I was so glad I accepted Nicola's invitation to visit @meadowsweetcroft yesterday in honour of British Flowers Week.
Marvelling at the spikey leaved oaks, Nicola told me how 11 years ago and long before the vision of becoming Skye's first cut flower grower, she'd planted trees for shelter and winter colour in her garden. I've attempted to look up the variety, not remembering if she said European oaks... and not realising there are no less than 450 varieties of oak!
Wandering through the flower beds, Nicola explained each stage of the development of her garden, sharing the names of the flowers... campanula, feverfew, geum, alchemilla mollis and others I recognised the names of - poppies, sweet peas, aliums and sweet williams, until we came across the most outrageous 'crazy daisies' or 'Chrysanthemum Carinatum Rainbow Dazzlers'... which have such wacky colouring they look unreal!
We chatted a little about seed saving and I was impressed to hear Nicola is saving seeds alongside her learning... keeping notes on what works, what doesn't... I love that!
We visited the deep purple poppies which Nicola said she'd not used much this year, only really drying the petals for a confetti project she's sure will be fitting for one of her 2024 brides. Imagine that! Someone taking the time and care to collect seed, to sow, nurture and grow flowers just to collect the petals to dry them as they'd make the most stunning confetti for your wedding day! To me that shows the extent of Nicola's dedication and speaks volumes for her passion for her flowers... and her brides!
Next stop was the no dig flower beds Nicola created during a winter covid lockdown... gardening on Skye in November and December is pretty
hard-core with gale force wilds and horizontal rain, but now in midsummer with the beds full of blooms... perhaps it was worth it!
Heading from the garden onto the croft, through the gate, the chickens clucking at our feet, I told her I admire her tenacity to work with the Skye weather. When I'm growing I find the trial and error of it all incredibly frustrating. It seems almost anything can impede a plant's thriving! The seeds, the heat, the cold, the amount of water, light, sun, the type and quality of the soil. So many factors! And each year brings its own unique challenges. Each totally different. How does she do it? She smiled "growing flowers for the cut flower market on Skye was always going to tough, but I'm enjoying giving it a go, learning lots and am inspired by the idea of passing on my knowledge and learning to others."
Nicola showed me her greenhouse - her pride and joy - with its scented herbs. She told me her plan was to take out a shelving unit and put in a chair amongst the lemon verbena and pineapple sage to sit in this wee warm scented haven to relax, but she'd not yet found the time to put in the chair! We talked about the concept of stopping to smell the roses... or in this case the herbs. I considered whether I should grow pineapple sage just for the novelty of it... so pineappley it made my mouth water!
We explored the new beds on the croft as Nicola expands onto the land furthest from her house, telling me how the deer have recently decimated everything she's planted out there. Oh yes, deer, another risk factor... unless you build 2m high fences!
And she told me the story of how the boats in the bay here used to collect seaweed for the soap trade, once delivered they'd return with soil as ballast for the boats which the crofters used on their land. This soil has improved the quality of much of the land directly around the houses, although the land further away is a poorer quality local soil. It reminded me of the stories I'd heard of the Bulloughs, owners of Kinloch Castle on Rhum, shipping in better quality soil for the castle and the village, meaning the closer your croft was to the castle, the better your soil!
We headed into the house for a cuppa, where Nicola showed me her workspace, previously her sitting room, but now more like the back room of a florists with buckets of blooms and flowers hanging drying for various winter projects, such as her strawflower garlands.
She showed me the most gorgeous pressed display of flowers grown for a bridal bouquet earlier this year which will be framed for the couple... I'd never heard of wedding bouquet preservation... but apparently it's a thing!
We chatted a while about a couple she has staying in her strawbale bothy in August. She recommended me as their celebrant for their elopement ceremony which we'll hold... maybe on the mound on her croft, or in amongst the flower beds or even in the cocoony earthy beauty of the bothy which my husband helped to build and I blessed on completion.
What an inspiring afternoon and so fitting for British Flowers Week which is intended to be a celebration of British-grown flowers and the immense creative talent in floral design found across the country.
It's incredible to see what Nicola's achieved in a few short years and I reminded her to keep reflecting, noticing and celebrating all she's developed, learnt and grown.
I was so struck by her determination, tenacity, and resilience in the face of (usually weather related) adversity and her innovative nature and creative spirit. What an inspiration she is!
A knock at the door signalled a friend arriving to talk with Nicola about the bees she keeps on the croft. She'd been telling me how a recent swarm meant she now has two hives. And taking that as my cue to leave I collected some pre-ordered bunches and some curly willow Nicola had invited me to gather from the croft.
Leaving with a wave and a thanks I made my way to Broadford Growers Hub for a mid-summer nourishing nature session on behalf of Corry Capers for a group of teens from the local girls youth club.
The session included flower identification and appreciation... poetry and gratitude for nature... and flower crowns crafted from the meadowsweet curly willow and blossoms.
On completion of their crowns I invited the girls to put them on, honouring themselves, recognising all their growth, flourishing and blossoming as their school year ends and affirming them with the qualities they'd seen in the flowers... beauty and colour, softness and strength, colourful brightness, individuality and uniqueness and more.
What a day! Nourished by nature and blessed by the inspiring women and girls of Skye and Lochalsh!