Day three of the Tour de Fleur started with glorious sunshine, a weather pattern that has pretty much eluded us so far this spring. I did a little deviation from Castlemaine to Maldon to have a cup of tea with some tree-changed friends who have bought the Maldon Motel (more on that in Part IV) and enjoyed wandering through their vintage garden which included the most fragrant avenue of Mr Lincoln roses. With my head drunk on the scent of old world flowers and Earl Grey tea, I headed north-west beyond Avoca to Moonambel.
A region best known for vineyards, the Pyrenees Ranges is prime grape growing country and hence, prime location for wine drinking. I resisted the temptation to turn down all those cellar door driveways to make my way to Moonambel to meet Daniel Thomas at Kangaroo Hill Farm. Wending my way up his hillside driveway, I was enamoured by seeing more native flowers than I have ever seen in my life (insert heart-eyed emoji). A toot at the entry to announce my arrival and Daniel wandered out, cup of coffee in hand to take me on an informal tour of his farm, starting with multiple rows of white king proteas awaiting sunbeams to make them pop to life. He explained that he didn't bother weeding, being a one-man operation has its limitations, but that rogue vegetation is a great camouflage for cockatoos who would happily destroy all the flowers.
Daniel's planting is on about 10% of his 100 acre sloping property, big wide rows with tons of well established plants yielding a huge number of flowers. Like Allison and Lizzie's plots, the channels in between Daniel's rows were soggy with lots of pooling water but his tall, raised beds have averted 'wet feet'; his arch enemy has been the frost, not flood. As we wandered through his crop, he was sadly snapping off numerous flower buds that were damaged from those icy coverlets, removing flowers destined for weddings & funerals, birthdays & graduations. He was upbeat about a plan next season to blanket those particular plants prior to frost predictions to fend off the crystals and avoid the frozen carnage.
One thing about all my flower farmer friends is their chatter about future plans and Daniel has firm goals about how many more plants he wants to put in the ground, what they will yield and what money they might generate each season. It's easy to forget among all the beauty that flower farming is a business and it has to provide a livelihood. The sheer volume of work that Daniel does by himself on his property is astounding, as is his willingness to share his practices and knowledge about growing natives successfully. He's hosting a farm tour and workshop on November 26th and it's a must-do activity for anybody who wants to see larger scale, open air, chemical-free planting (head to his Instagram profile for info). Leaving Kangaroo Hill Farm, the strong message I was left with was to get those native flowers up, up, up and when you think you've got those beds up high, go higher!
Day Four led me to the little green haven of Newlyn and to Josie. I am yet to meet a bad "Josie" and this one was no exception, I pulled up outside to find her cutting lilac from her front garden eagerly awaiting my arrival before darting off for school pickup. At Paddock to Posy, Josie is talking the talk and walking the walk; the flowers she grows get formed into posies she sells herself, though she also sells her roses, dahlias, hydrangeas and tulips to local florists. She proudly showed me her new crop of Soloman's Seal and the first bit of color appearing on her peony rose buds, a hefty investment into those plants that looks likely to return some monetary joy. Her precious new shoots are planted in neat, weed-matted rows behind a rabbit-proof fence, all hard yakka completed by her potato farming husband.
Her rows and rows of David Austin and hybrid tea roses are showing lots of healthy burgundy growth, but the buds that would normally be prolific by now are eagerly awaiting more warmth and fewer clouds. We chatted about her having two different crops of roses; one destined for short term glory at events and an alternative that rewards the buyer with a long vase life, diversifying to capture a bigger number of customers. She uses the names of her roses and talks about them like her children, some well behaved and others a little more pesky, but she loves them all equally like a good mother should. This flowery mumma is a little behind where she would like to be, ill-health last year and some other unexpected road bumps stole time from nurturing the patch, but all these flower growers have a to-do list that is never complete and an outlook that is always evolving, adapting and persisting.
Josie's long term dream to relocate her blooming micro operation out to land nearby where her husband toils their potato farm is one I'm confident she will achieve, "Josie's" are just doers. I'm excited to think that mash and petals, two of my most favourite things in the world, will be thriving alongside each other like besties in a earthy playground.
Two more farms in two days. One creating a barrier for weeds, the other using them as camouflage. One completely fenced from vermin, the other letting all the pests in and using trickery to diminish their impact. Both very wet, both waiting for sunshine and both still smiling.
With a change of accommodation for the remainder of my tour, I took up residence in the Lunar Love Nest in Hepburn Springs, just out of Daylesford. My view out the studio window to ageless gumtrees and a watery gully below was the perfect place for reflection on my crusade so far. There was still one more scheduled farm stop with an unexpected discovery too, so I'll talk about those in the next chapter of the Tour de Fleur.
Chat soon lovelies x