I recently read a book about the symbolism of flowers. In the Victorian era, each flower had it’s own emotion or sentiment. For example, the magnolia meant “nobility”, the oleander symbolized “caution”, and a primrose communicated “I can’t live without you”. Each arrangement that Sarah makes has meaning and beauty, whether for a wedding or a simple tabletop bouquet. But she seems to find meaning in flowers the way a sculptor does with clay, or a painter with acrylics and oils. She knows the way they create a palate, the way they move, their lifespan, their essence. Mostly self-taught, she creates such unique and inspired arrangements that the name “florist” doesn’t quite fit. She’s blossoming beyond that.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR PATH TO BECOMING A FLORIST.
About ten years ago, I started working at Kennebec Flower Farm in Bowdoinham. That grew out of a background in sustainable agriculture, which is what I studied in undergrad. I was back in grad school and I was back home in Maine and I had done a couple farm jobs here and there. I was 24, needed some work. I met the folks from the flower farm at the farmer’s market and they took me on for that season. And in that one season, the farmers and I got really close. And we just clicked. My interest in flowers developed with my relationship to them. And in my first seasons there, I really only harvested and weeded and planted. As I got more involved, I started making bouquets at the market. I would always come home with buckets and buckets of flowers. And when I would get home I would just play with flowers. After about five years, I would start getting inquiries at the market. People would either ask specifically for my bouquets of ask if I did weddings. People would say things like, “Oh you really have an eye for this!” And this one guy, a jeweler, would whisper to me, “Yours are the best bouquets.” So I did a couple of friends’ weddings and it grew from there.
WHAT SOLIDIFIED THIS LEAP INTO MAKING IT YOUR CAREER?
There was this one moment. I was visiting a friend’s aunt in New York City. The momentum towards doing floral designs was building, but I was a full-time teacher. I had enough on my plate. I was just telling all this to my friend’s aunt and she looked at me and said, “You have to do this. You have to pursue this. It’s your calling, your face lights up when you talk about flowers.” So, I went home and got started. I didn’t have internet at my home at the time, and I would just go to a café every weekend and plug away, building the business. For the first few years, I was still a classroom teacher and I was still trying to get my name out there a little bit. This past school year was my first school year not teaching full-time and really my first year growing Watershed Floral. It’s been great!
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE ART OF FLORAL DESIGN?
For me, it’s very intuitive. Honestly, I think it’s what sets my work apart. In the less florist-y flower community, there’s a community that are really artists. I don’t have a background in art, but I think my creativity and my aesthetic are based in my ability to conceptualize something and create it as I go along. This is reflected in my work and makes it unique. I was never trained formally, which used to worry me more. And sometimes I worry, “Oh is there something I don’t know?” But ultimately, I think just knowing the flowers is enough, if you trust yourself and have a good eye and think about what goes well together. But yes, I think some florists would say there is a formula: you put three of this and five of that and then you have an arrangement. I have a plan when I go into an arrangement, but it’s not based on a textbook, it’s based on my relationship with the flowers.
HOW DO YOU PICK FLOWERS FOR AN ARRANGEMENT?
Someone might tell me they want a feeling or color or shape. It really depends on the client. Sometimes clients will say, “Here are a couple things I like. I trust you.” And at the other side of the spectrum, there are some brides that send me very specific color palates and ribbon types. It depends. I think every client comes with a different thing that’s most important to them. For some it is a feeling: romantic, modern, whimsical, natural. And for others it’s a color scheme: these are the colors we are working with. And some just want a shape: they want to see rounded or tall. I base my flower decisions based on whatever comes up as being the most important thing.
DO YOU HAVE FAVORITE FLOWERS TO WORK WITH?
That’s such a hard question, because I feel like I have a different favorite every second! My favorite flower to smell is a beautiful, beautiful flower. It’s called stock. And whenever I tell the name to someone, they say it needs a different name. But it’s a stunning, stunning flower. It almost looks like a snapdragon but rufflier. It’s romantic and comes in peach and dusty rose and just has the most amazing color palate. I love the anemone- there’s something delicate but rough about them. I love dahlias and a good garden rose, a fuller and more robust rose I can really get down with. They all have personalities, they really do. And those personalities are a huge part of how I choose flowers; the feeling they evoke. A tulip is a good example, because I think it moves, too. Tulips don’t stay still when you put them in a vase. They grow a little and they shift and they are always in a different position than when you last saw them. They have a life of their own. The flowers need to go together, but the feeling and tone that they set need to compliment each other.
DO YOU CALL YOURSELF A FLORIST?
That’s a good question. You know, I’ve been working with a business consultant at CEI. And for a long time, I was struggling for even saying I am a florist. I told my consultant, “I’m finally introducing myself as a florist!” And she said, “You’re more than a florist! I hate to say it, but you have to stop saying that! Come up with sometime else. Say, I am a floral artist…or something! ‘Florist’ makes you think FTD.” And I have to say, I haven’t done my homework. I need to come up with something. And I go back and forth it. Part of me wants to reclaim or re-conceptualize what a florist is. I often say something like, “I’m a florist and I specialize in locally-sourced arrangements.” Kind of elaborating on that word “florist”.
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO DO WHAT YOU DO IN A PLACE WITH SUCH A LONG WINTER?
This is my first winter really exploring that, because last winter I was still in the classroom trying to build momentum for my 2013 season. This is the first winter that I’ve really had steady flower work. Winter changes the reality of how I source my flowers.I was poking around the backyard earlier looking at what I could incorporate. But there’s only so much you can do with cedar, spruce and pine. It’s past Christmas and people are pretty done with it. I’ve looking into ways to increase the sustainability of this work. One of the issues is just dealing with the stuff I can’t use, the roughage. It’s like any pursuit in the winter; it’s just a little more complicated. I have to drive to Boston to get flowers if I want good quality ones. In the growing season there’s so much good quality flowers from local growers, but I don’t have that guarantee in the winter. As I grow, I guess I’ll learn more about what the winter entails.
WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT TO YOU?
I guess community would be a big one. Being connected. Connection. It’s always been really important for me to be active in a community and to know the people I live near. And I think that’s how I came to agriculture, through looking at it through the lens of being connected to a place. I think of place and home as being important. I grew up here, bopped around a little, but knew I was going to come back to Maine. I knew even when I was away that this is home.
TELL ME ABOUT A LESSON YOU ARE LEARNING OR HAVE LEARNED RECENTLY.
One thing that was thinking about when I was running this morning is “Be in the now.” It’s something I’ve been reminded of recently. I have a tendency to be busy. I like to be busy. But I’m inherently introverted and I tend to want to fix everything right away. Certainly Craig, my husband, he has been helping me be okay with not having the answer right away. Or not even pursuing the answer. Sometimes if I just sit with a problem, something might shift on it’s own. I’m just trying not to worry so much. I want to fix things and make things better, and connected to that is worrying.
WHAT FEELS LIKE THE GREATEST GIFT OR BLESSING IN YOUR LIFE RIGHT NOW?
The opportunity to pursue my passion and to grow this business. It has felt like a long time coming and there were years where I felt like I wasn’t going to be able to make a go of it. The blessing is being able to have the support to pursue this. But in a way, I lost my identity as a teacher, I spent all my time teaching and I was good at it and loved my students. But it just felt like the right time to take on the flowers. My sister and Craig were really supportive and I really feel like people were rooting for me. The stars aligned to make this happen. Craig often says, “Just do the next right thing.” Whether it’s in our family or our work or our relationship, we just choose the next right thing and somehow not be stressed about it. You just try something and see how things go.
WHAT HAS BEEN ONE OF THE GREATEST STRUGGLES?
It has been working alone. At first I was really excited about it. And as a teacher, you are around people all the time. When I was teaching, I would just come home and need quiet. I was just “on” all day. I was kind of relieved. But then, I very quickly was catapulted to the other end of the spectrum. And recently, I’ve connected to people like you or other wedding vendors. I got to the point where I felt really lonely! I would see a few kids that I tutored and their parents, but mostly I was just slogging away at my computer, which is what I needed to do. But I missed collaborating. Even though I am introverted, I also really love collaborating with people. And I really feel like you have to experience the extreme to find the middle ground. The other struggle is figuring out how to keep my growth in pace with what I can handle. The last thing I want to do is grow so much that I stop doing a good job. I’m starting to feel like I have committed to things that might be beyond my capacity with the space and resources I have. I’m trying to take steps to having more capacity, but it’s a balance. I have to find the balance between the work that pays the bills now, and the work that will eventually pay the bills.
WHAT’S THE BEST MOMENT OF AN AVERAGE DAY?
I like the really early mornings. I’m a morning person. I’m the only one in my whole household, including the dog, who likes mornings. My mom is also a morning person. When I’m up early, I often think of my mom and I think about how we value mornings similarly. It’s the time to have our own introverted lives in our very social lives and careers. It’s a time to think and set my day before caring for other people when they are up. It is a time that I can just preserve for me. I’m lucky: I have so many lucky moments in my day. I love dinner with my family, and I love that my work allows me to bake bread or something in between phone calls. There are a lot of lovely moments in my day.