Archive for Profile in Petals

Profile in Petals: Floret

Written by: Julie Cole Miller, managing editor

Photo Credit: Michelle W. Waite

Erin Benzakein started Floret, a Washington-based flower grower, with the dream of celebrating the best of old-fashioned flower varieties, including their vibrant colors and uncommon aromas. We caught up with Erin to learn more about her background, philosophy, and inspiration.

So I understand you are both a floral designer and a flower grower. How did you get your start with flowers?

Photo Credit: Chris Benzakein

After my great-grandmother passed away some years back, I planted sweet peas in my veggie patch to remember her by. I got a little carried away and planted two HUGE rows. When they came into bloom it was impossible to use all of the flowers around the house. I gave bouquets away to everyone I knew but still had more than I could manage. A friend ended up ordering a few bundles for gifts. During one of the deliveries the coolest thing happened… the recipient started crying. All it took was one smell and she was transported back in time to happy memories and her childhood. I was so amazed to see something as simple as a jar of flowers have that kind of impact on a person.

That fall I tore out my entire vegetable garden and replanted it with flowers. It’s funny how a simple experience can completely change your life!

Photo Credit: Michelle W. Waite

I definitely put more time into growing the flowers. In order to have a steady supply of material all season long we are constantly planting, seeding, watering, weeding, staking, etc. The garden requires an enormous amount of work. In my spare time and during the off-season I scour the internet, the library, and practice designing as much as possible. Eventually I will have a farm manager who oversees all of the growing so I can focus solely on variety selection, design, and sales.

Can you tell us a little about your organic farm?

Photo Credit: Chris Benzakein

Well, it’s best described as an insanely overgrown cutting garden! It started out as a few flowerbeds, then took over my yard and now has expanded into the neighbor’s soccer field and another neighbor’s horse pasture. We are frantically adding more rows, more plants, and more greenhouses to keep up with the demand.

With careful planning, I am able to have fresh garden bouquets from March through late October. With a bit of foraging from the forest, field hedgerows, and a stop at the local wholesaler, I’m also able to make up Thanksgiving centerpieces and Christmas wreaths in the off season.

You also supply organic flowers to other designers. Do you find that your clients are more interested in seasonality, beauty, sustainability, or variety?

I think most of them are excited by our wide selection of unique material. We grow a lot of things that don’t ship well, are highly fragrant, delicate, or are not commonly available in the trade. Brides and groceries are very attracted to our organic growing practices, whereas designers seem most impressed by the flowers’ freshness and our selection of unusual ingredients.

Photo Credit: Chris Benzakein

I LOVE full, lush, garden-inspired bouquets. I’m a huge fan of foliage and texture. I tend to fill arrangements with as many unique greens, grasses, vines, and berries as possible, often having to remind myself to leave room for flowers at the end! I want every bouquet to feel like a garden.

Where do you find inspiration?

Since 95% of the bouquets and arrangements that leave our farm are from the garden, I am always looking to it for inspiration. A morning walk through the field can be hugely inspiring. New blooms just cracking open, delicate grasses shimmering in the breeze, a nodding rose at the perfect stage for cutting; it’s impossible not to want to create after a stroll through the garden.

To read further about Floret and discover more of Erin Benzakein’s vibrant designs, visit her website.

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Profile in Petals: Blue Bouquet

Launched just three short years ago, Blue Bouquet—a Kansas City floral and event design team—has made a splash in the floral scene in the Midwest. With a team comprised of florists, designers, and amateur musicians, Blue Bouquet’s broad range of talent and creativity puts them among the best. Often using eclectic containers, Blue Bouquet creates arrangements and bouquets with great texture and vivid color. Head Designer Drue Carr loves to think outside of the box and create floral designs to complement a bride’s personality or event’s theme. Taking time away from her busy schedule, Drue took the time to answer some of my questions about her ethos, design aesthetic, and what inspired her to start her successful floral design business.

What initially sparked your interest to work with flowers?
I’ve always been drawn to beautiful things, and flowers qualify, of course. When I was 15, I needed a job and there was a floral shop nearby. ‘That looks like a great job,’ I thought. So I walked in and convinced them to hire me.

Who did you work under before starting your own business, Blue Bouquet?
Several shops in the Kansas City area. I’m especially indebted to Dan Needham of Needham Floral for his support in the early days.

I see from your website that a certain wedding inspired you to open Blue Bouquet. What about that wedding was the inspiration?
It was the largest wedding I had done on a freelance basis at that time—20 or 30 tables, I suppose. [My husband] Neil was working as an art director at a design firm at the time, and following that wedding he convinced me that we could make a good go of this.

I love your “why not” approach to floral design. Can you tell me a little bit about your personal style?
We try really hard to work independently of styles. Good design exists outside of trends and fashion. Our belief is that the client matters more than the current trends, and our job is to find their style—whether it be trendy, edgy, or traditional. Realistically though, there’s a good bit of me in everything I do and I’ll never escape that. For me, floral design is all about texture and color. That’s what I go for in everything I create. Composition matters, of course, but many florists make the mistake of starting with composition rather than starting with the texture and color of the materials and allowing them to dictate composition. You are dealing with nature, and you can’t force it or you’ll end up with very contrived arrangements. For me, floral design is all about flexibility. I know where I want to end up, but I don’t always know how I’m going to get there.

What are some everyday inspirations for your designs?
Store displays, architecture, graphic design… and of course the usual wedding blogs and the ever-enduring Martha Stewart. She’s got some fabulous designers working for her. They may not be avant-garde, but they have a great grasp on how to design for ordinary people and do it with a lot of class.

How do you  deal with common obstacles you face while designing for events and weddings?
We spend much more time talking to our clients and prepping for events than we actually do in production. In order to be successful in events, you have to understand that. You have to learn to educate and partner with people and enjoy doing so.

Are there any floral designers that you look up to?
Many… All the usuals, really: David Stark and Avi Adler, Ariella Chezar, some Europeans like Gregor Lersch, and the entire staff of Martha Stewart. There are also some great local florists who I look up to.

On your website, it’s mentioned that while doing a wedding in Honduras, you spotted a phalaenopsis orchid plant growing off the side of a tree and used it in the wedding. It’s a very green approach; do you try to be “green” whenever possible?
We have great relationships with our local farmers, and we use them as much as possible. Their crops are limited unfortunately, and often even when they do have what we want, they don’t have the quantity. When we buy through wholesalers, we do so responsibly. Our relationships with our wholesalers are equally important. Obviously the environmental practices of their farmers are important. Equally important though, is the quality of life of the workers, the shipping/importing methods, and especially the quality of product. There are so many variables to weigh, so we find that trustworthy and responsible wholesalers are crucial.

I also see that you’re an avid gardener. Does this tie into your love for design in any way?
Not as much as you’d think. I do grow a few things that I use for weddings—things that are hard to ship, like clematis and lily of the valley. Mostly though, I just enjoy getting outside the shop and in the sun to work in the yard a bit. It’s good for my heart.

What kind of encouragement would you give to someone inexperienced who wants to take a stab at making an arrangement?
Just do it. No need to educate yourself first, though you might want to read online just a bit about how to cut and prep your flowers. Usually, I’d advise starting with something simple—maybe just a single, smaller vase and a single type of bloom. We’re coming up on peony season, and that would be a great place to start. Always think about what you are doing. Look at the arrangement as you go, and try hard to think about what is working and what isn’t. That’s how you’ll learn. There are lots of great books on floral design, and they can be helpful, but they’ll never replace what you can learn by just jumping in there and making something.

To see more images from Blue Bouquet’s impressive portfolio, click here.

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Profile in Petals: Brooke Howsley

Ever since I saw her radish and tulip bouquet on her blog, CrossPollination Floral, I was drawn in by Brooke Howsley’s style—textured, multifaceted, and unexpected. Brooke stumbled into the world of flowers just a handful of years ago, bringing her graphic and textile design experiences to bear as she developed her thoughtful approach to flowers.


What’s your background? Have flowers always been a part of the picture for you?

In college, I didn’t even know “floral designer” was an option. I went to the University of Texas at Austin and majored in graphic design, learned a lot about composition and color and professionalism. I freelanced for a while but didn’t like sitting behind a desk all day. I tried a lot of different things. I was an antiques dealer for a couple of years then a bedding and furniture designer at a fabric store in Austin where they let me help with visual merchandising. Nothing felt exactly like the right thing.

At one point I thought, Hmm…what about flowers? My mom had always grown beautiful flowers, but I didn’t have her green thumb.

What was your first step?

I challenged myself and just walked into the wholesaler, bought $50 worth of flowers (which blew my mind at the time), took them home, and made an arrangement! It hit on something that fed my soul and could be a business for me. I knew I needed some training and I chose to get it on-the-job: at a place that handled higher-end accounts and another place that did daily deliveries. I wanted to cover my bases and learn both sides. After a year-ish, I felt confident to start booking weddings on my own. All these things started coming my way once I committed.

And then your studio was born?

I had Pollen for about two or three years before we moved to New Zealand for two and half years. The studio was on hiatus while I was gone.

Wait….New Zealand?

My husband and I went to New Zealand for our honeymoon for 12 days. My husband was beside himself and said, “We just have to move here!” It was a crazy decision to uproot our lives and move to the other side of the world. I tried to start a floral design business there with a Kiwi woman and decided I wasn’t a business-partner type of person. I wasn’t engaged in the flower business there, and it started to get to me that it wasn’t the life I really wanted. It took us a year to sell our house and make the transition back.

Here comes the style question…how would you describe yours?

Coming from an arts background, I felt there was this whole range of things you could add to make arrangements more interesting and modern. So, I asked wholesalers about what was new and different and just started pulling things that looked unique. I really hopped on the succulent bandwagon and am trying to focus on locally grown flowers and plants and unique foliage. The local angle wasn’t that important to me a few years back, but I’ve incorporated that more into my personal life and my business as well. It’s so much bigger than just a trend.

The more I got into the flow of my own style, the more people came to me liking it and wanting to take it further. I started attracting brides who wanted to do something cool and interesting.

What guides you when you design?

I’m really trying to meditate on what the inspiration is for a particular piece and make the flowers visually evocative of that inspiration. So, if the starting point was a painting, I really try to capture the spirit of the inspiration. I feel that it’s intuitive if I’m working on something that’s not working.

You can plan and plan and, when the flowers arrive, it can be the opposite of what you were expecting. The goal is to make bride happy, to create her vision but not lose my integrity.

Recently, I met with a bride who described the wedding she wanted as “Victorian naturalist mixed with vintage Mexican.” Different combinations keep me fresh and wanting to be in the business.

Who do you admire, florally-speaking?

I’m inspired by Kate Holt and Ariella Chezar. Paula Pryke is another person I look at often. I try to keep up with what’s going on and still keep my own style.

How would you advise budding (pun intended) young designers?

Follow your passions in life and trust your instincts. Get out and personally network in the community. Interact with people in a genuinely interested way. What made my business successful was that I had worked at local Austin businesses and built up 10 years worth of contacts, and those people really supported me.

Keep yourself inspired from multiple viewpoints. Don’t just stay in your studio. Go to a museum and look at paintings and sculpture. On the business side, be conservative and don’t try to expand too quickly. Slowly build your client base and don’t overextend yourself.

Before we moved to New Zealand, I was doing at least one wedding a weekend. I didn’t have a lot of support people I could call on, so I was doing more of it myself than I should have been. Since I’ve been back, I’ve really worked on that aspect of the business. Back in December, I had the biggest wedding of my career with a big budget. Three of my friends came with me to Houston to help. Took all the pressure off me and I felt like it went very smoothly.

See more of Brooke’s imaginative floral designs at www.crosspollinationfloral.blogspot.com and www.pollenfloralart.com.


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A Sybilized Conversation

sybil wreathSybil Sylvester has been credited with single-handedly changing floral design in Birmingham, Alabama. Integrating European traditions, contemporary techniques, and Southern charm, Sybil’s passion and unique talent for all things floral have made her one of the most influential floral designers in the South. She’s had a hand in many of flower‘s favorite projects, but we flower girls adore Sybil as much for her sweet spirit as we do her inspiration and guidance. This post is dedicated to providing a closer glimpse of the woman behind some of Birmingham’s most sought-after floral designs.

With all the weddings and events you design, how do you keep calm and cool under all that pressure?

Well, that’s a good question. You know, I think it’s experience, but keeping a calm exterior is kind of my strong point. Now, I’m not necessarily calm on the inside even though that sometimes seems to be the case on the outside. But, I try to work far enough ahead so that when the time comes for installation day, or the day of the event, we have our ducks in a row and we’re ready to deal with any snafus that may come our way. It’s really just planning ahead. That’s the best way to deal with the pressure.

sybil launchWhen you actually have time to yourself, how do you like to spend it?

I love to be in my garden, I love to cook, and of course I love to spend time with my grandchildren and my sweet husband. [My husband and I] both love to read. Yesterday was the first free day I’ve had since… I want to say August 1st. And that’s basically how I spent my day: I did a little gardening, a little cooking, a little reading… unfortunately, I didn’t get to see my grandchildren. Also, yesterday I did straighten my office. It had just reached that point.

Do you have anything you’re extra particular about? Any pet peeves or anything you find you focus extra time on during events?

The details are very, very important to me. I am a big detail person. I feel like it’s so, so important and it’s what really finishes the job. Whether it be making sure there are no ragged edges on ribbons, or making sure to cover every speck of Oasis so it’s not seen, it’s very important to me that we go back and make sure we’ve accomplished everything we’ve said we would accomplish. In terms of pet peeves: I hate when I receive flowers that aren’t the colors I expected. It messes up the entire color scheme, which can alter the look of an entire event. So that is when I hit the market and hand-select flowers that match what I’d envisioned for the event and the installation. Because it can make the difference.

DSybil Fall Weddingoes working with flowers ever get tedious for you?

My gut answer, just being honest, is yes. Because it’s physical, hard work, but also because I feel like I’m getting older and it’s harder for me to do. Sometimes I just ask myself, ‘are you still lugging these flowers around?’ Still, I went to the market today and brought home some beautiful flowers. And you know, some of my best friends are sitting in buckets on my patio right now… and I love it. It is so rewarding. And that’s when I have to say, no, it’s all worth it.

Photos from top to bottom:

– A very creamy, dreamy wreath for a bridal luncheon.
– Hot pink and green for flower’s Birmingham launch party in 2007
– Rich colors and natural details for a fall wedding on the farm

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