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Stories, Weekly Interviews, things to see and footnotes.
Stories, Weekly Interviews, things to see and footnotes.
Stories, Weekly Interviews, things to see and footnotes.

Week 03 — May 17, 2018

In Conversation

Siri Thorson Florist7 minute read


Siri Thorson is a flower grower, florist, and writer. Known for her gorgeous, attentive arrangements and delectable Instagram @thelittlebanana, as well as her island home with its Thousand Flower farm, here Thorson talks about living rurally, drawing inspiration from art, paying attention to climate change, and ways of being political and proactive.

Rosalind Jana

Interview Rosalind Jana

RIt seems like the story of your life so far has been woven up in all the various places you’ve inhabited: from the island off the coast of Washington State, to living in New York and California, to returning to your family’s home. What’s it been like to move between these spaces?  

SThe hardest thing I ever did was move across the country to New York City to finish college — the hardest thing, that is, until I decided to leave and move back across the country six and a half years later. At this point, there are so many places and so many people I love scattered across the continent and the world that sometimes it feels unbearable. I still travel to New York for work at least twice a year and lately when I arrive in the city from the island, or vice versa, I’m often left with this feeling of complete unreality, of being totally adrift and untethered. It feels really scary, but then I remember how privileged I am to be able to live the way I do and to feel this particular brand of confusion. 

I guess the in-between places have just never captivated me. The last decade of my life has been hard, but it’s also made me strong and brought so many wonderful humans into my life. I’m endlessly grateful to my parents and my friends for supporting me in more ways than I could ever list, and for giving me permission to exist the way I’ve chosen.

Also, I especially adore the sound of the Thousand Flower Farm! Could you tell me more about it?

Thousand Flower Farm is the farm my parents started just over thirty years ago on a tiny, off-grid island in the San Juan archipelago in Washington State. This particular piece of land was first settled around 1910 and it has remained as various iterations of farmland ever since. When my parents bought it, it had been neglected for years and was covered in enormous thickets of blackberry and rose brush, punctuated by a few dilapidated buildings. 

What they have made out of this piece of land is nothing short of incredible. It’s where I grew up and where I spend most of my time these days when I’m not traveling for work. I’m in charge of the flower growing operation and my father heads up the vegetable department. We sell our produce locally at a small farmers' market and directly to our island neighbours, and we grow as much of our own food as we can, including dry beans and wheat. It’s hard to convey just how much hard work this is, but we are all here by choice, and the rewards are too numerous to count.

I think a lot about urban existence versus rural, especially because I also grew up quite remotely. They’re very different ways of life to switch between. Given that obviously the rural comes with its own challenges, can it be too easily idealised from the outside? Or is that island really as perfect as it looks? 

Until you live a full winter out here — and that’s November through April — you can’t fully know how lonely, isolating and frustrating it can feel at times. It’s hard to capture just how rural it is here. There are no utilities, no stores, and no paved roads. The people who live here are responsible for generating their own power and dealing with their own waste, and that is such an exhausting prospect and so foreign a concept in today’s world that you just can’t understand it until you live it. In the winter, if it’s stormy you can’t leave and you can’t even get mail. If you run out of something or if you want something, you’re out of luck. On the upside, this makes you resourceful and it makes you flexible and it makes you creative.

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I’d love to know more about your route into working with flowers. Did it just develop organically? 

Growing up I was always surrounded by flowers, plants, and nature. In fact, the reason that our farm is called Thousand Flower Farm is because my parents were originally growing fields of everlasting flowers that my mother would make into dried wreaths and then ship all over the country — something I do today! She and I also made simple bouquets to sell at the farmers’ market, and I was always messing around crafting little posies and trying to hawk them. So the background was there from the beginning, but I didn’t really get into the florist world professionally until I lived in New York and met my dear friend Amy Merrick, an incredible florist and fellow devotee of flowers, nature, and all things wild and wonderful. When I started working for her I had literally never sat down and made an “arrangement.” Assisting her was the most priceless education a flower-obsessed girl could imagine, and I am forever grateful for her patience, guidance and most importantly, her friendship. 

And is there a part of your work that's especially satisfying? 

Despite how much I relish the richness of summer, my favourite part of the farming process actually comes in late winter and early spring, spending time in our little greenhouse while it’s cold and rainy outside but warm inside, listening to podcasts, planting seeds and imagining the bountiful future. In terms of floristry, my favourite stage is definitely getting all the arrangements in place and styling out the tables and the space with vines and candles. I love pushing things over the top and creating this special little world for a few hours or an evening. That’s when you can go in with the really delicate flowers like tree peonies and clematis and things that just aren’t made to last. Their ephemerality is their magic.

That sounds exquisite. I also read somewhere that you’re inspired by the Dutch Masters when it comes to your understanding of colour and composition. Are there any other influences you specifically draw on when you're working with flowers? 

My greatest influence when arranging is nature itself. I want to arrange flowers the way they grow in a wild, unkempt garden — but a wild, unkempt garden that somebody loves very dearly. Kind of like my own garden! I’m also a huge fan of the work of Sarah Winward, Gabriela Salazar aka La Musa de los Flores, and Amy Merrick. They are always inspiring me to try new colour combinations and to reconsider flowers I might otherwise have written off. Simply put, I love their vision.

There’s something strangely soothing in all the various, consistent cycles of growth and decay one finds in nature. Do you think having a hands-on job that requires you to be in tune with all of that has changed your outlook/ethos at all? 

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, yes. Gardening and working with flowers teaches you so incredibly much about patience and resilience and respect for all the things that inhabit this planet. We are such a tiny part of a vast and interconnected community of plants and animals, all affected by the same weather systems and cycles of growth, life, and death. I think the only way to truly appreciate that on a visceral level is to live close to the land and see it and feel it first hand. 

It’s obviously a perilously important time to talk about politics and — as I know you do a lot — climate change. What are the specific conversations and/or forms of action you want to see more of?

I think that so much of the nastiness and backsliding we are seeing in politics and in society right now is fear based. I believe that deep down — some deeper than others — people know that the way we are living is not sustainable and they feel that we are reaching a breaking point as a society, even if they would never admit it. They are absolutely terrified so they are lashing out at the easiest targets. 

What I want to see is people owning up to this fear and facing it head on. I don’t claim to be a revolutionary, and the way I live is far from saintly or 100% green. But what I strive for, and what I wish more of the world would strive for as well, is mindfulness. Conservation. Taking as much as you need and not more. I want to see an end to entitlement on so many levels. I want to see infinitely more respect paid to nature and to the millions of other species of living things that inhabit this planet with us. I also want to see more respect paid to individuals who choose to live and work outside the confines of what’s considered “normal”. I don’t think that what was “normal" twenty, ten, or even five years ago applies anymore and I want to see more people, particularly in government, catching up to this. 

What kind of writing do you do? How does that co-exist with your other work? 

When I lived in New York, I did a lot of writing for magazines and blogs, mostly journalistic pieces on music, fashion and culture. These days I do it mostly for myself, but I would love to start writing again on plants, flowers and gardening. It’s been a goal of mine to start sending around pitches for way too long and I really need to get on it already!

I loved how, in one of your Instagram posts, you called your grandma one of the best, strongest, and very brightest of the women you know. Would you mind telling me a little more about her?

My grandma is without a doubt my absolute hero. She is 94 and has lived alone on the off-grid island where I grew up for over thirty years now. When she and my grandpa first came there in 1948 (recent transplants from Minnesota) they had to row themselves over from another bigger island. Once they landed and had a look around my grandpa didn’t want to try and stay because he was afraid it would be too hard to find work. My grandmother had other ideas, and you can guess who won out. 

She now lives in the most beautiful Scandinavian-style cabin one of my uncles built her using wood milled from the island and logs from the beach. She mows her own grass, carries her own wood, drives the absolute cutest red Volkswagen truck, plays Scrabble solo to pass the time, and is always loaning me fascinating non-fiction books to read. She is also an incredible photographer and I cherish all the prints of hers that I own. One of the best things about moving home has been spending time with her and getting to know her, adult-to-adult. I can only hope to be half as strong, independent, and resourceful one day.

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