Kate Freeman on Catching Narcissus Fever and the Importance of Quiet Moments on Rooftops

All photos by Lori Kiessling.

My relationship with Kate Freeman is comprised of a series of happenstance meetings. Before I knew her as the brilliant woman behind Weekend Flowers, she was the Lucky’s Comics employee who customized my arm cast with illustrations of sailboats during a book signing; then a quirky clog-loving customer at the begone Main Street shoe store where I was working; and even my apartment matchmaker when I was evicted at the same time she was moving out of her suite in the Lee Building.

As Weekend Flowers, Freeman creates floral arrangements from the blooms she grows in her rooftop garden – part of 16-plot garden operated by Victory Gardens – between the months of February and October. In addition to bouquets, she also fashions Christmas wreaths and dried flower pieces, which are currently available for purchase at Le Marché St. George. My interview with her is timed with her sudden addition to PechaKucha Vol.49‘s plant-themed panel of speakers (June 27th at The Playhouse).

What’s the significance of the name “Weekend Flowers” (say, as opposed to weekday ones)? Weekends are for flowers! Also, this is something I do on top of my day job, so weekends are when I’m most available. I wrote down a lot of names. I thought about it exhaustively and got stuck on this one.

What do you do to pay the bills these days? I’m working as an art director for a studio that produces interactive content for kids. Gardening is my counterweight to digital work, but it helps that I’m pretty good with software for things like images.

Weekend Flowers must be more than a job or hobby for you. What are the intangible things that you get from growing and creating arrangements? Growing flowers is a good way for me to meditate. I know what needs to be done and I just show up and do it and clear my mind. I enjoy making flower arrangements, something so opulent out of organic materials that will imminently decompose naturally.

How did you get started in growing and creating floral arrangements? Do you have any formal training and/or a mentor? I was so in awe of the flowers coming out of my garden, I started playing around with them in my apartment. Around this time I was feeling some unrest in my career. My industry was shook by the recession, and I longed for a project that I could fully control. Working in the garden was such a de-stresser for me, and I relied on it as a source of stability. When I got interested in doing flowers for other people, I thought there was this secret world I wanted to gain access to at the floral wholesaler and started a business to cover the cost of working with cut flowers. My friend Elly Rakhmetouline (Late Bloomers Flower Farm) invited me to join her at the rooftop and I then quickly realized that there was something so special about growing my own flowers. She later moved on to farming land, but I’ve learned so much from her. Photographer friend Lori Kiessling has provided me with my most beautiful images, and heaps of advice for improving my workflow with digital content. I’ve taken classes and workshops by some of my flower heroes, most recently with the acclaimed Christin Geall of Cultivated by Christin. The best workshops have left me with a deep shift in thinking that slowly takes shape in new work over time. She really had me contemplating light, and now I’m excited to experiment with that in mind. I saw the energy of an arrangement live and die by lighting and it was magical.

Have you always been interested in gardening? Yeah. There was a period in my teens and twenties where I didn’t really think about it much, but I grew up on Vancouver Island on a beautiful property where my mother cultivated a very natural, yet discerning garden. There was ample Nootka rose, wild honeysuckle, and we used to walk the trails with pointer twigs identifying plants.

What’s your creative background? I studied animation and have worked in a variety of art roles in video game development over the last 15 years. I worked as an animation tech for a few years at Emily Carr, an excellent experience for developing on the fly problem-solving. I’ve always been super into drawing, and I still love it, but it’s sort of been relegated to a winter activity.

I know that you used to grow and work out of your – and now my! – apartment. On the other hand, I can’t keep anything except for myself and my cat alive for an extended period of time in that space for some reason…Tell me a bit more about the early days and how you got from there to your current scenario. I was in your place during the flirty love of gardening discovery phase. I definitely remember that time fondly. I loved the view of the mountains from that apartment, and although it didn’t get much direct sunlight it was an even brightness that allowed my scented geraniums to thrive. The trick was to not overwater. Weekend Flowers existed for a couple of years with a real shyness around what exactly it was that I was trying to do because I was still figuring that out. I Still am, but hopefully, there is more clarity in my offerings, and I’m more approachable.

You are a one-woman business, if I’m correct? What’s the advantage of being an entrepreneur? What kind of boss/employee are you? The whole point was for me to do something where I was in charge of my own destiny. I can blow off all this creative steam and make decisions, and be accountable. If I screw something up, it’s usually only partially my fault and I can learn something. I don’t have to beat myself up because it probably had something to do with the weather. I haven’t had the chance to hire anyone (aside from my partner, Pax who helps me endlessly), but I’ve made some wonderful friends working on weddings. Sasha Burchuck of New Age Design Studio made a vase for me and later put it into production. I met her when we were hanging flower garlands for a dear mutual friend’s wedding. A treasured connection by flowers and elbow grease.

“I always joke, it’s all compost. If I cram too much in, it actually tends to look like something you’re carrying out to the burn pile.”

Tell me about your approach to Weekend Flowers. First off: how do you decide what to plant? You’ll often find me creeping on gardens while riding around town on my bike. Sometimes I’ll be standing on the sidewalk looking at my phone Googling characteristics of a plant that has caught my eye. Mostly I browse catalogues and websites in the Fall when I can reflect on what kind of textures or colours were missing from the previous season and try to improve it for next year.

What are your current favourite blooms and/or materials? Ranunculus has been my spring showstopper. They boast countless petals, are long-lasting in the vase, and while beautiful, they can also be somewhat alien-like. I also have the great privilege of snipping foliage from my dear friend’s yard not far from where I live. I especially love working with their clematis.

What do you look forward to using the most this time of year? This particular time of the year is the gap between Spring and Summer. A time to catch my breath, reflect, and fret over how small my seedlings are. I’m waiting for summer annuals to pop, but I still have some garden roses, bearded iris, and other fading spring flowers to enjoy.

What material and/or species have you not used that you would like to? I think I have Narcissus fever from working with Valley Buds Flower Farm’s crop this most recent Mother’s Day. They smell absolutely exquisite, and there are so many varieties. I used to think daffodils were kind of basic, but that is so not true.

From a perusal of your Instagram, your arrangements seem both wild and sculpted. I’m experimenting a lot at home with kenzans, usually without foliage because I’m not much of a forager in the city. I think you’ll find things start a bit structural in the spring when I’m working with limited blooms, and then get more brimful later in the summer.

What inspires your arrangements? Every arrangement is about getting to know the flowers and what I’m capable of making them do. Sometimes I’ll keep flowers around for several days, warming up the idea of what could be the end result.

Do you have a clear vision in your head going into the creation of an arrangement, or does it all come together naturally? I’ll usually plan my ingredients before I start. I’ll think about the design at a high level, like general shape and textures. If I’m just playing around in my studio I will often throw everything in and see if I can make it work. It’s a lot, but I like knowing which corner of the garden each little bit came from.

How does your approach differ between fresh and dried arrangements? I’m a little more reserved with dry ingredients because I find if I have too much going on it loses the magic. I usually try to stick to 3 or so ingredients in a dry bouquet, to keep it concise. I always joke, it’s all compost. If I cram too much in, it actually tends to look like something you’re carrying out to the burn pile. I have developed some tips and tricks for drying flowers at the perfect moment so that they retain their colour and even scent.

How has your process and inspiration changed since you started? I think I started off quite wistful, fantasizing about the things I wished I could do. As I’ve developed skills over time my ambitions have started lining up with my abilities.

What’s your favourite part of Weekend Flowers? Your least favourite? I’ve been so lucky to meet tons of interesting people through flowers. My least favourite part is marketing my work. So many of my flowers end up drying for winter product because I’m not capable of selling them hard at the moment they are ready. I’m trying to compensate for that by offering CSA’s, but dried product is pretty cool too.

What’s next for Weekend Flowers? This is a big year, in that I have a banging new website, and I have refined some processes for things that were more popular last season. I’m keen to do more collaborations like teaming up with ceramicist Aja Billas for Mother’s Day.

Where would you like to see yourself in the next year? 5 years? Decade? Gardening is no doubt part of my identity now. This stuff is always rattling around in my mind. It’s hard to imagine where I’ll be down the road because my ambitions shift from season to season, but I’m sure it will come to me during a quiet moment pulling chickweed.

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