I launched ‘Cultivated’ in 2015, but my love of plants began almost thirty years ago when as a teen from Toronto, I first apprenticed to herbalist Heidi Schmidt on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. For four months every summer, I helped Heidi grow medicinal and culinary herbs and flowers, make teas and tinctures, develop a small nursery, and educate others about the power of plants.
Despite fun times at the farmer’s market and the shop, I always gravitated to the greenhouse and fields, where I could work directly with the plants and tend house—cooking up herbal meals, arranging flowers, supporting Heidi in her work. These were the Leslie Bremness years, when we'd talk Wendell Berry while sipping dandelion cordial and snip rose geraniums into cake. Whilst my Canadian peers were sitting on logging on roads, I was gardening, my aesthetic highly domestic, my activism more closely tied to plants than politics.
In the off-season I completed a double major in Environmental Studies & Anthropology at the University of Victoria, studying ecofeminism at Schumacher College in England with Vandana Shiva in 1991, ethnobotany with Dr. Nancy Turner in Victoria and Dr. Richard Ford in New Mexico. I assumed the editorship of the university’s environmental magazine as an undergrad and my love of text was born.
At twenty-four, with a small inheritance left to me by my mother, I developed the first garden of my own on an acre of highbank waterfront on a remote island on British Columbia’s coast. With a solar system and a catchment rainwater system, I homesteaded for five years, clearing land for a garden, splitting cedar for fencing and hauling drinking water in my wheelbarrow. I planted a large garden and sold ‘Southside Salad’ and bouquets to cottagers.
With only sixty year-round residents, it was an odd place to live in one’s twenties, so when I could, I travelled. I interned at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in England and was stationed in the herbaceous department, where I worked with alpines, but also begged my way into in the ‘order beds’, a floriferous area organized by genera.
After Kew, I applied to study landscape architecture, but despite offers from Edinburgh and UBC, I changed tack after two life-changing events—enrolling in my first creative nonfiction workshop and having a baby boy.
I sold my home on the island (which later became a quirky B&B/supper club!), and as a single mom tried gardening in various rental homes in Oak Bay, the most desperate of which involved filling huge tractor tires with soil.
Green politics came next and the editorship of a museums magazine, but fast forward another ten years, past a MFA in creative nonfiction, more travel than was truly necessary, and I’m now settled back in my old neighborhood in zone 8. I teach two courses I love at my alma mater: creative nonfiction and environmental writing. For more on my writing and teaching click here.
I was married for the first time, to my long-time American beau, in 2014. At the end of my wedding night—a sultry summery one on Heidi’s family’s land on the Vineyard, I knew I wanted the next chapter of my life to bring together my loves—environmentalism, writing, flowers and plants. I feel grateful that 'Cultivated' has led me to explore my loves and deepen my sense of place. After studying design with Floret, Zita Elze and Ariella Chezar, it feels great to be growing again with flowers :)
P.S. You can now read my work on Gardenista.