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GROW INSPIRED: KEEPING IT TOGETHER AT LILAC RIVER FARM

Our #GrowInspired series features our innovative and creative garden partners. Whether they’re working with two acres or 200 square feet, we are constantly in awe of their hard work and kick-ass gardens. These are some of our favorite gardens and gardeners who inspire us to get out and play in the dirt.

The field.

Hello! First I want to introduce myself to all you Thriving Design fans. My name is Amanda and I am some of the genius behind Thriving Design’s awesome photos, videos, and blogs. I live on a small two-acre farm in Huntington, Vermont, with my husband, one-year-old son, two goofy Bernese Mountain dogs, one lazy cat, four majestic alpacas, 24 miniature ducks, four happy chickens, and thousands of bees. Wow, I know it’s a lot but when I actually list it out it just reaffirms that we are, indeed, crazy. On top of all these mouths to feed, we also have a small hobby cut-flower farm and a farm stand for bouquets in the summer. I’ll talk about how we got started on this crazy journey, what it’s like trying to keep up with a farm while wrestling a baby, and why gardening is so important to me.

 The 'OG' crew that came with us when we moved in four years ago.

How It All Began 

I have been in the ‘garden biz’ for over 10 years and had packed every flower and veggie I could possibly fit into my tiny city garden in Burlington, Vermont. When my then-boyfriend (now husband) and I decided to look for a home to purchase, we knew we wanted land to garden and space to have some type of animal. We found this 200-year-old farmhouse and completely flat, ready-to-plant property with a barn and knew it was for us. We purchased our tiny chicks while we were still living with his parents and raised them for a few weeks in their garage. We all moved in at the beginning of July in 2016 and couldn’t believe it was actually ours. 

Some of our plantings in the first year, plus Gladys the chicken. 

The first year we “took it easy,” which to us meant we didn’t plant the entire ½ acre field in flowers. We tilled up the edges along our fence, planted some quick-growing annuals, grabbed a couple of miniature ducks from someone in Maine, and moved everyone into a coop next to the barn. Things were simpler then — but definitely not as interesting. That winter we got the itch for some big pets (because our 100 lb dogs weren’t big enough) and did a bunch of research on what the best (as in easiest) livestock were to raise. Alpacas won out because they are cold-hardy, poop only in one spot, and are pretty easy to maintain. Plus, they give you gorgeous fiber to turn into wool at the beginning of each summer. Margie, Bernadette, and Sophia joined the farm in March and fit right in with our craziness. That spring, a friend of mine built us a custom greenhouse out in our field where we are able to start all of our flowers and veggies because our season is super short (we’re in zone 4b). 

The alpacas first days on the farm.

We've had many ducklings hatch on the farm and enjoyed tending to bees for four years.

The rest is history. In the four years since we’ve moved in, we’ve grown thousands of cut flowers, tended to thousands of bees, rescued another alpaca (Alice), gone through many chickens (RIP), and have enjoyed many ducklings waddling around behind their mamas. Oh, and had a baby. 

Leon

Gardening With A Baby 

While pregnant, I had this idyllic picture in my mind of what our farm would look like with a baby. I would swaddle him in muslin and lay him down beside me while I weeded, watered, and cut hundreds of bouquets. I would pick extra flowers to make him a flower crown for daily pictures. I can still see the image in my mind of this lovely coexistence of farming and motherhood. The reality is much less idyllic, much weedier, and involves a lot of “I’ll do this tomorrows.” Our son, like all babies, requires constant attention and has no interest at all in sitting still or watching me weed and water the flower field. So where does that leave me? With more weeds than I care to mention, less weekends with our farm stand up, and thousands of flowers left in the field for us to enjoy that may never be cut. But it’s all worth it, as those with babies know. So what if I forget to close the gate some mornings and the alpacas eat our lettuce and radish greens from the garden for breakfast? So what if I have to step through knee-high weeds to get a great shot of our Zinnia patch? It’s OK, I tell myself, it will all be OK. Because I do it all out of love (both gardening and parenting) and pretty soon the sunflowers will go to seed, the pumpkins will turn a bright shade of orange and we’ll call it quits for the season. But the parenting never ends. 

The greenhouse, inside and out.

The Garden 

This year, our half-acre field (where our greenhouse is) is planted in swaths of easy-to-grow cut flowers. We have a rainbow of Zinnias, Cosmos, Dahlias, and regal Sunflowers everywhere you look. Is it perfect? No. But we love it. It’s our imperfect colorful mess. Our vegetable garden consists of eight raised beds in the ‘yard’ portion of our property with tons of squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, peas, radishes, beets, and flowers. Also, weeds. Did I mention there were weeds everywhere?

Some of our bouquets.

Why I Garden 

As mentioned above, I garden because I love it. I think what I love most is the hope for the season. As the seedlings grow and the ground thaws, I always have such excitement and giddiness for what we’re growing that year. Whether or not it’s successful is almost besides the point (and it has to be). Gardeners are gamblers, and we all know it. Maybe this is the year my Sweet Peas will grow up and bloom by the hundreds; maybe this is the season my tomatoes won’t become overcrowded. It’s all about the hope for what the season holds. 

The farm stand & my husband Jeremiah getting ready.

The most exciting moment for me on our farm is always late May when our field is bursting with Tulips, Daffodils, and other spring gems. We cut dozens of bouquets and put them out on the side of the road for Mother’s Day. Frantic men stop by and almost tear up at the sight of our lovely bouquets so close to home, which have inevitably saved their days. Who wants store-bought carnations when you could have a lovely bouquet of Tulips grown just down the road? The connections I make on these weekends, or when people stop me in the local store (the only store in our town) to tell me what joy the Sunflowers bring them or that their kids wave hello to the alpacas every day on their way to school — this is why I do it. It brings joy to our family; it brings joy to others; and it gives us something to look forward to as we settle in by the woodstove for the long, cold months that Vermont brings us each winter. 

Mother's Day at Lilac River Farm

C-BITEs In My Garden 

Of course, as soon as I started working with Thriving Design they sent me a variety of care packages with boxes of C-BITEs and their growing kits. I felt like a kid in a candy store! I have always used tomato cages to try to keep up various veggies and flowers with really no luck. The tomatoes always get too big, the cages always bend, and they just are inconvenient. I’ve used a combination of C-BITEs, stakes, and Thriving Design’s growing kits all around our farm for various support. I built a cage for my Peonies when it was Peony season and then simply picked it up and moved it to the Dahlias once they were done blooming. I used C-BITEs to attach netting to stakes to grow peas (our favorites). Once they had finished, I simply took the whole thing down in two minutes. And our chickens? They love roosting on the custom C-BITE roost I’ve placed outside their coop. Cucumbers, Nasturtium, Tomatoes, all of these have had a little support from C-BITEs in the garden. Plus, much to my dismay, my 1-year-old loves playing with the stakes (supervised and with handy TD caps on, of course). Fun for hours (or minutes, who am I kidding). Either way, I have had a ton of fun playing with C-BITEs and using them in a variety of different ways around our property. They really are as versatile and fun as they seem. 

Approved and non-approved usages for C-Bites at our farm

What’s Next 

So what’s next for our little farm? A whole lot of maintenance before the winter barrels in with full force. We’ll mow everything down once it’s done for the season, cover and burn an area for the 100(!) Peony plants we invested in for the fall, and dig trenches for hundreds of new spring-blooming bulbs. All the while thinking ahead to next season and feeling thankful we have this outdoor space to play and grow in — especially right now. 

You can follow Amanda at @LilacRiverFarm on Instagram.




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