I used to be a full time flower grower. Twenty five years ago, the Queenstown council, in order to maintain the rural landscape in the Wakatipu basin, required acreages of ten+ to prove ‘economic use’. No EU. No Building Permit. No house.
The H and I purchased 16 acres of land. Aside from willows, poplars and cows grazing the place clean thanks to a local farmer, there was nout. I was growing sunflowers at the time and we developed that notion further into a fully-fledged cut flower business. 12 months later after hours of work and a considerable investment, we had our building permit.
The upside of this mad foray into unknown world of floriculture was that our ‘packing shed’ was our home. We tilled the land, planted shelterbelts (some of which were eaten by rabbits overnight) we toiled away. But we loved it. I used to think we were a more hip, kiwi version of the couple from The Good Life (one of my favourite TV shows as teen). It was just us. No children. Yet. Some Sunday evenings I’d make margheritas. Once The H decided, post drinks to mow the paddock. In the nud. He did a drive by standing up on the seat of our orange Kubota tractor. I laughed myself in knots while fearing for his life. And his bits.
We’ve been married 25 years this November. I doubt we’ll make a large enough anniversary number to get in the local newspaper and be asked, so what is your secret to a happy marriage? My answer would not be a constipated look and patience. I’d say – only marry someone who makes you laugh. Daily.
We had a menagerie of animals. A cat named Miss Bob Dobilina - a rickety black ally looking cat who started life on bread soaked in milk at a crazy kitty home in Riverton. The H was travelling up and down thrice weekly to Southland while managing the rebuild of a pub on the main street. We turned it into a Guesthouse and soon bumbled along in the hospitality trade also.
Bob gave birth to twins of our bed. With us in it. Sounds damn feral I know but you try moving a labouring cat. They just come back. Again. And again. I named the twins 2.04 and 4.02. Am. And felt every whiny contraction. We had a dog too – Tallulah Trixiebelle Polyanna Schmoo. We called her Schmoo. She came from Dunedin and was a terrible wanderer. She flaunted her loss of virtue with neighbouring farm dogs and had a mixed huntaway/heading dog litter. Lois Lane, Clark Kent – brown and black, Rod and Rachel – white and black. We kept Lois. In winter the dogs slept under our bed, the cats on top. Extra feral and slightly odiferous. But our packing shed was unlined. It was cold. We were eskimo like. Only our animal furs were alive. Nevertheless, I grew nasty chilblains on my feet. And cried when the builder, who was building our house at the same time, said we’d be there another winter.
Early spring I’d sow seeds on the heated seed-bed in my 7m x 5m greenhouse. Somehow I managed to grow a florist shop full of all manner of crazy bright flowers and foliage to bunch with my sunflowers. All procured from an American published book I bought – Specialty Cut Flowers.
It was the early 90s and dried flowers were big in Queenstown. The Japanese tourists couldn’t get enough of these garish arrangements to take home as souvenirs. As a grower the fashion was a godsend because, well, it’s impossible to sell ALL your fresh produce. Despite modern miracles like the walk-in chiller, The H used to tow up from Deep South Ice Cream, Invercargill each season. Bloody awful ugly noisy thing. Weekly rent $35. I rue the day I never just bought the jolly thing from the cheery man who made the best and by far the hokeyiest hokey pokey in the land (not as good now though). Otago was touted as the perfect place to grow dried flowers. The cool nighttime temperatures aiding their rich hues. Don’t ask me the scientific reasoning behind this. But it sounded good.
And perhaps this is why in THIS CRAPPY COLD WET SUMMER my 200 Dutch hydrangeas, part of my original EU Horticultural family, have bloomed so damn well. The cold. The wet. (It was 4 degrees at 6am this morning when I reached for my hideous chenille dressing gown FYI). They haven’t always performed like a Chelsea Flower show exhibit my hydrangeas. They sulked for years in their original planting site. Frosty spring southerlies whipped through the thin poplar shelterbelt and burnt off any brave buds. But look at them now. They love their woodland setting, beside the trickly stream which runs all the way down a long and rambling gully to the Shotover river.
Eventually I gave up flower growing. I stopped all my crazy seed sowing. My bi-weekly sunflower seedling transplants x 200. Up early picking flowers in my nightie. My peonies continued to flourish. But I mulched the lilacs flat. I always hated them. And I transplanted what were pretty ratty hydrangeas to their sheltered spot. And grew three children.
In fact, when my babies came along I was kind of forced to give up manual labour thanks to crippling morning sickness. I don’t regret those early years being a stay at home mum at all. I loved it and I struggled with it often. But always felt it was a privilege to be at home with my kids. I only wished mummy blogs were around then. Crikey I would have had a field day. I did write a mummy diary on an old Mac (which I would now like to blow up) to keep myself sane. I’m feeling quite old as I write this. Like some middle-aged memoirist playing a harpsichord with a melodic backing track. Probably because it coincides with my first-born child leaving home. Yep our very first fully-fledged Bloomie is about to fly-the-coup. Off to Sydney Uni. I’m happy and excited for her. Also a little angry that she’s going. I know like the seasons of flowers some years for her will be better than others. But she’ll grow and learn, become wise to the world and dig her heels in when she needs to. And flourish.
I did a survey recently of parents of 20 something’s at a barbecue. Do they come back? I asked. Every one of them. The general consensus was, Yes they do. Sometimes for too long!
I can’t wait.
(flower slide show follows)