Starting a garden? Hit the ground growing

A Q&A with Shila Murphy, owner of Peace River Petals

Starting a garden? Hit the ground growing
Ready, set, grow with Shila Murphy’s Peace River Petals.

By Beverly Lomosad

Are you one of the more-traditional gardeners who like sowing a seed and seeing it grow? Or, are you one of those who say, “There must be an easy way to start and grow a garden.” Yes, there is. And that’s what Shila Murphy’s business is all about: she takes the guesswork – and much of the hard work – out of planning your garden. She provides starter plants so that you will get a strong headstart on your garden. Murphy has grand plans for her business, the Peace River Petals, and if you love to garden, she has you at the top of her mind.

How did the business get its start?
We moved to the area in April 2022 from Vancouver Island after we bought a 150-acre property in the Bonanza area; it’s an amazing property with a creek running through one side of it. My husband is a renovator, so he’s been able to practice his trade. For me, however, I needed something, and the dirt around our farm is amazing. I’ve always wanted to work for myself. I was tired of leaving home, and I was exhausted by the time my family got to me. Then I thought about what I’m good at, and it just snowballed from there. My husband is really a huge supporter. He’s gathering information and putting up greenhouses for me.

What prompted the move?
We needed a bigger property because the kids are growing. We have a 13-year-old and a 10-year-old at home. And I was working in an office job I wasn’t happy doing, so I really wanted to do something else. One day we had a conversation, and it was along the line of: what would we do if we could do anything? We started looking for farms. As I wanted to grow things, we kind of targeted a location, and that’s how we ended up in the area.

Talk a little bit about the business.
For a lot of people, I find, it’s a little daunting to have to start from seeds. So, they prefer to buy plants that have had time to grow – the plants are strong, established, ready to grow on their garden and become mature. That’s where I come in. I provide starter plants. My business slogan is, “We take the guesswork out of planning your garden.” Starter plants appeal to a lot of people because they take the guesswork – and much of the hard work – out in starting and growing a garden: getting seeds to germinate and providing the precise conditions for everything to get going.

How did your first year in business go?
My first year didn’t go so great, but it was a great learning experience for me. I admittedly rushed into it. I was very naive into thinking the seedlings I brought with me would survive our move. Nothing survived. I wasn’t prepared for the intensity of the wind in the middle of summer. So, I had a small greenhouse that I put up myself – I should have waited for my husband to help me, but I was stubborn – and the wind just lifted it off the ground. I set it up in the wrong location, and it wasn’t set to the ground properly. Since then, I’ve had a little more time to watch how the land acted around me: which spots are wet or dry. I have to take into account, too, the big difference in weather. On Vancouver Island, it rarely gets below zero.

Over the winter, I made it my primary goal to gather information that will help me be prepared and be successful. I researched online and talked to people in the area, not only to get to know my neighbours but also to know which plants are conducive to our environment. There are a lot of people in the area who grow their own gardens; funny, however, that even they would have conflicting views on growing things. A case in point: One person told me, “No, you can’t get corn to grow up here. The growing season is too short.” I talked to two other people, and they contradicted that.

I’ve had time to research which plants are not only conducive to our environment but are also low-maintenance. If you plant something that’s only meant to grow in, say, California, then it dies. With the annuals they don’t really matter that much because the heat of the summer is what they want, then they die off and they’re gone. But with the perennials, you want to make sure they can handle the winters.

How did you get the word out early on to promote your business?
I had a few appearances at the Bay Tree Market on 49 up until my greenhouse blew away. At that point, I had to throw in the towel. Not to say I was defeated because I knew I just needed the rest of the year to plan things out. I gave it my best shot. And it helped as far putting myself out there and meeting people. From there, I’m now the secretary of the Bonanza Ag Society. So, community connection is also something I appreciate living in the area.

Did you grow gardens as well back on Vancouver Island?
Yes, I did. Prior to COVID-19, I worked at a private rehabilitation centre with a focus on mental health. When the pandemic hit, everything got topsy-turvy. The severity of people’s mental health was becoming apparent, and the environment I was working in was no longer healthy. So, I left that job and started gardening a little more intensely that summer, which would have been in 2020. I had a lot of time in my hands, and it was summer, so I started focusing on my garden. My husband made me some garden beds, and he trucked in some soil. That’s when it became more than just a hobby for me. I was paying attention to what my plant needs were, and what my soil needs were. Prior to that, things were dying, and I had no clue why because I wasn’t aware of what the different needs were. I had sold plants through Facebook Marketplace and various other outlets.

What is it about gardening that you are drawn by?
I found that it made me a lot happier than anything else I was doing. Personally, it helped my mental health during the early phase of the pandemic when everything was shut down, and people were isolated. Gardening gave me a sense of joy and happiness. For me, it’s very therapeutic.

What are you seeing in the market that potentially could set you apart?
I find that options are limited for plants and for buying things, in general, from a nursery. I realize there are plant nurseries in Grande Prairie, Dunvegan and Dawson Creek. But I find that there’s a gap in our area specifically. When my greenhouse blew away I was left with not too many plants, flowers, or anything. I looked around and couldn’t find what I needed without travelling an hour-and-a-half or backtracking into BC, which, to be honest, I didn’t want to do. I wanted to keep everything local. I also realize there’s a couple of ladies who have greenhouses and nurseries, and they open them up for a certain amount of time in the spring, which is a great business model but not what I’m trying to achieve. I feel like maybe a longer season would be helpful to people in our area. Maybe they didn’t get to start right in April, and they need something for their garden in early June. Going to a big box store and finding something in June for your garden is difficult – everything is sold out. I’d like to stretch out the summer season and make appearances at the farmers markets. I find that I will be setting myself apart by doing that in addition to offering a selection that will be different than what’s available at most nurseries.

What’s the plan going forward?
I’m going to launch my website just before the farmers markets in Bay Tree and Rycroft start in June. I will also be more active posting on Instagram. If everything goes well this year, we plan on expanding our greenhouses – possibly get bigger ones so I can increase the amount of flowers that I grow. I may expand into offering different plants. Ideally, I would like to become a nursery that is open as long as possible in a year. Then we will make our property the destination, where we will welcome the public.

Contact:

  • Location: Bonanza
  • Phone: (780) 353-0007
  • E-mail: peaceriverpetals@gmail.com
  • Instagram: peaceriverpetals