"It's a really red house!" Emily told me as she gave me directions to find the garden. The front porch of the namesake red house was decorated with an old school ski boot filled with beautiful flowers. I walked through the back into an enormous blooming garden, filled with rows of flowers, some towering over my head. Two happy dogs came to greet me and Katie emerged from the flowers to say hi. I spent a few hours snapping photos along the process of finding flowers that were in perfect bloom, creating bouquets and getting ready for their upcoming market. We talked about all things small business. Emily and Katie are so kind and passionate about what they do.
Q: I know “how did you get started?” Is a really typical question, but I’d love to know about your journey. When did you start & when did you decide this was the career path for you?
Emily: I was sitting on my couch recovering from an ACL surgery when I happened upon a photo of a truck loaded with dahlias posted by a well known grower from the PNW - Floret Flowers. I continued down the insta-rabbit hole and the next thing I knew I was filling my Johnny's Seeds cart with $200 worth of flower seeds. I tried out a bunch of things the following summer and fell in love. Now I have to learn to make room in the garden for veggies again! To be perfectly honest, I have never been certain it’s the career path for me until I gave it a solid shot; so that's what you're seeing now.
Katie: Emily started growing flowers and one day told me she wanted me to be her designer. I jumped in with two feet! I have been designing with plants and flowers for over ten years but just sort of floating between jobs at flowers stores or working as a gardener and was ready for a change. I've always known that working for myself was what I wanted to do but wasn't sure how or when that would be. The power of suggestion and buddy to bounce ideas off of was all it took for me to say "the time is now!"
Q: Was anyone a pivotal person/mentor in terms of inspiring how or why you love flowers/floral arrangements?
Emily: Lots of little things along the way - my mother and grandmothers love of flowers, my friend Georgie's flower growing operation at Snowdrift Farm, Katie and her beautiful arrangements, and an adventure in beekeeping!
Katie: My mentor and employer in college - Cleo Pirtle at Grewsome Gardens - was really the one who opened my eyes to designing with plants. Even though all the women in my family have always been gardeners and flower enthusiasts, it took the realization after college that office life wasn't for me and gentle nudging from Cleo that really led me to combine my creativity with plants.
Q: There’s so much background work that goes into becoming successful on your own and it’s not all glamorous. What does a typical work day look like for you?
Emily: I have yet to experience a typical work day! All the days so far have been different. We both work "day" jobs so during harvest season we have to do a lot of careful arranging to make sure we get to harvest during the optimal hours (early morning in the summer months), allow time for the flowers to rest and hydrate, and then arrange them. Winter spring and summer involve communication with clientele as well as budget tracking and marketing, careful tending to baby seedlings, weeding, pest management, optimal soil fertility and irrigation, and in partnership perhaps most challenging of all: coming to consensus on the best and most efficient ways to approach these tasks!
Q: What’s your favorite part of your day to day process? What’s your least favorite?
Emily: The growing process in general! Seeing the flowers through from seed to vase. There’s also a lot of experimentation and troubleshooting that come with the job: nature can come off as fickle as it responds to imbalance. We’re then faced with the challenge of addressing this imbalance, without the use of chemicals or damaging inputs. Admittedly in the moment it can be incredibly frustrating, but ultimately it sets us up with the experience we need to succeed in this business! Least favorite? The associated stress. I take my work seriously and often find myself worrying if I’ll have enough flowers or the right flowers for a particular event or market. Every season is so different!
Katie: favorite is definitely getting to play with all the flowers when arranging them. I also enjoy getting to make someone’s day better with beautiful flowers, especially their wedding day! Someone once told us that she starts her day by asking herself it this is a "yes day" or a "no day". I always answer "yes" whenever I get to do Red House Flowers things in my day.
Q: If you you were able to go back and offer gentle words of wisdom to a younger version of yourself - one who was considering or just starting on this path - what would you tell her?
Emily: We are still a very young business, so there are lessons being learned every week. I am constantly reminding myself to be patient with the process and to learn from mistakes without beating myself up. I also often remind myself that experience is everything and you can't skip over that part.
Katie: I would go back and whisper "you can do it!" to myself over and over. I think doubt can be our own worst enemy.
Q: Tell me about a moment or a job that made you feel amazing or gave you a "wow this is real?" feeling.
Emily: So many! Every time I see a new flower blooming, the first time I sold all my flowers at a market, and then our first wedding this past summer! I think for me, the "wow is this real?" feeling is rooted in the novelty. You can keep that fire lit when you push yourself to grow and innovate in ways that align with your values.
Katie: Emily and I took our first business trip together this fall, all the way to Calgary, Alberta for a sustainability workshop. From getting to write off our morning coffee to our adorable air b and b, I definitely had that feeling 100% of the time that trip.
Q: What are you favorite flowers? Or flower combos.
Emily: Oh man! Hard questions. It depends on the season and the year, but early summer so far my favorites include ranunculus and sweet peas (both love our climate) and later season I am in love with dahlias (although they require some serious pampering). I also love all the flowers that bring texture and interest to arrangements- including seed pods from poppies, nigella and scabiosa. Experimenting with flower combos is one of the best parts of the job! It’s when you realize how important different types of blooms and colors play essential roles in balanced arrangement.
Katie: I feel like a really good smelling flower is so rare in the cut flower business, especially a nice organically grown one that you feel comfortable burying your nose in. I love being able to bring flowers like peonies and sweet peas to the market for people to huff; they’re like nature’s happy drugs! There's nothing better than walking through the garden and catching their scent on a summer breeze.
Q: What's a piece of advice you could give to someone thinking about hiring you?
Emily: To be open to the possibilities of the season. Nature takes it’s time and because we only use locally grown flowers, we hope our clientele will trust that we will create beautiful floral arrangements for them, regardless of what individual flowers are available.
Katie: I agree, really embracing the slow flowers movement means embracing nature in all its seasons. Emily and I have a deep knowledge that there is always something beautiful to admire in nature - no matter the season or type of weather. We are eager to share this with our community and strive to bring that beauty into peoples' homes where it can become a part of their heartsl. There are always some gorgeous materials for us to quite literally bring to their table and we hope that by doing this, people start to adopt nature into their lives as more than just their environment but as part of themselves.
Q: What's something you wish your clients (or audience) knew about what you do?
Emily: We are utilizing only flowers we grow and sometimes in a pinch or for a larger event will purchase exclusively from other local growers. Although we are not certified organic, we never use chemicals in our gardens. We are also striving to minimize waste and use of non reusable plastics (really plastic in general), including floral foam which is one of the nastiest you've-never-heard-about products that is used heavily in floral design. Finally- we are building this business from scratch and we want our customers to know that all of the flowers being purchased go on to fuel the growth of a local flower economy! Aka these are flowers you can feel good about.
Katie: I wish people knew why they should buy our flowers even though they might cost more than the flowers down at the grocery store. The truth is, most people have no idea that flowers are a lot like and sometimes actually way worse than conventional vs organic produce. They want cheap flowers but never stop to consider the terrible working conditions of the farmers or the dying bees that have to work with the over sprayed and unregulated "conventionally" grown flowers.
Q: Tell me about work-life balance. What does that mean to you? Do you struggle with it or does it come naturally?
Emily: It’s our number one goal and one of the reasons we decided to form this partnership. Neither of us has a spouse or partner currently working with us behind the scenes, so the business requires that we work closely together to minimize burn out. It turns out it’s a really hard no matter how committed you are to the concept of balance! I knew this from the get go after working for a number of other small farmers. It's not impossible though and I think it all comes down to thoughtful planning (don't overcommit or get in too deep too soon), and top notch time management (we are constantly working on this). The truth is that at the end of the day we are always on call. If a hail storm is rolling through it’s not really an option to say: hey I’m off the clock for the day. We are actively working on mitigating these hazards through the methods we are growing our flowers. These efforts include a focus on small and highly productive gardens, as well as the use of season extenders that serve to protect our flowers from some extremely harsh weather conditions.
Katie: The work lends itself to some long days and hard work. It's sometimes hard to remember to eat, or drink water, let alone go for a bike ride or walk the dog. It's really nice to have a partner to support each other but communication and good planning is key.
Q: What are your feelings on social media?
Emily: A necessary evil, probably. We utilize it to document and showcase what is happening in the gardens. We have noticed that people like to observe and hear about the process and that platforms like Instagram can be very effective tools. It's also a great and easy way to educate our clientele about flowers and to share their beauty. That said, I don’t think I've included many pictures of the empty spaces in the garden eaten by rodents or the hail damaged plants etc etc. No one wants to see the ugly right? So for the most part we don’t share that part, but we do want our clientele to know it's not an easy business, that are daily risks and gambles, and that the cost of the flowers is informed by the hard work that precedes every seed into the ground.
Katie: Emily does a fantastic job of updating our followers with all the happenings. I think it’s a great tool for communication and personalization of the business. It gives people something to relate to, a reason to support us other than just a need for flowers at an event.
Q: Is there anything else that you'd like to include?
Emily: One of the scariest things about the for-profit (well hopefully) world for me was asking people to support me through an exchange of their dollars for my product! I cannot sell a product that I don't stand behind so naturally it is a bit stress inducing especially when there are some challenging variables (like setting up flowers for a wedding on a blazing hot summer day) I have also been very careful about stepping on the toes of those who are selling a similar product, especially those that have been in the business for a long time. Luckily most of the folks we have encountered have been incredibly kind and supportive. That has been a huge relief because I believe strongly that we are all more successful when we build each other up.
Katie: A cool dream for the future would include a sort of flower co-op where all the flower needs in the area could be filled by local growers working together to meet the needs instead of shipping flowers from here, there and everywhere. We all need to work toward a sustainable future, and that includes the flowers on your table that fed the bees that pollinate the vegetables that we eat.