When I first moved to Salt Spring Island—a decision made within 24 hours of stepping on her shores—I came with the intent of expanding and grounding my environmental art practice. I had spent the past few years travelling from exhibition to exhibition, holding workshops in conjunction with new artworks made in response to sites. I loved my work. I loved working with groups of students internationally and nationally. I was also a professor teaching nearly a full course load, an artist in residence with the Vancouver School Board, and I had three major public art commissions. I had no idea at that point how important flower guides would become in my life.
In my art practice, I travelled to cities I was invited to and created a whole new body of work within 7 to 14 days. I did no research ahead of time. I work with deep intuition and dreams, and whatever materials I can source in the area. I am honoured to be a conduit for Spirit, for the Earth. I spent my entire art practice reconnecting people to the Earth, and yet I had begun to feel deeply, and increasingly, disconnected.
Salt Spring Island is a magical place—ask anyone who lives here; they each carry stories of her magic. When I first arrived, I came with Plans . . . I know others arrive here the same way. Ah, but the Island has a will of her own. I felt her embrace me—it was as if all of the trees on the island sent me a welcome hug when I arrived. I just didn’t understand that They had their own plans.
My plan was to create a teaching place, where I could share environmental art workshops and invite people to my home instead of travelling to theirs. I wanted to ground myself in place, to finally feel at home. Two mouldy houses later, illness, aging parents, family obligations . . . life, brought those plans to a halt. I was too unwell to fight it. Now I understand it would have been futile. We say here that the Island changes you, and if you don’t change you leave—one way or another.
I met my husband, my best friend, on Salt Spring Island. I struggled with an array of responsibilities and my health. I didn’t want to go back to my old life of travel and living and teaching in a large city. I was at a standstill. Chopping wood and carrying water. Just living. Waiting. Restless. My husband and I talked about our dreams of buying land to plant and tend. After viewing a few properties, we realized that there was only one area on the Island we wanted to live—the Burgoyne Valley. Property rarely comes up for sale there.
Remember, I said the Island has her own plans? A few days later I was driving down Lee’s Hill and saw a purple tree standing in the middle of a huge green field. I actually pulled the car over and just stared at it. I’d been driving down that hill for years and had never seen it before. Within a week a Burgoyne Valley property came on the market; it was the farm with the purple tree. We bought it the day it was listed. We named her Alchemy Farm, a place where transformation takes place.
That was nearly three years ago. We had no big plans for a farm when we bought the property, we just fell deeply in love. We were captivated, under her spell. Everything we’ve done here was led by the land, by intuition. Sometimes it feels like the trees growing here were the ones that called out to me when I first stepped foot on Salt Spring Island.
I have always grown flowers, since I was a youth in the 4H Garden Club in Victoria. When I grew dahlias that won first place ribbons at the PNE, I was hooked. While living in city apartments, my deck was always the one that looked like a jungle.
I love flowers. Truly love them. I used to buy fresh flowers every week—my home felt empty without their presence. And then one day I discovered, to my horror, that my flowers were coming from tens of thousands of miles away and they were filled with pesticides and preservatives. I was totally shocked and dumbfounded that I had never thought to ask where they came from.
At Alchemy Farm, one of the first things I did was to plant flowers. Each year I’ve planted more. This past year I began to create and design flower arrangements for delivery, using my own or local flowers (grown within 100 miles of Salt Spring Island).
Alchemy Farm has allowed me a place to walk my talk, to sink my being deeply into a place, into the soil, my passage becoming a memory embedded in the land that surrounds me. Most days I’m too tired to contemplate how deeply grateful I am for this land finding and sheltering us. Then there are the days, like today, when I feel a deep connection to the Spirits that we share this beautiful place with. I feel a sense of purpose, of rightness, of truly doing my work as an environmental artist.
This year, eight years after moving here, I am fulfilling my original intention for living on the Island: I’m offering flower workshops that include guided tours of the gardens at Alchemy Farm. How fitting that the environmental workshops should be centred around, and honour, my first love—flowers. I’m awed by the intelligence of this Island and how she’s led me to this place of deep belonging, peace and oneness.
I’m back to myself, back to my true work.