our story

this story doesn’t go in a straight line.  none of the good ones really do.  and it is filled with difficulty and joy alike.  but it’s ours and it got us here, so i’ll do my best to tell it. 

colleen raney by jillian lancaster, 22Pages Photography

My name is Colleen and I was born on my mother’s birthday and raised right in the middle of Seattle, Washington in a family with 10 kids and no pets because my mom is pretty allergic to nearly everything.  I camped and played in the woods and fished and knew my trillium from my cedar the way that nearly every kid who grows up in the Pacific Northwest does. I learned to sew from my mother and made clothes and aprons and gifts as I needed.  I learned to titrate and weigh and take careful notes from my chemist father.  I wanted to be an astronaut. So, as anyone who wants to be an astronaut does, I went to the University of Washington and studied acting as an undergraduate and then was admitted into the prestigious Professional Actor Training Program.  My course was set for a life in theatre and that suited me just fine.

In 2001 I was readying for a move to New York with my newly minted MFA and “why wouldn’t I” as a motto.  We all know what happened in September of that year, so I decided to stay in Seattle and let things in the city settle down a little bit before I made the move.  I took a position at the head of a theatre department at the high school I had attended and spent three years teaching, learning, producing, and believe it or not, designing wedding flowers for friends. Creativity begets creativity, I guess, and it seemed perfectly natural to throw together flowers and ideas for friends and family.  I didn’t know enough to know what I didn’t know.  Wow.  Parse that for a second.

This is the Fast Forward montage set to catchy music: I got married at 27, moved to New York at 29, worked as an actor, toured the country, moved back to Seattle, got a divorce at 32, recorded an album (did I mention that my family of 10 is Irish and I grew up playing and singing and Irish step-dancing?), moved to Portland, Oregon, began to make bespoke wedding accessories and dresses, and for 7 years continued to tour the world as a singer. Which I still do.

But three years ago, my now husband (also a touring Irish musician) and I decided it was time to change our stars.  So we packed up our life and drove it almost as far as you can get from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine.  We bought a little house, adopted two hilarious kittens, and I started growing everything I could get my hands on.  Something about a life on wheels makes you really want to feel grounded when you’re home. My commitment to vegetables was intense. I planted 35 tomato plants. In one garden box. Kale, cabbage, carrots, collards, chard, zucchini, cucumbers, daikon, shiso, green onions, sweet potatoes, and more. On the tiniest bit of yard around our house.  And I was stewarding the crap out of those vegetables and the land as much as I could with the little I knew.  I’m pretty sure I wore out Google and gave my library card a run for its money, but I absolutely loved it.  I didn’t need them to like me, I didn’t have to audition for them, I didn’t have to ask them to book me or prove that I was worth growing for, I didn’t have to compare myself to other backyard vegetable growers. I just had to pay attention. To listen. To observe. And to do my best to create an environment where the plants did what they wanted to do most – grow. And part of that was to encourage pollinators and beneficial insects into our little patch.  So I chucked a ridiculous amount of wildflower seed into the ground that my husband had been painstakingly clearing of Japanese knotweed.  We have a ton of it.  And one of the best ways we’ve found to discourage it is to dig it out and then to plant other things in order to choke out its light and fuel source.  It’s slow going, but it’s working.

Back to the flowers.  The wildflowers that I planted to help the vegetables grow became a strange obsession.  I tended that little patch like they were the rarest blooms and not just some cosmos, calendula, mallow, and a whole bunch of other stuff that kind of just grows on its own if you leave it alone in the sunshine.  I cut them and made posies for around the house.  I gave them to friends. Two little girls and their nanny would walk by every day and I learned that the little ones called my house “the flower house” so I gave them both little bouquets as they toddled by.  I started reading and researching and learning everything I could about it from podcasts and internet stalking.  But the nice kind. 

In January 2018, after a particularly bumpy autumn which included a rough start to a new album, a whole bunch of touring, a couple of personal whoppers, and an unexpectedly open musical schedule for months that are usually pretty pretty busy, I started to really ask myself if I wanted to grow flowers for other people.  The answer was immediate, but complex. “Yes, but I don’t think I’m very good at it and why would anyone want to buy flowers from me anyway.”  Whooboy.  This song is pretty familiar to me and I really hate the lyrics.  So I carried on making my plans, and I ordered seeds, and I started mapping things out.  Friends wrote with encouragement, complete strangers shared knowledge, and guardian flower angels sent care packages of dahlia tubers to help me along in my first year.  And we were off.  Flowers were grown, customers were found, and so so many lessons were learned.

So here we are, in our second full growing season, with a few exciting updates.  Diadem Flower Co. is a licensed floral business specializing in bespoke wedding and event design created from locally and sustainably grown flowers.  We also offer hand dyed silk ribbons and custom French lace accessories. In June 2019, we moved Diadem Flower Co. down the road to a beautiful, 10 acre farm in Springvale, Maine where we can stretch out a little bit. We have big dreams for this little spot.

Thanks for growing with us!