Republished with permission from Be The Next Her an Evio Community Partner
C.A & Amber Stafford are the founders of Garden Party which provides horticultural services from full residential garden design, to maintenance, to indoor and storefront greenery, with a focus on pollinator-friendly and native plants.
WHAT IS YOUR MORNING ROUTINE?
CA: Definitely depends on the season – and the morning! Lately, I wake up, swing open the blinds, smile at the sun and read a book. READ A BOOK! Unheard of in the growing season. In the summer, things are different. There is no point to swinging open the blinds, it is still dark out. Amber and I share a car, so after a quick and quiet breakfast and coffee, I meet Amber, we load tools in our truck and more often than not we head to a nursery to pick up way too many plants! By the time the sun has come up, we have had a second breakfast and with a truck full of greenery, are ready to greet the day.
Amber: In our busy season, my morning routine is down to an exact science as we are often working by 6 am. I wake up, make lemon water and oatmeal, then dry brush my face (with the Province Apothecary dry brush) before applying sunscreen. I get dressed – usually in the dark out in the hallway so I don’t wake my boyfriend – then it’s out the door! CA and I often start the day at an early morning Ontario grower’s market where we can pick up plant material. Otherwise, you may catch us at our fave coffee shop Fantail on Roncy coordinating materials deliveries and contractors to job sites. Now that Garden Party is in the off-season, my routine is a lot slower and more luxurious – I hit up a yoga class, I play with my cat in the sun, or I might meet up with a friend for a coffee.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR CAREER PATH
CA: After graduating university with a degree in Human Rights, and a (very!) brief jaunt in the world of not-for-profit – I knew a 180 had to occur. I was spending more time on the rooftop terrace of the office of the Red Cross Headquarters, where I was an administrative assistant, than I was filing expense reports and coordinating schedules. Nothing against this career path, but my bean seedlings on the roof were calling to me. While all of my peers were embarking on their career paths, I took a detour. I enrolled in the Sustainable Urban Agriculture program at Guelph University. I worked as a server by night and was free by day to learn and to grow! I took over a community garden in Ottawa, traveled to San Francisco to work on a city flower farm, switched my major to Sustainable Urban Horticulture, eventually landing in Toronto. After two seasons under the tutelage of an expert gardener, fate lead Amber and me to start our own business. I am now a professional gardener and business co-owner!
Amber: I think it was less a path, and more a stream with many tributaries. I studied Religion at U of T, then spent several years working in fashion (as a boutique manager, an assistant to a clothing designer, and as a sales manager for a jewelry line). I studied Landscape Design part-time at Ryerson during this period, but I wasn’t certain I would ever put that education to use in a career. When I knew my high stress, frequent flyer fashion job wasn’t right for me anymore, I received a perfectly timed text from CA that just said: “We should start our own gardening business.” And Garden Party sprouted! We provide all horticultural services from full residential garden design, to maintenance, to indoor and storefront greenery, with a focus on pollinator-friendly and native plants.
WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU OR WOMEN FACE IN YOUR INDUSTRY?
CA: Many of the spokes we connect with in this industry are predominantly female-driven (nursery owners, plant wholesalers, fellow gardeners, clients who hire us etc.), Amber and I often work just the two of us so generally operate in a pleasant bubble. At a supplier or on a job site where there are mostly men at work, we definitely stand out. It is usually relaxed and professional, but sometimes it is challenging. Being called ‘girls’ and comments regarding how ‘impressive’ our strength is (we ARE really strong, get over it!) occur. We often sub-contract or work with outside businesses on a single job, we are careful with who we work with, and have created some strong alliances with teams regardless of the dominating gender.
Amber: I think we’re pretty lucky that there are lots of women working in the horticulture industry. We interact with women throughout our supply chain – from plant growers, nursery employees, accounts and admin, to bulbs and cut bough suppliers. Quite a few of the other gardening companies we’ve developed relationships with are also owned and operated by women. Some areas of landscaping such as hardscaping (walkways, concrete pouring, etc) and construction are populated almost exclusively by men, but the companies we choose to work with and hire are operated by kind, respectful, and professional people.
That being said, I have fielded questions regarding how our “summer jobs” are going, and once was even asked “Who is the boss of you guys?” to which I got to reply “I am.” (A side note that some of these queries came from women.)
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUNG GIRLS WHO WANT TO BE THE NEXT YOU?
CA: I feel that it is important to throw the idea of a set path out the window. Anything you do, do it well and do it knowing it is not necessarily a stepping stone on a long winding path that already lies ahead. Our journeys can only be seen through the moment’s lens, fragmented and confusing as this is. Thus, trust that all of the experiences you choose, culminate to a lovely sum of the parts. A sum that can’t always be seen in the moment, so focus on the parts. Thinking this helps me to relent control over the future. Because who knows where you’ll end up? Best to enjoy the captain’s seat from wherever you are at sea!
Amber: Don’t be the next me, be you! Don’t be afraid if your career is looking less like a path and more like a hot tangled mess. Don’t be afraid if you weren’t born knowing what you want to do – that’s boring. Pursue the things you are interested in and it will become something bigger than you could have imagined. Don’t be afraid to take risks! Be brave, be kind, be wise, and use your network.
HOW DO YOU SEPARATE WORK LIFE FROM YOUR PERSONAL LIFE?
CA: It is somewhat easy to separate the physical work of gardening from life at home. There are only so many sunlit hours in a day and we work on job sites – so there is a temporal and spatial limit. However, the office work can, does, and must happen in the evenings and on weekends. I feel that our tradeoff for working a lot at home during the growing season is taking the winters off. 2018 being our first year, I trust that there is more balance to work on. We look forward to hiring staff and implementing new processes based on our experiences this past year. I will say that Amber and I are good at encouraging one another to revel in personal time. We celebrate our wins (and there have been so many!) with a glass of wine at lunch, an indulgent car snack (so much chocolate!), a ‘sleep-in’ morning, or a long weekend when we can!
Amber: Well, there really wasn’t much personal life to speak of this year. It’s called the busy season for a reason! We work long days in the hot sun, and we come home to send invoices and work on designs and plan for the next day. I fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow and if it were not for meal delivery services, my boyfriend’s wine pouring, and my fabulous business partner, I may not have made it through this year. I think CA and I are both really looking forward to bringing some new people on board for next year – whoever you are out there we can’t wait to meet you! My weekends are sacred though – they are for yoga classes, pool swims, afternoon naps, and catching up.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
CA: I am forever inspired by the delicate balance between people and nature. Often humans work in manipulation of the earth, however, it is really amazing when we can act as stewards of or partners with nature. When a human carries this torch it is inspiring, when nature pushes itself through dominating human forces it is exceptionally inspiring. The element of surprise in gardening always stirs me. The fact that in our profession we learn and unlearn again and again through the prism of plant communities is mind-blowing and humbling.
Amber: Colour! Texture. Balance. A delicate waving poppy with paper-thin petals. The soft fluff on a plume of tall grass. A fat drooping peony with it’s sweet June scent. The mood of a garden, it’s changing dynamically throughout the year. Seeing other women in business. Watching people change and grow and become new people again. My gramma who was never afraid/who was afraid but was more brave than afraid, and who was both teacher and student her whole life – a theatre actor in her 80’s, a writer, a Tai Chi enthusiast, and a generous friend.
WHEN YOU’RE OFF THE CLOCK, WHAT ARE YOUR INDULGENCES?
CA: My indulgences include long baths, crosswords, karaoké, concerts, and vintage shopping. Watching RuPaul’s Drag Racewith pals, getting cozy under our beautiful turtle blanket (a souvenir from our travels together) with my love, Ross, and heading to my childhood home for dinner to see my parents, my sister, and brother in law and my nieces. All of these things feel indulgent because I just can’t get enough of any of it!
Amber: Free time is the best indulgence of all. I like to drink wine with my friends, practice my handstands, and watch a Studio Ghibli movie with my boyfriend. I like to dive from the end of a boat into the cool, clean water of my parent’s lake as often as possible. And we are both treating ourselves to trips this winter – I’m heading to France, and CA is heading to Mexico. Bon voyage!