Year-round flower power

Floral farmer adds unique twist to extend operations outside the normal growing season


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NEAR RICHER — When Lourdes Still surveys her large front-yard garden, ablaze with mid-summer blooms, she sees more than a bounty of blossoms and foliage.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/08/2022 (298 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

NEAR RICHER — When Lourdes Still surveys her large front-yard garden, ablaze with mid-summer blooms, she sees more than a bounty of blossoms and foliage.

She also envisions ways to grow those flowers into a year-round experience.

“It didn’t really sit with me that flowers only had one use,” said the proprietor of Masagana Flower Farm, recalling her first summer selling bouquet subscriptions and then consigning leftover blooms to the compost heap.

Lourdes Still creates a colourful flower print cloth created using harvested flowers to dye at her Masagana Flower Farm in La Broquerie. (Ethan Cairns / Winnipeg Free Press)

Masagana is the Tagalog word for abundant, plentiful or prosperous, explains the former dietitian who moved to Canada from her native Philippines in 2009.

Inspired by a natural dyeing workshop at a nearby fibre farm and online courses through the Vancouver-based Maiwa School of Textiles, Still dug up some other uses for her pretty posies.

“I thought I could run a seasonal flower farm, but I could diversify to include natural flower dyeing,” explained Still, who previously worked as a wholesale floral buyer.

Lourdes Still, holding harvested flowers, and assistant Lauren Peters, at Still’s farm. (Ethan Cairns / Winnipeg Free Press)

Now in her second year of offering the Tinta experience — a three-hour group workshop that includes a tour of her garden and introduction to natural dyeing, resulting in wearable art — Still views her floral crops with an eye for adaptability.

Tinta is Tagalog for hue or colour and refers to both the colours in her flower gardens and the dyeing workshops she offers.

“Now when I’m deciding what to plant, they have to be two out of three,” she said while showing visitors through the rows of cosmos, marigolds, yarrow, scabiosa, and coreopsis supported by plastic grids in her garden beds.

Dried flowers in the studio at the flower farm. (Ethan Cairns / Winnipeg Free Press)

“They have to be good as a cut flower and dried flower, or a cut flower and a dye source.”

This year she expanded her garden to about 4,800 square feet, aiming to have it dominate much of her front yard and eliminate the grass completely.

“The next project is to plant some native plants to replace our lawn,” she said about plans for the two-hectare property, located just off Highway 302 between Richer and La Broquerie.

Later this summer, construction begins on a 505-square-foot studio in her backyard, allowing her to expand the agri-tourism aspect of her business from seasonal to year-round.

Currently, Still leads the workshops under two large canopies in her backyard, adjacent to a long clothesline where participants hang their newly dyed items to dry.

Lauren Peters, an assistant at Masagana Flower Farm, rubs her blue hands after a recent indigo dyeing session. (Ethan Cairns / Winnipeg Free Press)

Last year, about 80 people — predominantly women — participated in the workshops, which includes dyeing scarves and shawls, as well as snacks and meditative moments. So far this summer, Still has led workshops for about 40 people, and plans to keep going throughout the rest of the summer and into the fall, weather permitting.

River Heights resident Diane Sidebottom took an indigo workshop in early July, before most of Still’s flowers were in bloom, and plans to come back with a larger group of friends later this summer.

“It was such an incredible experience to see it from the ground up,” she recalled.

“You’re picking stems from the ground and within minutes you have colours flowing from the leaves.”

Still shows her dried indigo dye created using harvested leaves. (Ethan Cairns / Winnipeg Free Press)

After touring the gardens, workshop participants learn how to dye a silk scarf using freshly picked flowers scattered across the surface, and then rolled up into tight bundle and immersed in hot water. They also manipulate a large cotton shawl with rubber bands or clamps before dipping it into the indigo vat. Still supplies all the materials necessary for dyeing, including the scarves and shawls.

“I think I’m serving a certain clientele who can see the value of supporting a small business,” Still said. Her workshops cost $252 a person, including taxes.

“Most of them are gardeners and they’re exploring what to do with flowers rather than a floral display.”

Like every farmer, Still continually makes plans for the next growing season, building on her knowledge about what works and what doesn’t after five years on the property she shares with her husband, about an hour east of Winnipeg.

Still stirs indigo dye into a vat to prepare to dye some cloth. (Ethan Cairns / Winnipeg Free Press)

She is now nurturing a large bed of madder for the second season, waiting at least another year before she harvests some of the plant’s roots, which yield a bright red dye. Still is also experimenting with growing Japanese indigo but has had mixed results between the drought in 2021 and the wet, cooler summer this year.

The pointy blue-green leaves of the plant are ready when they look bruised, said Still, who picks some in midsummer and then lets the plants grow for a second harvest in late August.

“We’ve been struggling with snails and slugs, especially with indigo,” she said of some of the challenges of a wet summer.

So far, she’s only managed to grow enough indigo — which dyes fabric the deep blue of denim — for personal dyeing, resorting to using purchased supplies for her workshops.

Still creates an indigo dyed shawl. (Ethan Cairns / Winnipeg Free Press)

An indigo vat — the concoction of fermented and dried indigo mixed with calcium hydroxide and a reducing agent like fructose powder — also dyes Still’s hands and fingernails a deep blue, since she believes indigo dyeing is best done by feel and the constant massaging of the fabric while immersed.

“I just love my hand to be blue,” she explained of her perennially coloured skin.

She also enjoys sharing her expansive flower garden with workshop participants and exposing them the variety of effects available through natural dyes.

“Because we are working with living colours, we just have to appreciate the beauty of the materials that are presented to us and the flowers that we are working with that day,” she said about the ethereal and sometime unpredictable results of natural dyeing.

“Everything has a life cycle. Just embrace the characteristics of the finished piece.”

Still keeps track of additions to her dye vat. (Ethan Cairns / Winnipeg Free Press)

That’s the lesson Sidebottom took home with her, along with a new perspective on how to incorporate local plants in her own creative practice.

“She empowers people to learn, and they take it forward in their own lives,” said Sidebottom, who plans to grow indigo in her own garden.

That personal and creative growth propels Still to dig deeper for more ways to share her love of what she calls “slow flowers” with others. Future workshops may include topics such as cultivating a dye garden, drying flowers, and snow dyeing in winter.

Most of all, she wants her gardens to inspire others to enjoy the beauty of flowers, the variety in nature, and the joy of creating with what’s in front of them.

“If we can just let go of our expectations and just be in the moment,” she said of the dyeing process.

“Not everyone uses the same flowers. It has your imprint, how you folded it and manipulated it.”

Brenda Suderman

Brenda Suderman
Faith reporter

Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.

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