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For the love of flowers with Aila from Hands in the Dirt

Situated on a 12-acre farm in Ahuroa Valley, Auckland, is Hands in the Dirt—a flower farm grown by Aila Morgan Guthrie, who’s love for flowers and nature began at a young age. Aila works alongside her mum, following regenerative principles to grow environmentally friendly flowers for businesses, events and weddings, alongside running a plant nursery and holding arrangement workshops.

Between her busy schedule we spoke to Aila about how Hands in the Dirt came to be—learning more about the slow flower movement and how this guides her floristry style, and forms the ethos of Hands in the Dirt.

 

 

From a young age, gardening and being immersed in nature and the outdoors has been a big presence in your life. At what moment did you decide to start Hands in the Dirt?

 I have always been an avid gardener, it’s just been part of who I am so Hands in the Dirt was effortlessly born! My love of gardening and flowers kept growing when I was in my late teens and as my first garden kept expanding, so did the need to find places to take my flowers! A local florist asked if I would ever sell any to her and I said yes. I sold her a bucket of flowers for $40 and bought my mum and I a coffee with the money. We sat on the beach and in that moment I thought why don’t I give this a proper go, and that’s where Hands in the Dirt started!

No doubt this changes season to season, but we would love to know what a week in your life looks like?

My weeks are very varied and always quite exciting, I almost always have a gardening project on the go as well as my regular work. A typical week usually includes working in the fields, this in itself is always a monumental job as I have three flower fields which all have different needs! I have flower crops on rotation so each week I am pulling out old crops, prepping the flower beds using no-till, and sustainable methods and then planting seedlings into them. On top of that, there’s also the everyday maintenance such as staking, weeding, watering and fertilising.

I also have a plant nursery where I import new and exciting cut flower perennial seeds from all over the world to germinate. These are then potted up and sold to public and landscape designers. I also use the nursery for my own personal garden design projects.

Then there’s the floristry side of the business. My days start early, harvesting the flowers first thing in the morning before the sun rises and it gets too hot. I then make all my arrangements and bouquets for my regular businesses, clients and my retail outlet Tessuti during the weekdays. On the weekends we are often busy creating bespoke weddings all over the north Island. My weeks are very busy but I enjoy every moment of it!

 

 

All Hands in the Dirt arrangements are crafted from flowers you’ve grown from seed to bloom, and your style celebrates the natural form of each flower. How does this approach guide your floristry style, and has your style evolved due to what you’re able to grow and produce well?

Flowers in their natural state in the field are when they are their most beautiful. My floristry is just an extension of this. I like to create whimsical, wild flower-type arrangements that mimic how they naturally grow. Flowers are gentle and beautiful and I always aspire to make sure I am doing their beauty justice in my floristry.

My style is constantly evolving as my flower fields go through changes. I am now entering a new phase of flower farming where I am growing more cut flower perennials. I was inspired by the many gardens I saw in the UK and the huge variety they had and am now replicating that in my own fields. The perennials have made my floristry softer. I prefer using delicate and whimsical flowers to large bulky flowers as I personally find them to create more of a romantic look. I know my style will keep changing as I experiment with what I grow, but that’s the fun of it! I am not limited by what I grow and use in floristry, and as the fields keep changing so will I.

 

 

You champion the ‘slow flower movement’, can you tell us a little more about this and why regenerative practices when growing are so important to you (and our planet)?

All day every day I am surrounded by plants and insects. They are my constant companions and are by far the most beautiful and important things on this planet. We humans are so oblivious to the millions of other worlds taking place right in our backyard, but when it is your job to work with them you start to notice how many there are. These little worlds are the things that help to keep our planet ticking along. And they are so so fragile. The slow flower movement is where you are working to grow your flowers in the season they are meant to flower in and growing them sustainably. The slow flower movement aims to make the bridge between seller and consumer as small as possible and helps the consumer to know exactly where their flowers are coming from.

This mindful approach to growing helps to protect and increase the biodiversity in the flower fields by doing everything at nature's pace. I follow the seasons and what they offer and only grow flowers that can thrive in the conditions. Regenerative farming ties into slow flowers as they are both mindful of the environment, never taking too much from it.

On our farm, we try to be as closed circle as possible. This means we make our own compost using horse and chicken manure from our farm as well as old crops from our fields. We also compost all flowers that are used in weddings and events. Mother nature produced the flowers for us and when we are finished using them we put them back into the ground to help replenish it. This cycle helps to look after the flora and fauna on our property and supports those millions of little worlds that keep the world turning. We try to do no harm to the environment. This approach also flows into my floristry. We use no floral foam in our arrangements, instead using flower frogs and chicken wire which can be used for years to come. Floral foam after one use breaks down into microplastics, it does no good for our planet and therefore we will not use it!

 

 

Here at Perriam, our garments reflect the environment around us. We use merino wool in neutral, earthy colourways reminiscent of our captivating Central Otago landscape. How do your flowers, and the arrangements you craft, tell the story of your surroundings?  

My flower farm is situated in a little valley called Ahuroa. Huge farms and towering hills surround it making the landscape look vast and rugged... On our property, we have countless old English and native trees and an abundance of wildlife. During Summer it’s especially beautiful with all the trees in leaf and thousands of cicadas singing. In essence, it is vibrant and wild. The fields are a direct representation of this. They are colourful and whimsical with some plants reaching above your head and others creeping around your ankles. The fields are tidy but always look a little untamed, almost as if they have a mind of their own! When a breeze passes through, the flowers all dance in the fields and blur together in a beautiful display of colour. My arrangements are just like that, they're dancing and wild. The bees fly through the flowers in the fields and I try to make the arrangements the same, they create a journey for your eye to follow, just like the bees in the fields. The arrangements have life to them!

 

A big part of your day is spent in the garden, something many people do as a relaxing moment to escape the everyday. Given your garden is the source of your work, we expect you might not find this as relaxing as most! Are there other ways you choose to slow down and recharge?

Gardening is absolutely my happy place! In my downtime, I often like to step away from the fields and work on my passion projects. These include making new gardens around the property where I try out garden design and experiment with new plants. I am also a horse lover and have a few on the farm. They are where I go to clear my mind and have a few moments of peace.

 

 

With flowers often comes beautiful fresh scent, and we love the way scent can be intrinsically linked to memory. Could you share a scent that invokes a special memory for you?

The flower fields are full of beautifully scented flowers, from all the different herbs to the roses they all hold a special place in my heart. But the flower that holds my heart is tuberoses. A tropical plant, these are the most beautifully perfumed flowers possible. I always remember my Mum bringing them home when we lived in the city and how much she adored them, they were almost impossible to find so they were very treasured! When I started to flower farm, tuberoses were one of the first things my mum and I bought to plant in the fields. Fast forward a few years and we now have hundreds of tuberoses every summer. I love knowing that she now has an almost unlimited supply to fill the house with. And now our tuberoses are creating special memories for others, I often use them in my wedding bouquets as they are by far one of the most memorable flowers we grow.  

For those looking to get their hands in the dirt at home, what are your most-loved flowers to grow during Autumn and Winter?

I am a lover of winter seedlings which flower in spring. They are by far the most beautiful in looks and scent and are often quite easy to grow! My favourites will always be colibri poppies, larkspur, anemones, ranunculus and tulips. There are hundreds of other varieties I could list off that are also incredibly beautiful but these have to be my favourite!

 

Follow Aila on Instagram @handsinthedirt_

And to learn more about her flower farm and floristry visit her here.

 

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