I know that the summer solstice was months ago, and that we’re still two months from the winter solstice, but this time of year always feels to me like the flip of the hourglass, or the little timer in the board game Boggle. It’s a full glass of sand that has to fall before we get workable daylight and temperatures again. It’s hard to wait, but there’s plenty to do and to learn in the meantime.
Last year’s winter focus was learning about seed starting, planting, growing, and harvesting. There’s plenty more to learn on that front and I’m already getting a head start on some of it now. But this winter my focus is going to be on floral design and special event work. I have designed and created (with the help of my sisters) flowers for 3 weddings in the early 2000s – my own, my friend Siri’s, and my cousin Tricia’s. Looking back on those, it is miraculous that any of the flowers managed to live through the day! Nothing was conditioned, the mechanics were all wrong, and I knew less than nothing about floral work. But luck and very fresh flowers from the wholesaler (formerly?) on Fairview in Seattle saw all of us through. Remember the days of binders full of magazine clippings for inspiration. I probably could go find mine in my office right now if I wanted to. I loved putting those together!
There’s something to be said for stating intention openly. So here we have it. This year I’d like to design the flowers for a few weddings or special events. And now we leave it to the universe and get back to digging and turning beds to get roughly 1000 bulbs in the ground before I leave for Japan for the entire month of November!
For two more glorious days, it’s open window weather here and I’m planning on enjoying every single bit of it. Winter comes around real quick and I know there are days of cold hands digging dahlia tubers and planting bulbs that will be here soon enough so I hope you’ll forgive me the indulgence of a little bit of laziness today and tomorrow.
The list is getting incrementally shorter, which feels like progress. It’s not pretty out there yet, because the mulch chips haven’t arrived and I haven’t cleaned up the edges, but a couple of big projects are done and it feels like movement.
Four beds were constructed and two were relocated from the side of the house. That will all get weed clothed and mulched in before winter, and we’ve been burying bits of fungus covered trees that we’ve been excavating out of the swamp that sits next to the property.
There was a certain paralysis in Spring when I didn’t quite know what to do or when to get things in the ground, and there were seedlings all over the place and I just had to bite the bullet and throw them in the ground with false confidence and a prayer. This first autumn feels like that too. I’ll do what I’ve read and seen on video that I’m supposed to do, but I’m looking forward to it being done. I need a bit of space and time to assess everything and turn it all over in my head. Much like moving, once you’ve lived in the new place for a full calendar year, you know what it all looks like and you can better prepare for each following year. This little operation is similar. It went from baby steps to a full sprint and I’m looking forward to settling into a walking pace for a couple of months and getting the adjustments to the plan firmly in my head.
Until then, there are dahlias, zinnias, chocolate cosmos, and what looks to be a bumper crop of snapdragons about to bloom. I’m off to the south for a week of touring on Friday, but feel free to be in touch if you need anything. Sadie or I will be able to tell you what we have going out there!
Honestly, this post is for me. But you’re welcome to bear witness my neurosis. 🙂
I’m a list maker. It’s the only way that I can keep myself organized between the four musical projects, graphic design freelance work, and flower farming, not to mention just regular life stuff like not running out of toilet paper or having something to eat for dinner tonight (note to self: solve this one).
It’s autumn and autumn happens fast in Maine, as I’m learning. Thanks to a wonderful neighbor (did I tell you that we are surrounded by wonderful neighbors?) there is a Weather Underground station in the backyard. Technically his backyard, but it’s possibly 10 feet from where the bachelor buttons are growing right now, so I think it counts. So it means that at any point during the day I can fire up my mobile device and see the weather in my back yard without having to go outside if I’m working on something or in my bed like I was last night obsessively checking the weather. We avoided a frost by the skin of our teeth. But I have two weeks to get everything sorted out that I can before we head off on tour to the south again when I can absolutely guarantee you that there will be a frost. The timing of all of this is going to be kind of crucial. So I’m going to make my autumn to-do list here. And then we’ll update it as it goes along.
✓ order bulbs
• line out new flower bed on Frank’s side with tall stakes and line. Wood edges ASAP.
• cardboard mulch the grass in new flower bed
• leaf mulch over cardboard
• move 2 frames to lower bed
• build 4 more frames for lower bed
• mulch between frames with woodchips
• cardboard mulch/leaf mulch the frames
• sink concrete blocks
✓ cardboard mulch/compost grass in hot bed
• low hoop 1 row at top of hot bed for ranunculus and anemone
• cover portion of cold bed for early sweet peas
• soil for bulb beds (before Japan tour)
• clear vegetables and compost for bulbs (before Japan tour)
• plant bulbs in vegetable beds (after Japan tour) – wire mesh for critters
• plant garlic (after Japan tour)
• dig and store dahlia tubers (after NC tour)
Before we started this little endeavor I had planted a dogwood tree (my favorite) right in the middle of what would become my most prolific flower bed. Because of the amazing compost I piled onto that ground this spring the danged thing grew from a small little stick to as tall as me in half a year. So I have to figure out how to move that without killing it. I’ll take any ideas you have at this point. It definitely can’t stay there.
It was a day last autumn and I was tucking away the vegetable beds, well before I decided that I was going to start growing flowers to share. The usual parade of neighborhood wanderers was on and there were cheerful hellos and pets for good dogs – a daily occurrence in our little corner of Portland. At one point a stroller packed with twin girls rolled by with their nanny and there was such concern that the flowers were going away. I was told that they walk by at least once a day and that for the whole summer they referred to our little house as “The Flower House.” They would ask to come see it every time they set out. I was so touched, so I ran to the back of the house to the big nightmare of an overgrown wildflower patch and threw together two small matching, but not identical posies. As they passed by on the way back from their adventures, each little one got a small bouquet of flowers to take home.
For some reason this memory popped into my head today as I sent a bunch of flowers home with a neighbor. I missed the mark in so many ways this year – the soil is better, but still mess, the weed pressure was unreal, the dahlia patch is definitely doing something weird (10 foot plants??), squirrels, weak seedlings, not enough fertilizer, rust and mildew, it goes on and on. But I didn’t miss every mark, and beautiful flowers have headed out to make people happy.
I just wrote an email to a local business to see if for the last month of the growing season they would like to stock a few bouquets of hyper local flowers. They may never respond, and that’s fine. The scariest part is the sending of the email. The shadow that sits in the corner at all times keeps repeating “exactly who do you think you are?” Music, teaching, graphic design, brand management, consulting – all of it. The shadow sits and judges and sows doubt. This time there’s a pretty simple response that shuts it up. “I’m just Colleen. I grow flowers.”
This morning I woke up rotten sick from last weekend’s unfortunate travel experience and I think when you’re sick, everything feels a little bit more dire. I should say when *I* am sick, everything feels a little bit more dire. More fragile. I’m noticing the light changing today, and looking around at the inevitable powdery mildew that hits the cucumbers every autumn (this endless humidity and rain has been no help on that front), signaling the end of one season fast approaching and the beginning of the next. While actual autumn is still a couple of weeks away, I am already looking ahead and trying to figure out how to convert space and solve problems as we head into another winter. I guess every grower has to be in two places at once – where you are and planning for what’s next.
Tower Chamois China Asters and Appleblossom Snapdragons are blooming now and are seriously some of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Every time a new varietal blooms on this property, I say to myself “I am growing 3 times as much of this next year.” And I just might. Part of my plan for the next few weeks is to get out a drawing of the property now that I know what grows best where, and maximize how it’s all being used. I bet I could get a lot more in there…
Another two things I’ve been thinking about are a CSA program next year, every couple of weeks or so. I’ll be doing bulbs (narcissus, tulip, allium, hyacinth) in the spring and annuals in the summer and autumn again. A limited program of bouquets of locally grown, specialty cut flowers every two weeks or so for a certain amount of time. I’ll keep tossing it around. I’ll also keep tossing around the idea of finding someone in the neighborhood who wants to let me farm their unused lawn space in exchange for a bouquet of flowers as often as I have them. My property is limited by both size and sun exposure with two 90 year old maples blocking out lots of sunshine opportunities. But those trees are family so we’ll leave them as long as they are healthy. I’ll just have to be more creative!
That’s my rambling for this morning.
If you want to hear the new album, it can be found at www.colleenraney.com/music and for those of you in Maine, we’re playing a CD Release concert at Frontier in Brunswick on August 24. Limited seating so get yours in advance for a night of Irish music and more!
At this very moment, I am hiding inside my office with an air conditioner running trying to deal with the wretched humidity we’re having in Portland, Maine this last few weeks. I got out into the garden this morning to do some weeding and harvesting and got a good look at the dahlias that are so close to just letting everything hang out. If we can hold off with the rain for a few days the dahlias, zinnias, cosmos, tower chamois asters, and so much more will go nuts. I’m not complaining for not having to water, I’m just ready to have more than one bouquet of flowers every two days!
I’ve been lucky though. Every two days, I get a message from someone who wants a bouquet of flowers and I’m thrilled to have the chance to share them around! If business picks up, who knows what will have to happen.
Which got me thinking. My little land here can be used more efficiently I think. I have a better understanding of where the best sun for each kind of plant is. I have strange patches of morning shade and beating afternoon sun in some spots, I have dappled sun in others, I have gorgeous morning sun and afternoon shade in yet others. I’m going to shuffle around a little bit next season and see if I can work with the property instead of against it! I’m considering seeing if there area any folks in the neighborhood who would let me plant some of their unused yards in exchange for weekly bouquets of flowers and herbs. We’ll see though. That might be a bit much vulnerability for me. I don’t mind screwing up my own yard. It would be mortifying to screw up someone else’s!
Since I have a day inside in this weather, I guess I’ll get to work on the new album that comes out on August 24. Advanced digital copies went out around the world last week and pre-orders are available at colleenraney.bandcamp.com if you’d like to hear or order a copy.
Over the last couple of days, a bunch of really encouraging messages have come in from kind strangers all over Portland, Maine in response to a note I left on a community board app. In the note, I introduced myself and explained a tiny bit about what Hanz and I are doing here on our little postage stamp property. I also said that I’d be happy to deliver flowers around Portland or further and to shoot me a message if you had any need for locally grown flowers.
And people did!
A last minute call for a bouquet today had me scrambling a tiny bit, but we did it. And there’s another custom delivery scheduled for Tuesday. I guess this is the “what if it works” part I was talking about earlier…
Now to remember how to breathe through the self doubt. It’ll be nice to put that down eventually. It’s hogging up armspace meant for flowers. But for now I’ll be patient and meet myself where I am.
Here’s a really quick snapshot of today’s delivery. Dahlias, Cosmos, Zinnias, Coreopsis, Calendula, Lace Flower, Oregano, Sage, Parsley, Phlox, Strawflower, Nicotiana, and my first Sahara Rudbeckia.
Neurotic cat included for scale. Also because she wouldn’t move.
This beauty is absolutely going in Tuesday’s bouquet. The customer said she loves dahlias and I can think of no better dahlia than Hamari Gold!
Just a quick note to let you know what is in season right now! Sadly it’s the end of sweet pea season, but we’re already planning to triple our sweet pea growing next year so there’s something to look forward to. You’re always very welcome to pop by and take a look at what’s growing and pick out the items for your own bouquet. That’s the really fun part about being local.
Flowering In the garden today:
Zinnia – Queen Lime, Queen Lime Red, and California Giants in bright jewel tones
Cherry Caramel Phlox
just a quick note here and then I have to get back out there. Yesterday I put out my first little bouquets of flowers – the last of the sweet peas that have been growing for the last few weeks, but I haven’t had a moment to actually sell because I run a folk festival in Portland, Maine that perfectly coincided with bloom time. Note to self: solve that problem for 2019.
not. one. sold.
honestly, I didn’t expect any to. It’s a tiny stand in front of my house and the weather has been so nice that everyone is at the beach. Maine is vacationland after all!
but today, as I came around the house to turn off the water to the lower beds, I saw one bunch missing and there was cash in the box. It made me so happy that someone loved those flowers enough to take them home.
so we’re open for business. 60 Warwick Street in Portland, Maine. You can always check Instagram to find out if there are flowers out and things are just getting going in the rows, so there will be some beautiful blooms out for the rest of the summer. let me know if you’re coming by and I’ll try to say hello!
By training and trade I am a professional actor and a touring musician. I have been a freelance graphic designer, a high school teacher, a retail manager, an executive assistant to a powerful New York businessman and the same for a vice president of a teaching hospital. I have taught music to toddlers, I have pulled coffee, I have sold merchandise at Broadway shows, I have temped, subbed, sold, assisted, designed, and yessed. I even worked in a bakery for a week (totally not my bag). Risk is familiar to me. Vulnerability is familiar to me. Fear is familiar to me. These are my closest friends and deepest enemies most days. I have always been the commodity I’m selling.
When I say I am having a mid-life crisis, I am only partially joking. The truth is that I have reached a saturation point. I’ve hit my limit of putting my actual self out to be judged and considered and criticized and torn up and down.
Today a neighbor walked her wonderful dogs past the house as I was planting. To be honest, she’s probably walked by a lot more, but I’ve been buried in my podcasts and dirt. We chatted for a minute and I mentioned for the first time to a complete stranger that starting in late June or July there would likely be flowers for sale on a stand at the house and she said she couldn’t wait to walk down and buy flowers when the time came.
As she walked away I thought “WHAT did I just do??!” I don’t think I’m unique in that I prepare myself for failure all the time. That I have already rationalized all of the ways this just won’t work. But I rarely give myself permission to plan for success. But what if it works… what if it all works.
Here’s what’s beautiful around here this week…