Megan Balodis is doing a happy dance as she makes her way through her flower garden, pointing out what is tried and true and what is new and hopeful. She studied plant science in university and she is a natural researcher, but she admits she might still be collecting information and comparing notes if not for the push from her husband, Erik.
“He told me I had more than enough information and I had to get out into the field and start planting. He pointed me to a hayfield near the house and told me it was my space.”
Once a dairy farm, the Balodis farm on White Hill Road outside Hopewell now raises beef cattle.
“I wanted to contribute to the farm, but I’m not a cattle person. I really want to grow flowers for market.”
Initially unsure how realistic some of her ideas were, she turned to social media.
“I had no trouble finding flower growers and they have been a great help. Most helpful of all are those who work in the same sort of conditions I have.”
She knows not everyone thinks of flowers a farm crop, but she hopes that will change.
“Some people see flowers as a luxury item, but flowers feed the soul. I’m a very practical person, but I love to have beauty around me.”
The mason jars of colourful flowers and foliage she brings to the New Glasgow Farmers’ Market each week give no hint of her early doubts and struggles.
“I’m happy with how the garden is coming along, but flower farming is not for people who need certainty. It is for those who take joy in learning,” she said.
For plants that did not do as well as she hoped last year, she has modified her technique and is hoping for better results this year. Others did better than expected and are on her list of keepers. Her garden is divided into annuals that grow up neatly through landscaping fabric and slightly wilder perennials that need space to spread, mulch to hold moisture and, in some cases, netting for support.
On a morning garden tour, she pulls weeds and crushes bugs as she checks her current favourites, a bumper crop of colourful snapdragons with playful names like Madame Butterfly.
“Being on a hayfield, my biggest challenge is grass that is always fighting its way in. I spend a lot of time pulling weeds. For bugs, I use Safer’s Soap when I need it. I’m an ecologically conscious gardener, but I use organic principles.”
When planting, Balodis has to consider what plants will look good together in an arrangement.
“I need lots of foliage and my current favourite is honeywort, which is very leafy and long-lasting with a small blueberry flower so it looks good with any colours.”
She also has a large patch of yarrow in a range of pastel shades, which she appreciates for its ability to complement any arrangement. Her pincushion flowers are also showy in arrangements.
“It is really challenging to know what to plant. I need plants with height for my vases, so anything too short doesn’t work, even if I think it is very pretty. I’ve tried to include some older plants that have an emotional tug for people. They may or may not remember what they are called, but they remember seeing them in gardens.”
Falling into that category are her multi-coloured patches of Sweet William and long-stemmed Cosmos with large, open pink and white flowers and old-fashioned phlox.
Customer feedback will help determine what is planted next year.
“I brought some orange tulips to the market this spring and was surprised at how popular they were, so I’ll definitely be planting more orange tulips for next year.”
An introvert by nature, Balodis is perfectly content working in her garden and watching for a Monarch butterfly to land on her milkweed, but the marketing side of the business requires a lot of interaction with people.
“I’m enjoying it more than I expected. I was nervous at first, but I’ve found people very friendly and interested and I’m enjoying the energy of the market.”
She gets a lot of visits from gardeners who like to discuss various plants.
“I’ve learned a lot of people who have flower gardens are happy to buy an arrangement of cut flowers from me because they hate to cut anything from their own garden. I also bring some bundles of cut flowers for those who want to add to what they cut from their gardens.”
Balodis’ plant science background serves her well in growing and harvesting, but arranging flowers is something she is teaching herself.
“There has definitely been some trial and error. In the beginning, it took me a while to put together one arrangement, but I’ve learned to be faster and smarter. I’m always looking for new combinations and new ideas.”
Being totally dependent on what is ready for cutting has brought her to new levels of creativity.
“I started with my own ideas of what I liked, but I think my creativity has increased as a result of experimenting with what is on hand.”
She will be using that creativity to provide floral table décor at the market’s Dinner by the River event in August.
Rosalie MacEachern is a Stellarton resident and freelance writer who seeks out people who work behind the scenes on hobbies or jobs that they love. To make a suggestion for an upcoming article, contact email@example.com.