Marle Woman: Aila Morgan

Marle Women is created to celebrate our philosophy of designing pieces for women of all ages and stages of their lives. Each feature profiles a selection of women across the generations that we admire. We hope each interview inspires you, the same way in which these women do to us.

For Aila Morgan-Guthrie, the earth has always offered a special kind of therapy. Growing up Aila was immersed in the natural world and had a deep connection to the land and her horses. Today, she is the founder of seasonal-flower business, Hands In The Dirt - a concept which follows sustainable methods to grow and nurture flowers with love, care and consciousness. Though it wasn’t just a love for nature that led her down this path. At the age of 16, Aila was diagnosed with Autonomic Dysfunction and Ehlers Danlos which affected the automatic side of her body. In a quest to to help her mind reconnect with her body, gardening became her therapy - the earth being the missing link between the two.

A humble and tenacious spirit, Aila shares how she learned to embrace her condition to help and inspire others, her mission to invoke change within New Zealand's floral industry and how getting her hands in the dirt will always be one of her greatest joys.

Please share a little bit about yourself, noting some of the defining aspects that have contributed to the woman you are today.

I grew up in Devonport, Auckland, an incredible place to live when you’re young, as it's surrounded by a beautiful coastline and volcanoes. However, I always had an affinity with the land and was constantly being drawn to it. Throughout my childhood I was also incredibly passionate about my horse riding. So whilst I lived in Devonport, the majority of the time I was out West with my horses. Any other free time I had was spent in the garden pottering around. It was only when we moved up North in 2017 that I could finally set my love of nature, gardening and horses free, combining all three together in one property!

I feel like I’ve had many defining aspects in my life that have shaped me into the person I am today. Some of these include living part time in the South of France with my family, horse riding and learning what unconditional love feels like towards an animal. Then there’s also leaving Devonport and moving to our farm just North of Puhoi where my flower farm currently is. Lastly becoming unwell, with a genetic condition and learning my biggest and hardest lesson of all, perseverance and taking the small wins. These are only some of my defining highlights. If I listed them all we’d be here all day!

  "My intention in life right now is to keep learning, keep being inspired and creating inspiration, invoke change within New Zealand's floral industry for sustainability and enjoy life and all that it has to offer"
Your business, Hands in the Dirt, grows flowers sustainably to be sold around Auckland and direct - has gardening always been something that is close to your heart? What is it about being with nature that drew you to this profession?

From a young age I’ve felt the need to be close to the earth. It felt like the love I had for the earth ran through my veins. That’s where my business name ‘Hands in the Dirt’ was actually born! As I always said when I was young that I was happiest with my hands in the dirt. Back when we lived in Devonport, for my 6th birthday my parents gave me a 1m by 1m garden - It was my absolute pride and joy. I grew every vegetable under the sun, always finding an excuse to fill the garden with more.

This love for the earth flowed into my teenage years. I was and still am an avid horse rider, which was merely another extension of being with nature for me. The older I became, the more I realised how much of a watcher I was. I was forever happy to sit in the garden taking in my surroundings, this became incredibly apparent when I began growing flowers. I would patiently wait for each flower to bloom with nothing else giving me such joy. Each flower opening felt like a wee present. Even now with thousands of flowers blooming, I still take the time to appreciate them all. It felt only natural that at some stage within my life I would end up working with flowers. Hands In the Dirt has by far been one of my biggest joys in life, I utterly love it.

Hands In The Dirt took shape after a serious illness of yours, how did the gardening process and being able to share this with others help?

When I first became unwell at 16, I lost touch with my body. It felt as though my mind and body were completely separate entities with no connection between the two. This was quite literally the case as my illness (Autonomic Dysfunction and Ehlers Danlos) affected the automatic side of my body, everything that I did subconsciously such as temperature control, heart rate, etc completely flicked off.  Being so young and what I was diagnosed with, not being a common illness, there were not a lot of people my age that understood what I had, nor could I talk about it without feeling uncomfortable.

Because of this, I turned to gardening to help me physically and mentally. I’ve always felt like the earth has a certain energy to it, so when you put your hands into it, the earth flows into you. By gardening and keeping busy constantly thinking about what to do next, my mind was able to reconnect with my body. The earth became the missing link between my mind and body. When Hands in the Dirt was created, it was an outlet for me to show my flowers and the beauty of them. I never expected for people to be interested in me as a person or want to know my back story. This interest made me realise that I shouldn't shy away from my condition and instead embrace it and share my experience with others.

By sharing both my gardening journey intertwined with my challenges I faced with my illness, I learnt that it inspired people, something I never realised was possible. For the first time I felt that I was accepted and seen not just as an illness, but as someone more resilient, strong and determined.  People now contact me frequently who too have experienced their own health problems either for support and a shoulder to lean on, or just to say thank you for making them feel a sense of acceptance for their illnesses.

You mention that Hands In The Dirt was born from a love of colour, breathing fresh air, getting your hands dirty and that you align this to a form of therapy - can you explain this a little further?

Nothing quite surpasses being outside gardening in my opinion. There’s something so special about following the seasons and watching as they change. Accompanied with the seasons changing is watching and partaking in the rotation of the flowers from warm flowers to cold loving flowers. This constant watching and listening was and is my personal therapy. I used to grieve for the person I was before my illness, without a pair of reins between my hands or a horse underneath me, I felt incomplete and trapped within my body. Gardening, producing colour and feeling the soil under my fingertips, replaced the feeling of being incomplete with that of peace. Gardening is a clear form of therapy for me and I have the feeling it will remain that way forever. Nothing else (bar horse riding) can give me such a sense of tranquility and calmness.

 

Hands In The Dirt has a firm focus on sustainability - you use no chemicals or pesticides and instead feed and fertilise your gardens with organic material. How does this intentional care for the earth and what it produces affect your product and other processes?

By working with the earth rather than against it, I’ve found we’ve created our own thriving ecosystem. The flora in our farm has increased immensely. Where there was once dead earth is now flower beds filled to the brim with organic material. The beds are almost self sufficient, needing us only to replenish them when new seedlings are going in the ground. The flora within the soil are flourishing, with worms and micro organisms now present, creating a healthier environment for the flowers. The flora above ground now call the flower field their home. Native bees sleep amongst the flowers and we have an abundance of butterflies. This healthy ecosystem now works alongside the flowers, creating healthier flower plants, stronger stems, taller flowers, longer vase life but most importantly, it feels incredible. Knowing you are doing right by the flora and fauna gives me a sense of peace. I’m doing my part to create a healthier planet.

How would you describe your personal style - how has this evolved over the years?

My style has remained almost unchanged over the years. I have a love for beautiful things as well as timeless pieces. My wardrobe is very much a mix of my most treasured pieces of clothing that hold a sentimental value such as my Mum's old clothing, or my favourite worn jeans that are held together at the knee by a safety pin.

How do your Marle pieces make you feel? Do they inspire a feeling, time, memory?

The Marle pieces move with me, never inhibiting or disrupting movement. I love this feeling when a piece of clothing becomes a second skin, nothing ever too tight or sitting too close to me, this is how Marle feels.

What is your intention in life at this moment?

My intention in life right now is to keep learning, keep being inspired and creating inspiration, invoke change within New Zealand's floral industry for sustainability and enjoy life and all that it has to offer.

Quickfire Questions:
Texture or colour?

Both

Summer or winter?

Summer

Most treasured accessory?

My ring that my Mum passed down to me

Currently reading…

Home Going by Yaa Gyasi

Currently listening to…

Spring 1 Max Richter

Aila wears the Brooke Dress, Vanessa Dress and Nonna Hat