A week off work would normally involve planes, passports and new season bikinis. There would be sunshine and cocktails and a golden glow from within rather than from a fake tan bottle. There would be "out of office" auto replies and getting unplugged (albeit, until that first tropical sunset and the Insta profile gets a new upload). Sounds blissfully perfect, but alas, it is not the week I had away! Oh no, it was so much better than that.
Armed with Google maps and the Grown Not Flown website, I embarked upon a week-long pilgrimage visiting micro flower farmers in the Victorian Goldfields, alone. Like all scholarly expeditions there was a mission; to reignite and consolidate my passion for the paddock to vase philosophy and have vibrant conversations with those at the beginning of my floral supply chain. Of course, this crusade needed a name, it would be the Tour De Fleur.
First stop was to say hi to Allison at Ducks Landing in Buningyong, a roadside A-frame I have passed many times, but never veered off to discover in full. The 'honesty' shed (far from an honesty box) is filled with fresh cut native flowers, eggs and hand curated local gifts. As far as 'honesty' sheds go, this is one that I would pretty much move into, check it out! The day I arrived it was pouring with rain (we've actually broken rainfall records this month) but Allison greeted me wearing gumboots and a big wide smile that drowned out more than the rain ever could.
The first thing that grabbed me was just how picturesque the planting was, no straight lines here, all the flower beds are beautifully arced around the a central dam that is a watery haven for the ducks (hence, Duck's Landing). As long as you can navigate the ride-on mower around the bends, then curvy planting makes complete aesthetic sense, especially when the flowers are in bloom. Stunning curves of botanical color.
While we paddled through the property, Allison and I talked about the great success of her waratah crop and sell-outs from the farmgate stand each weekend, it's hard to imagine that this venture was only seeded in 2020 when you see the work in rabbit proof fencing, raised beds, miles of weed matting and thick mulching. Of course, like all farming life, there have been failures, the tetragona is struggling and the waxflower is not happy at all, but there's a shoulder shrug and acceptance that despite the immense rainfall this spring, sometimes it just gets down to patience, pop the kettle on and hope.
We shared a meaningful conversation about sustainable flower growing, micro flower farming and the paddock to vase philosophy, here you can see the slow flower movement in action. Everything Allison grows can be returned the the earth with zero impact, the duck's will be landing on that dam forever. The effect of Allison's ethos is miles bigger than her one acre flower farm.
With my brolly quickly concertinaed away, I steered away from Duck's Landing a little giddy with excitement about what the other floral stops would bring and headed North towards my first overnight in Campbell's Creek, just outside of Castlemaine.
I will divert a little here to tell you that I stayed in two absolutely (polar opposite) but idyllic Air BNBs for the Tour de Fleur and there's just so much to say about them that I will do a separate blog to bang on about them both. Anyway, back to Campbell's Creek......
I booked my stay at the property in Campbell's Creek because the blurb online said it was a working (micro) flower farm!!! Click. Booked. If your online profile says I can live on a flower farm, I will, even if it's just for two nights. I reached out to the host to ask if she might have time to show me around her property and we teed up a time to make that happen.
Boots on to combat more rain and mud, I waited for Lizzie at the gate like I was waiting for a dinner date, unable to process where the farm actually was because all I could see was her older weatherboard dwelling perched on a sloping narrow one-acre block. When Lizzie emerged in knee high gumboots, floaty chambray shirt dress, melton wool hat and greeted me in a thick French (I think?) accent, it was pretty much like the most perfect script for a movie I could imagine. So began the tour of Rose & Abraham.
We meandered down past the side of the house, overplanted with ivy, lilac and peppercorn, brushing past echiums and cliveas to the back of the house which opened out onto a rambling, wild landscape of trellis' , string lines, beds in various stages of planting, flowering and seeding all terraced down to the large tunnel igloo below. Wandering down the wide timber railway sleeper steps, avoiding mud and resting water, there was sensory overload both left and right.
To the right Lizzie talked openly about how she planted some of her roses too close to the ornamental pears and left about how the first year ranunculus corns were a little underwhelming and would be saved for seed, not cut for flowers. At the next right were rows of two-toned, season end tulips and on the left two busy, speckled ducks were scurrying through empty beds in search of earthy entrees while pale pink ranunculus danced happily alongside. Row upon row of color, descending to the lowest point of the block; a roaming patch of dusty miller marked the boundary of this wild, floral menagerie. Looking back up to the house it was a lot to process visually, on face value more 'chaotic' than what I had expected of a flower farm and yet remarkably, no less productive or specatular. What Lizzie has squeezed into this 3/4 acre plot is remarkable, a mini Monet masterpiece with all the love and passion of a painters brush; and let's not forget that accent, it just completes this floral exhibition.
Of course Lizzie, like many other growers on the Tour de Fleur is nervously awaiting the first sprigs of her dahlias to appear after the never-ending deluge and has another batch ready to go in the ground when the pooling water subsides. She remains positive about the sunshine eventually arriving to do it's spring work and in the meantime is mailing out online orders of dahlia tubers to other flower lovers with a dahlia addiction. (Yep, "my name is Amanda and I have a dahlia addiction") The tour finished with an offer to pick some flowers for myself and the gift of a freshly baked loaf of bread. Merci beauchamp!
Two days, two farms. One arced, one terraced. One meticulously planned, the other wildly natural. Neither using pesticides or sprays. Both immensely passionate, micro flower farmers slowing down the process one petal at a time. Oh, and both have ducks.
Tour de Fleur Part II, soon my lovelies. x