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My shop is starting to fill up with evergreens. I have ordered over 15 varieties for my wreath classes coming up over the next couple of weeks. I will also use some of those branches in other arrangements. The most versatile, by far, is magnolia. I will use it in just about everything I make from now through Valentine's day. It definitely has a winter vibe. It can also feel very holiday with some people associating it with Christmas. I can make it blend in so it works like any other supporting foliage.
Magnolia is a varied genus of flowering trees that includes over 300 species. There is deciduous magnolia (the kind that looses its leaves every year) like star magnolia, and there is evergreen like magnolia grandifolia, also called southern magnolia (pictured above). I use star magnolia in arrangements after its leaves drop off leaving a stark branch with velvety gray catkins. It provides texture and interest but it's not a major element. Evergreen magnolia, however, dominates my winter designs. (Fun fact: Magnolia evolved before bees existed, so they are pollinated by beetles unlike most flowering plants.)
Magnolia grandifolia is native to the southern part of the United States from Maryland to Florida. While southern magnolia does have beautiful, fragrant flowers in late spring, florists don't have a use for them. The flowers are too delicate, bruise easily and have a very short vase life. We use southern magnolia exclusively for the leaves. My preferred variety is Bracken's Brown Beauty from Seaberry Farm. This magnolia has thick leathery bicolored leaves. One side is glossy with a forest green color. The other side is a matte suede brown.
A wreath made of just magnolia is quintessential southern décor. This week my friend John McKeown brought me half a dozen crates of magnolia from his farm. He said it was looking good this season so he asked if I would make him a wreath for his door. While I'm not making custom wreaths this year, I can't say no to John. He's been coming through for me with flowers for almost 20 years. I'm happy to do it. It's a way to thank him.
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If I had to rank flower holidays Thanksgiving would definitely place. It's never going to be the champ, but it's getting on the podium every year. More than an “also-ran,” I'd say it is a perennial bronze behind Valentine's and Mother's Day. While table arrangements and host gifts are the main sellers, I have a few different opportunities for Thanksgiving sales. Of course, there's individual orders for delivery and pick up. I always have a centerpiece class early in the week. But, one of my favorite events this holiday is my pop-up on Thanksgiving Eve.
I've been opening my shop one evening a week for drop-in design for years. I call it Open Studio. It is a casual, self-directed event. I encourage visitors to come with friends and bring food and drinks. It's a flower hang-out. I display all my flowers for customers to select by the stem and build their own bouquets. I'll give advice if asked. I used to have it year-round on Wednesdays. I marketed it as “your mid-week flower get-a-away.” I reduced it to warm weather months after the pandemic so I could keep the bay doors open and added a couple of pop-ups throughout the year.
The pop-ups are poppin'! I combine extended pre-ordered pick-up hours on pre-holidays like Galentines or Thanksgiving Eve with Open Studio. I also make a few bouquets and arrangements if I have time and inventory for the procrastinators who show up on their way to a gathering. I also partner with other vendors who don't have their own shop or want to introduce themselves to a new crowd. It helps me to get more people into my place and make new flower friends. This year Lunaria Cakes joined me in the shop. 
My brother used to call the Wednesday before Thanksgiving "the biggest going out night of the year" due to the confluence of out-of-town visitors and social activities. I meet many of my regulars' visiting family at my Thanksgiving eve pop-up. I also catch-up with customers who only stop in on holidays. The shop is buzzing. It is a special night. I'm grateful for it all. 
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I market my flower business by focusing on sustainable sourcing. I only sell locally grown flowers which is unusual in the industry. I am also cautious about keeping invasive plants out of my business - an issue about which I was ignorant earlier in my career. These business values are why I always find stories about the cocaine hippos of Colombia fascinating (stay with me - there's a flower connection). There was another story in this saga this week in The New York Times.
If you don't know about about these hippos, they should not be living in Colombia and are an example of how harmful invasive species can be. They are a growing and threatening population descending from a few pets Pablo Escobar, the late notorious cocaine kingpin, imported from Texas (what?) to his ranch decades ago. These hippos are not the only strange problematic legacy of the Medellin Cartel. Pablo Escobar's illicit escapades of the '80s are also responsible for the proliferation of cheap, imported flowers and a dearth of domestically grown flowers in the US today.
The cut flower business is a hyper-efficient $100 billion a year world-wide industry. Today, 80% of flowers sold in the US are grown in other countries! Almost all of those delicate, dying blooms come from a far off land. They are chemically preserved, packed, and shipped thousands of miles every day. Of all those imported flowers to the US, three-quarters come from Colombia.
Aside from his posthumous work as hippo-daddy, Pablo Escobar and his cartel supplied the US with 80% of all cocaine that came into the country in the 1980’s. The US government wanted to shut the party down. So, as part of the fight to stop the cartel from exporting nearly 100 tons of cocaine each month into the country, President George H.W. Bush enacted the Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA) in 1991. President George W. Bush continued the effort with the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) in 2003.
These acts remove import taxes and promote many commodities, including cut flowers, from Colombia and its neighbors. The ATPT and ATPDEA are intended to replace the cocaine business with legitimate business. Good idea, right? It has been working for some industries. But for cut flowers, the Andean trade acts made imported Colombian flowers way cheaper than American grown flowers. Colombian flowers have flooded our market which has put great pressure on American growers. Remember that 80% imported flower number I told you about, it was only 46% before the ATPA.
Anyway, back to the hippos... There are about 170 right now, but the fear is that the herd could grow to 1,000 in the next 10 years. Colombians have become so fond of the animals they are thought of as a national mascot. Much like many invasive flower and plant species we often enjoy their presence and overlook their devastating environmental impact. Some farmers grow and sell invasives and florists (including me just a few years ago) unknowingly buy them. Some designers know they are using invasives and think what harm could there be. In fact, a lot of harm is caused such as extinction of natives, destruction of habitat, disruption of the ecosystem, and reduction of biodiversity. Scientists in Colombia know they must intervene with the hippos before it's too late. Officials have a plan to sterilize the interlopers "in a race against time in terms of permanent environmental and ecosystem impacts."
One biologist quoted in the article thinks the plan is not enough. Dr. Germán Jiménez of Pontifical Javeriana University, says invasive species must be eliminated completely or you will live with them permanently. I agree with the biologist. I've become a hard-liner. No tolerance. Bye, Vanessa.
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Here is some gratitude for Thanksgiving.
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Speaking to garden clubs is totally my jam. I'm trying to increase these engagements as a core part of my later career business evolution strategy. Garden club members are my people. They eat up my stories of owning a business that sources only locally grown flowers and love watching me demonstrate a design with flowers and foliage that they grow themselves. As amateur growers, I can also share with them all the tricks I've learned from the professional farmers who sell to me. It's a sweet gig.
There are two national non-profit organizations which the clubs belong to: The Garden Club of America and federated state clubs associated by National Garden Clubs, Inc. They both promote the love of gardening and have education at the heart of their missions. At most of their monthly meetings, these clubs will invite a speaker to talk about a topic of interest. I will quickly accept any invitation I get no matter the distance. I love telling the stories of my floral adventures. While I demonstrate a design I share my knowledge of the history of local flowers, the stories of my growers, anecdotes about the flowers and sustainability practices. I have to say it's a pretty good presentation and I often get complemented that I was the club's best speaker of the year. Hooray for me!
I was hired for two garden club talks last week. The first was The Garden Club of Chevy Chase outside of Washington D.C. for a one hour talk and demonstration on making a winter holiday centerpiece with with local flowers. The second was closer to home for The Town and Country Garden Club just north of Baltimore. I got a great response from both talks with promises of references from the gardeners for more presentations. It's super nerdy. It's one of the best things I do.
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My Baltimore studio is open for walk-ins: Saturday mornings 8:00AM-12:00PM. 
Here's what's going on in the shop:
  • Event/class schedule updated for fall.
    • Holiday Wreath Classes

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