, really hard and sweaty work, which became crystal clear to me on the night before our first farmers’ market as I stood in my dining room making bouquets past midnight when I’d been up doing farm chores and harvesting since 5 AM. In this situation—exhausted and with no choice but to keep going—flowers are widgets. I never wanted flowers to become widgets.

How to remedy this? I’m not sure. Asking this question has led me to other, more fundamental ones. Like, Why did we start the farm in the first place? It’s a query I’ve returned to a lot this growing season—sometimes in a frustrated, What the *&#%$~ were we thinking?!? sort of way, but more often in a genuine, What is the purpose of what we’re trying to do here and how do we achieve it? sense. Considering this made me think about the farm and all those things that didn’t motivate us to start it.

Firstly, we didn’t start the farm to make money. “If you wanna make a million dollars you should start up a small-scale specialty cut flowers farm,” said nobody ever. We knew that going in. But setting up this project as a business seemed like the only possibility because spending so much time and effort and cash on a mere hobby didn’t feel…permissible. I thought (and still think) this endeavor must at least support itself. To tell you the truth, I kind of feel like crap about that—if an enterprise isn’t profitable, is it necessarily not worth doing? How depressing. On the other hand, I in no way possess the luxury of investing huge quantities of time and labor in leisure pursuits. I’ve got big bills to pay, man, and my time’s increasingly valuable.

What does the intersection of pastime and business look like in this age of self-invention and incessant self-promotion and Instafame? I’m out of my depth here, but you understand what I’m saying, right? It seems like everybody wants to get paid to show other people how they’re living. And plenty of morons seem to take massive risks in that pursuit. We’re not risk-takers. Certainly, not in terms of seeking Internet celebrity, anyhow.

Okay, so neither money nor fame motivated this project. What did? My husband and I both have careers and plenty on our plates. We have children and no shortage of responsibilities. Why start a flower farm? I think we both just sort of looked at each other one day and said, “Is this all then?” You know, classic midlife crisis stuff, for sure. But beyond that, we did it because we want to teach our children that there’s no point in life at which you’re unable to head off down an entirely new path. We want to show them that changing directions entirely, cultivating new interests, devoting yourself to things you never would have considered a part of your plan is possible. We want them to see that lifelong learning is exciting and meaningful and rewarding. 

It is. We’ve learned a ton over the course of this first season. Unsurprisingly, if the last twelve months have taught us anything it’s that we’ve still got so so much to learn. That’s, I think, our very tippy-top priority for next year: our own horticultural education. In growing things, so much learning comes from doing, but I’m really looking forward to spending some time with the books during this off-season. And in terms of floral design, too, I could really use some schooling. I need to learn what the hell I’m doing when it comes to arranging cut flowers. There’s much for me to learn, too, in terms of landscape design. The opportunity for that has arrived. I’ve got hundreds of different baby buxus going in the fields this winter, ready to be incorporated into our brand new home gardens this spring.

On the farm, there are lots of little nuts-and-bolts, checklist-style goals to meet. We need to get our soil in better shape. We need to get our weeds under control. Efficiency in every facet of the game needs improvement.

We’ll do all these things. But if we’re talking about my long-term/big-picture dreams: the sky’s the limit. Ultimately (I mean twenty years and hundreds of thousands—millions?—of dollars down the road) I’d like to turn The Summer House into an old-fashioned, European-style garden center. That term, “garden center,” has suffered some bastardization, probably, here in suburban America. I’m not talking about re-creating the plant department at Home Depot (no disrespect). I mean a glorious, fully immersive horticultural experience for all levels of local green thumbs. A nursery and breeding program. A seed range. The whole thing. I want to create the sort of place where people come for all their gardening needs—material, educational, philosophical. I’m thinking of workshops and classes and summer camps. I’m picturing a café where you can get a cup of coffee or a sandwich and a glass of wine. Maybe there’s live music. I want to create a place where people can come and connect over the shared love of growing things. And where they can grow that love as well.

This is ambitious, I realize, and it’s a very long way off at best.

As I say, I’ve had lots of questions about our future. That’s flattering and exciting and I hope this little entry has answered some of them. Regarding our immediate future: I need to get 700 tulip bulbs in the ground and plant out about a thousand sprouted ranunculus corms today. Time to get to work!






Mary Beth McConaheyComment