I am an owner of Sevier Blumen, a flower farm that grows specialty cut flowers. We grow approximately 100 varieties for wholesale and retail sales, as well as having a solid wedding and event business. Our flowers can be found at several local markets, in almost every local floral shop, and through floral designers. I started this business rather late in life—a mid-life career change—a journey sometimes like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. You could say that gardening is in my DNA, although I did not come to this realization until recently.
My parents immigrated to Knoxville from Hungary in 1951, and I was born two months later. My mother always had a vegetable garden, which went a long way in feeding the family. From the time I was a small child, I was in the garden with her—planting, weeding, and cultivating. I later learned that my paternal grandmother was also an avid gardener, but I never knew her since she stayed in Transylvania after the war. My cousin, who still lives in Budapest, gave me one of her well-worn Hungarian gardening books. It is the only possession of hers that I have and I refer to it often. It seems she was the Transylvanian version of the famous British horticulturalist, Gertrude Jekyll!
However, I set aside my childhood passion in college. As an incoming freshman to the University of Tennessee, I told one of the professors at the Agricultural Campus my desire to major in Horticulture and Landscape Design. He unceremoniously discouraged me from doing so as career opportunities for women in that field were quite limited at the time. I went on to obtain a degree in Political Science and a Master’s Degree in Urban and Regional Planning. I worked for a time at TVA and then in the private sector in solid and hazardous waste management.
It was during this time that I experienced major life changes. I divorced and became a single mother of two daughters. This new status and a demanding career at TVA caused me to go into survival mode—one step at a time, one day at a time. After five years, I met and eventually married my current husband, Jim, also divorced and with three daughters. Later, with all five of our girls on the way to adulthood, we found ourselves raising yet another child, our grandson.
While I enjoyed my career, I was not passionate about what I was doing. I was passionate about gardening. Our daughters were grown and our grandson was at a more independent stage, so at the age of 50, I went back to UT to study Plant Sciences—part-time over ten years. During the course of my studies, I was frequently asked if I was going to start a business upon my completion. I would always say that I was too old, if only I were twenty years younger. But then I realized that I am twenty years younger than I will be in twenty years! I started this business seven years ago with Robin Yeary, also a Plant Sciences graduate, who is more than half my age. I am finally living my dream!
What I am trying to say is this: this piece that I am writing is not about me. It is about you. Don’t ask me about proper pruning techniques, how deep to plant your tomato plant, or when to divide that unruly clump of irises. I can’t give you a postmortem on your prized plant as there could be a myriad of reasons it expired. There are plenty of magazines and publications that can give you these answers. What I want to know from YOU is…what are your passions? Is there something you have always wanted to do that remains unfulfilled? If someone tells me he or she is thinking of retirement, I ask them, “What will you do? How will you reinvent yourself?” I believe you can do what you are passionate about as long as you are able, no matter what the circumstances. While there will always be limiting factors, there is a way.
During my entire professional life before returning to school, I sat behind a desk wearing a suit and uncomfortable pumps. I heard with frequency, “This has never been done before,” or, “This is not the way we do things.” Now that I have traded my pumps for garden clogs, my office is a field with beautiful flowers. The music is from birds. The peace is from God.
There is a phrase in the horticultural world: “flower power.” Unrelated to hippies and the 60’s revolution, it refers to the characteristic of a particular plant to resist pests and diseases, to have bright and vigorous blooms, and to be able to have abounding and prolific blooms from spring until frost. I reverse that phrase to describe my sense of well-being to “power from flower.” I am sustained, invigorated, and awed every day by the beauty that surrounds me. I think of this every time I walk down the garden path in the early morning mist, coffee in hand. (Yes, coffee makes everything better.)
What is your garden path?