Every day, Tish Oldreive rises with the sun to work in her flower fields at Ignatius Farm in the north end of Guelph.
She works best in the early hours; it’s light enough to see, the birds are singing and the bees are dormant – a good thing for a gardener with a life-threatening allergy to bee stings.
“I’m not scared of them,” she laughs, gesturing towards a row of dark purple blooms. “They’re too busy with the honey wort!”
Oldreive is the founder of May Moon Flowers – a bouquet subscription service that offers customers locally-grown, organic bouquets over 10 weeks from spring to autumn. The name comes from the first full moon in May, which is called the flower moon, and also happens to be her birthday month.
May Moon is a one-woman operation on an 8,000 square-foot plot of land. Sandwiched between other local gardeners — mainly hobbyists growing vegetables — Oldreive sources seeds from a local supplier and grows them in her basement under a light during the winter. Then, when they’re ready for planting in the early spring, she’s in the field all day tilling the land, weeding and watering. After several weeks, she cuts fresh flowers and brings them home to arrange bouquets for pick-up from her local customers.
“Flowers bring people joy,” she said. “They make me happy too. Seeing the blooms makes me feel proud.”
A long-time Guelph resident and mother of two, Oldreive started this business as a passion project with a 1,000 square foot garden at Ignatius.
“It was a lot of trial and error,” she said, adding that her first bouquets were mainly for friends and family as she tested out new varieties and growing methods. “But I was enjoying it so much I figured why not try it. I’ve been growing slowly over time. It takes a lot of guts to do something like this.”
Oldreive took an online course for flower farmers and attended various conferences and workshops to meet other people interested in the field. She does a lot of research online and gets inspiration from other Guelph gardens and through Instagram accounts dedicated to flower bouquets and arrangements.
Now in her third year at Ignatius Farm, she has doubled her growing space every year and has taken on several new customers through word of mouth, social media, and by selling at the Farmers’ Market in downtown Guelph. Oldreive says it’s important that the flowers are locally-sourced and organic.
“Shopping locally is important to support your community. People are aware of the local food movement, but less so with local flowers.” she said. “These flowers have no footprint; I grow them here, I don’t use any chemical sprays, I take them to the market and I sell them to my people.”
Now it’s dahlia season and the flowers are in spectacular blooms of orange, pink and red. Oldreive will continue selling bouquets on request until the first frost, which she hopes won’t be until after Thanksgiving.
Follow her on Instagram @maymoonflowers or get in touch via email, at [email protected].