“Flowers are back!” says Amanda Muis Brown, a grin lighting up her sun-freckled face.
Her loyal customers buy everything from fresh bouquets to dried potpourris from Humble Burdock Farms at weekly markets in Nova Scotia to decorate their homes.
“When I started seven years ago,” she adds, “there was only a tiny handful of flower farmers in the province and now there’s a whole bushel basket.”
Muis Brown grows 150 varieties of flowers in greenhouses and fields on her family’s third-generation farm in the Annapolis Valley at Steam Mill, near Kentville, N.S. She is also a photographer and wrote her first book, From Seed to Centerpiece in the pre-dawn hours before work on the farm begins. It features 300 of her original photographs.
She wanted to give readers a “behind-the-scenes look” at how flowers grow and how to find joy and delight in “the natural world of bees and butterflies.”
Her father grows giant pumpkins competitively, and sister Michele works in a plant nursery. She started out selling his vegetables at markets, but quickly began cutting and selling flowers from her mother’s garden. When her mother insisted she plant her own, Humble Burdock Farms was born.
Muis Brown’s talent as a painter helps her design colourful bouquets incorporating greenery, feathers, leaves, and grasses. Her custom bouquets are sought after by brides (she does some 30 weddings a year) and the farm also wholesales to florists.
She assembles bouquets in her rustic studio, a barn where swallows swoop and play. A riot of flowers cures on the greying walls. Once the scent of peonies has faded and the autumn’s sunflowers flame out, she assembles dried arrangements and wreaths.
Her work evokes a Victorian vibe, with a few bits of lace, porcelain, and antique accessories. Dried bachelor’s buttons for blue, rose petals for pink, and yellow tansy combine and contrast in the wildflower potpourri.
“Potpourris add so much to your home so easily,” says Muis Brown. “You’ve brought in nature and a beautiful smell.”
Humble Burdock potpourris are made the traditional way with real flowers, orris root, and essential oils to lock in the fragrance. She avoids synthetic scents found in most modern potpourris, which don’t last as long.
She mixes dried flowers with Epsom and sea salts to create bath teas to relax aching muscles. She even drew the whimsical labels for Queen Bee, containing bee pollen and rose petals, and Garden Party.
“I get bored easily,” she laughs, when asked about the wellspring of her creativity. “Sometimes the ideas come when I’m driving my truck to market on Saturday.” She is a regular at the Historic Farmers’ Market in Halifax and at the Wolfville Farmer’s Market.
Starting seeds during the cold East Coast spring is not for the faint of heart. In her book, Amanda recalls plenty of sleepless nights getting up to keep the woodstove going.
From June to October, Muis Brown is part of an enterprising group of Valley farmers whose subscribers sign up for weekly deliveries of vegetables, eggs, meat, and now flowers. She was among the first to sell a Floral CSA (short for Community Supported Agriculture) at $17 a bouquet.
Today, with Humble Burdock Farms and her family thriving, the choice to name the business after a common weed seems apt. “The burdock is considered a pioneering weed,” says Muis Brown. “Like dandelions, they go into infertile areas and they make the land fertile for more complicated plants to grow, such as trees. The humble burdock doesn’t show off what it does, but it plays such an important role.”o
Humble Burdock Farms home and bath products are available at thehumbleburdock.com