Memorial Day has come and gone, and summer seems to have established itself for the season. Such a rapid transition from cool spring to hot, muggy summer-like weather has made a larger-than-usual window of flowerless time after that luxurious first week of lilacs at my market stand. In addition, the German and Siberian iris, usually a reliable resource between those lilacs and the peonies-into-annuals tumble of June blossoming, were skimpy this year despite my conscientious dividing and transplanting last fall (which usually prompts lots of blooms the next year). Add to that a market at all three locations plus a wedding order to fill, and the garden gave all it had - mostly to the wedding client, who got every blue Spanish Hyacinth, Purple Allium splendens, silver Lamb's ear stem, maroon Geranium phaeum, and every purple, yellow or ivory dutch or German iris showing its colors at the point of it's tightly-wrapped bud.
Happily, my daughter caught me raiding our little Lily-of-the-Valley patch, and offered to drive me to my favorite old source, a gone-wild swath on the banks of the river across from her dad's house. We picked a great handful, concluding that there is nothing more perfectly bridal.
Because the pickings at the farm were slim, I took mostly "tinies" to market: little composed bouquets, this year in recycled tin cans covered in scraps of fabric left from sewing. When making these, I think of their place on a nightstand, as a gift to an unsuspecting parent, as a last-minute hostess gift or birthday surprise. The fabrics often inspire the composition, and sometimes the least inspiring clips of fabric result in such a harmony with the flowers, it is quite pleasing. Here, four that didn't sell found perfect spots throughout my house. Bloom Where You are Planted.
The first West Stockbridge farmers' market of a chilly spring arrived warm and summery last Thursday. More than than any Memorial Day cookout, it seemed as if summer had truly arrived. It was great to see everyone after a long winter-not only other farmers, crafters and cooks who have come to seem like a sort of extended family to me in the otherwise isolated endeavor of farming, but also familiar regular customers, their dogs, and their children. How the children change from the final October market of the old year to the first May market of this new one! Meantime, my own "children" in the garden are growing, too - new lettuces beginning to take on their characteristic shapes of romaine and butterhead, and their mature coloring, from chartreuse "Tennis Ball" to trout-mottled "Amish Speckled" to forest green "Parris Cos".
Because it was a cold, late spring, I was ashamed to be bringing mostly crafts and not much else. I cut armloads of lilacs (it has been a marvelous year for these), fat bunches of rhubarb, and fresh jam made from last year's frozen peaches and raspberries, dried rose petals and the first harvest of rhubarb.
When I arrived, I found it was the same for the other farms as well—too cold for much besides the very earliest of crops. That's another thing that makes the first markets so nice: the reminder that I am not alone in coping with cold rains, snows, unheated growing spaces, etc. We can also share our triumphs: Molly at Colfax Farm is building a real, permanent heated and ventilated greenhouse this year, and Danny at Taft Farm is capitalizing on the rental potential of his vast acres for farm weddings. It's encouraging to see those incremental steps into a more solid farm future and interesting to see how the answer is different for each of us depending on scale, goals, and the limiting factors we're facing and (hopefully) overtopping.
As for First-Flower Farm, this afternoon Project Cooler is up and running. After two months' time spent searching for a used AC unit, I decided to buy a new one to be sure of getting a functional, appropriately-sized model of the kind specified by the Cool-Bot folks. One Haier AC unit (And $220) later, the room is reminiscent of a day in March. Installation was really simple. Thanks to a few trips to the Habitat Re-Store, the whole thing was really affordable to build aside from the mechanicals. It will be a few weeks before I can fill it with flowers and find out if this really lengthens the window of time I can harvest flowers before they go to market as fresh as I want them to arrive—in essence, buying me time to spread out the workload and prevent morning-of-market frenzy three days of the week.
I used to believe orange was strident. Like millions of gardeners who came of age in the 1980s, with a careful eye on the tastemaking English masters, I knew enough to scorn all shades from yellow to red on the color wheel. Pink and blue gardens in the misty and innoffensive tones of cool, virginal afternoon tea and Sunday bonnets—that's what the new converts to "perennial gardening" were all for. I worked at plant nurseries in those days, and not a workday passed without the words "yellow" or "orange" spoken of with the same self-righteous disgust one might reserve today for scorning trashy novels or instant coffee.
The tables have turned, and for some time now, chartreuse and hot shades to complement it have become the vogue. Now, the very idea that a blossom can be "in" or "out" of style is pretty goofy to me. How can anyone shun any flower, especially after a long, dark winter? Still, while I was looking beyond the pastel '80s ahead of the curve, it's only recently that I've begun to understand the role sunset shades play in a spring garden. Orange is restorative. Like that first dose of bitter greens, chlorophyll-forward asparagus or diuretic rhubarb, bolder colors are a sort of visual spring tonic. Soon enough, we'll tone it down to "millennial pink" (the latest vogue-though it's actually that same shade we detested in the dread "pink bathroom" we ripped out 10 years ago, or the pink barf buckets they gave out with every '90s appendectomy). The Cafe Au Lait dahlias and cameo-pink zinnias that make a bouquet sell right out of the car before I can get my market stand set up? They might be pushing us back towards another decade of toning it down. Meanwhile, here are my favorite all-out blooms this week: Sedate at sunrise, and full-on joyous as the spring sun climbs high. Orange is righteous, and spring is here. Bloom Where You are Planted!
I've been farming since I was a toddler, when my grandparents showed me how to put onion sets point-up in the sandy furrows of our Michigan homestead. It's taken thirty-odd years of horticultural jobs—from potting up lilies by the thousands to managing a 150-member CSA at Hancock Shaker Village—for me to embark on cultivating a farm of my own. Hence, the title.