Giving is a virtuous act, a magnificent gift to Ottawa. And in these present mercurial times, it’s immensely needed. Kate Punnett, founder of City Love Flowers, creator of the Elderflower campaign, which was recognized by Awesome Ottawa and showcased by Ottawa Matters, is a multidisciplinary artist, activist, and community volunteer who gives back to the 613 daily in a myriad of ways. Today, she wants to share some easy ways you can make a big difference on your street and in our city. This is her story.
It starts at home
We all need positive spaces to call home. Through art, Kate made hers and discovered that home also includes community. She began growing flowers to brighten others’ lives. “CITY LOVE is an ode to where I’m at and an artistic expression of home, the land I live on and the people in my sphere, an ecosystem of love that feeds back into itself, constantly refreshing and moving forward.”
Kate has been growing organically and helping transform urban spaces into food and flower gardens for over 20 years. Hard work and hope will “unleash a sort of creativity connected to knowledge we have deep inside,” she says.
Large areas aren’t needed. Indeed, Kate says she can “fit a TON of varieties in my front and backyards. I grow all of my flowers from seeds and seedlings I start in my basement under lights and inside every south-facing window of our very small house.”
Kate converts lawn to garden in stages to give time for “the soil health to support the colours and richness in the flowers.” She adds that mulching heavily with organic straw is a great way to reduce the need for weeding and watering and benefits soil microorganisms. Creativity helps too: “Putting small mesh bags over my dahlias so that every petal unfurls perfectly without being eaten.” Your “mix of beauty and weeds, your construction site,” will be lovely, in time. Kate’s best advice: listen to your instincts. If you don’t have grass, you can grow a lot in pots or in a plot at your local community garden.
When people interact, they flourish. “How we use our spaces can inspire and create change,” Kate says. New ideas colour lives, and vibrant hues make things less dark.
“I’m a product of who I am,” Kate says, “influenced by where I am. I’m living in the place I’m at and the beauty I’m creating is a freedom to explore our limits of what it means to live in the city.” She says it’s important to explore how you can use what you have and how you can engage in it. You’ll find you have all you need, you can bring nature into city, and that the only limits are the ones you create.
“Someone I look up to once told me that every business should be a social enterprise, and I’ve taken that to heart,” Kate says. Success, for her, is measured by how much you can give back, not by your salary. This “big family community” idea gets us thinking differently, acting socially. Beauty is change; change is beauty.
“Growing so much in my front gardens has allowed me to have many spontaneous conversations with my community,” Kate says. Here, your family grows to include neighbours, support is given, connections are made, and the heart of the community grows. And here, she says, “the downs of individual lives” and moments of isolation evaporate when you open your front door and connect and work with the people on your street.
“I can’t imagine working on my own,” Kate says. Toiling with people, creating together, offering and receiving support from other people can be vulnerable, but she says it is always a thing of beauty. We live in a diverse city; however, one can always find a link, “even if just a link of support,” says Kate. She hopes her children and her community will one day see a city comprised of “diverse people with such unique ideas, viewpoints, and interpretations” being brave and working hard to find unique solutions to problems.
Kate has gone from learning about biodynamic farming in Sicily and Sardinia to devouring books on regenerative agriculture, to selling flowers at the Ottawa Flower Market and now to launching City Love Flowers. Along the way, Kate has added vivid colour to Ottawa and learned how easy and multifaceted giving is, but also how small acts change lives, communities, our city, and us, all for the better. Kate asks you to take some time out of your day to do something, anything, for somebody else.
By being a social artist, a social entrepreneur running a social enterprise, a social volunteer, and a social person, Kate gives back to her home every day. Her work, a blend of art and giving, is what she calls a “social sculpture,” where traditional work changes and a new social art life emerges: a place where we’re all artists, each doing our part while contributing to a larger social work.
“We can all find ways to create together a feeling of aliveness that can grow and move towards the new. I love finding different ways to unleash this power between people, and I mostly do this through creating an aesthetic that enlivens and creates an ability to respond, rather than looking at it as a responsibility. This is the work of a social artist. If something has a sense of creation and connection with a motivating force behind it, then it can push through blockages and enliven people to react.”
Kate is a social and mixed-media artist who is inspired by ecosystems and community change, urban planning, colour, ephemeral media, and love. She homeschools her children in a small home on a large lot filled with gardens in the west end of Ottawa. Her local + sustainable floristry work can be found @cityloveflowers on Instagram and at www.cityloveflowers.ca. If you would like to brighten a senior’s day you can donate to Kate’s Elderflower Campaign by buying a “Bouquet For Seniors”.