A conversation with Michelle Shane

Recently, I sat down with Michelle Shane, the Greenhouse and Event Flower Manager at Cedar Circle Farm, to ask her a few questions about herself and her role at the farm.

I learned that Michelle moved to the area from Salt Lake City in 2010. She began working at the farm in 2011, after meeting Natalie Traendly in an Environmental Studies class. Natalie, currently our production manager, was working on the field crew at the time and convinced Michelle the farm would be a great place for her to work. It was a serendipitous suggestion! Michelle’s first job was working in city greenhouses in Salt Lake City. She was low man on the totem pole and did just about everything: lugging bags of soil, cleaning containers, seeding, and transplanting. This is where her love of flowers and growing began, and it was certainly an interesting high school job, but Michelle never planned on being a “professional gardener”.

She moved to Bremerton, WA after completing an Associates in medical specialties. She lived there for just over a year while her now husband finished serving time in the US Navy. They later returned to Utah where she continued to work in the medical field. But it didn’t take long before she knew she needed to get her hands back in the soil.

That’s when she started working for the State of Utah at the capitol building as a landscaper and irrigation specialist. At that time the state had begun to focus on water conservation and drought tolerant perennial gardens. That gave Michelle the opportunity to learn about using native perennials in “water wise” gardens.

Lucky for us, Michelle found her way to Cedar Circle Farm. She told me she sees herself doing this work for the rest of her life, so it’s no wonder her flowers are so beautiful and healthy! A happy gardener makes a beautiful garden. Here’s how the rest of our conversation went:

ALK: What was the cut flower garden like when you first came to Cedar Circle Farm, and how has it changed?

MS: It was a small plot across the street from the farmstand, and was mostly comprised of annuals like zinnias, cosmos, cleome, and sunflowers. We now grow flowers on a one-acre plot, with over 100 varieties of plants! Along with all the flower varieties, we grow greenery and fillers for our wedding clients. And, I love experimenting with new varieties, which I do every year.

ALK: I imagine there are challenges that go along with experimenting?

MS: Of course! I generally try 5-6 new varieties a season, which doesn’t sound like much, but when you don’t know what the end result will be, you can only invest a few resources to a new plant variety. I had great success over the last two seasons growing Lisianthus, which our customers really loved. However, I can’t find a supplier for “untreated” seeds, and I only use seeds that are free of chemical processing.

ALK: Were Lisianthus a favorite with your wedding customers? How has that business evolved?

MS: Everyone loved Lisianthus! I’m hoping some new Dahlia varieties that we’ll be growing this year will be a good replacement. In 2013, we did our first wedding! Just one that summer, but it went well and people spread the word so in 2014 we did a few more. Now, we typically do 50-55 weddings a season, which is about all we can manage. Since we only use our own flowers, we have to be careful about not over-extending, we like to keep our Brides happy, whether they are getting married in June or September!

ALK: Wow, that must take a lot of planning.

MS: It does, but that is one of my favorite parts of the job. There is a distinct rhythm to my year, I spend the winter months poring over catalogs and websites for seeds and new flower varieties, then I map out my planting charts. We do 4 plantings a season, beginning in mid-May, with the last planting happening at the end of July. It’s a zen time for me. It’s quiet and gives me time to reflect on the previous season, to start seeding, and then watch the magic of the seeds starting to sprout. Once we start transplanting in March I don’t think about anything except keeping those plants healthy!

ALK: What’s your must-have tool?

MS: Really sharp hand pruners!

ALK: What advice would you give to a customer that wants to grow a “cutting garden”?

MS: Make a plan! Don’t just throw a bunch of flowers in the garden and cross your fingers. Consider the amount of sunlight your area will get and make sure it has good soil conditions. Plan for a good mix of height, color, and texture to keep your garden bed and bouquets interesting. Leave yourself a path to wander through the garden. Consider having a plot for annuals and a plot for perennials. And remember to feed your soil!

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