Leftfield Botanical

Flowers are food for the soul. Those were just about the first words spoken to me when I walked through the door to interview Jo from Leftfield Botanical, a small scale organic flower farmer, and after spending sometime with her I can’t think that a better food for the soul does exist. We spoke about the world of flowers from her gorgeous patch in Rosabrook. 

Flowers for the Soul

I grew up on a wheat and sheep farm in a little town called Moorine Rock, which is near Southern Cross. If you drove for four hours east of Perth in a straight line, that’s where it is. I always wanted to farm something, but I never thought it would be flowers. I thought it would be something to do with food because food’s important and flowers aren’t, right? I did wrestle with it for a bit, wondering whether farming flowers was a worthwhile endeavour. Now I know that flowers really bring something to people’s lives, and it’s always something positive. I really believe that flowers are food for the soul. They help us communicate when you’ve got no words to say, ‘I’m so sorry for your loss,’ or ‘I love you so much.’ We can say it with flowers.

My favourite flowers to grow are dahlias. There’s nothing like a perfect dahlia. Foxgloves would be a favourite as well. 

Bouquet of Happiness

My day usually starts with picking the flowers, as that needs to be done in the cool of the morning. Some flowers will wilt easily if they’re picked in the heat of the day, and they hydrate better if you pick them cooler and get them away from the field heat. I’ll leave them for a few hours to condition and really suck up all the water, and then I’ll make the bouquets after lunch so they’re picked and used the same day. I’ll also fit in planting, garden maintenance and driving around town to deliver the bouquets, it’s full on! I’ll never be rolling in money or anything being a flower farmer, but even if I’m rushing around like a headless chook I’m still thinking, ‘I’m making bouquets for a living, this is pretty cool!’ I am honestly so grateful, everyday, to call this my workplace. 

Impending Doom

People ask, why bother growing flowers organically when you don’t even eat them? Well, you can actually eat them, they’re not particularly delicious or anything but they’ll make a dish look beautiful. I don’t think it’s necessary to farm any other way than organically. The flowers will still be in your home, you’re sticking your nose in them so why would you want chemicals in them? Plus whatever you buy organic, whether it’s food, flowers or cotton sheets, you’re supporting an organic agricultural system. Agriculture has no doubt contributed in a major way to environmental degradation and had some really negative impacts, but I believe it can also be the way out and save us from, you know, impending doom.

Country Isolation

I spent about ten years off and on around Fremantle. I only seem to last maybe two years in the city before I need to head out some random, isolated country house on a farm somewhere. I’ll do that for a while till I feel too lonely, and then I’ll head back to Fremantle. I had a retail job for a while in the city and it was just killing me. I could feel my soul dying inside, just withering away. It was a nice shop, it had great values, a lot of sustainable earth friendly stuff, but it was just not doing it for me at all. I’ve lived in a few country towns along the way, but I really wanted somewhere that still had a bit going on, and that’s Margaret River for me. Even though it’s a country town, there’s so many yoga classes to choose from, there’s some decent festivals and you can get a great coffee. It’s the best of both worlds here. When I lived in the city, I had no idea what moon phase it even was. I love the peace and quiet amongst my flowers, and I love watching the moon rise over the trees. To now be so in tune with nature for work is so special.

Beneficial Insects

The pests can be pretty intense to deal with sometimes. I don’t know why I thought it would be easier, really I just cleared a space in the middle of a field and grew flowers, every insect under the sun would belike, ‘oh wow flowers, yay!’ I find there’s a bit more harmony now I’ve brought some beneficial insects in to boost their natural numbers, so predatory wasps and lady birds and things like that. There’s a couple of companies in Australia that breed them and then you buy them as part of an integrated pest management program. I use eco oil as well, which is an oil that will kill the aphids but encourage beneficial insects at the same time, whereas other products are non-selective; so they will kill the pests, but they’re also kill your beneficials as well. I’d never wipe out anything if that’s the cost of beneficials. The same for the life in the soil, I can’t bring myself to till or do anything that might kill a worm. The more I can build up those numbers, the healthier the system becomes and the better it can cope with issues that pop up.

Pristine Living

I really underestimated how much time I would spend on the computer. Everything from researching flower varieties and where to source them, to navigating quarantine and buying seeds from overseas. I’ve realised there’s just so much that you can’t bring into Australia because of the quarantine laws. Getting it into Australia is one thing, and then getting it into WA is a whole other thing. I can see why, we’re so lucky here with our pristine environment.

Wildly Romantic, Wildly Hard

Flower farming is a hard slog. It’s quite popular these days, small scale organic flower growing, but when I started there was hardly anyone doing it. Since then it’s really taken off because I think it sounds very tempting and wildly romantic, the life of a flower farmer. It’s not all pretty, it’s hard work, there’s been tears and I’ve nearly quit so many times. It’s been physically painful, mentally exhausting and the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s starting to get really fun now but it’s been a long, hard road. Now I’m not spending so much time researching because all my systems are set up. When I go to make a new flower bed I’m not scrambling to put together an irrigation line for it, because it’s all set up and interchangeable now. I’ve got also a massive amount of data in my spreadsheets now, so every time I plant I don’t have to look at what the spacing will be, or if it needs netting, etc. I can just get on with the actual farming. When I was working in retail in Perth I hated having to wear nice, clean clothes and make up. I love getting dirty and fixing shit, and just being practical. There’s always dirt under my nails, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I just love farming.

You can follow Jo on Instagram at @leftfieldbotanical and find her fresh bouquets in Better Choice Margaret River.

Article and photos by Paris Hawken.