BY CATHY BALLMAN – Authors Greg Campbell and Erick New have cut a unique path in the world of flowers and they are coming to Boca Grande to tell Garden Club members all about it. On Wednesday, Feb. 3, they will speak about this and how Garden District, the Memphis flower shop they own, builds relationships with vendors in a way that benefits their clients in a surprising way. They will also talk about “Florists to Fields,” their big, gorgeous and glorious new book.
This presentation is from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at the Boca Grande Community Center Courtyard. On Thursday, Feb. 4 from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., they will offer a design workshop for 20 lucky club members. Class will be held at the community center gazebo.
The men are looking forward to what is a return trip to Boca Grande. In 2019, they did the flowers for a splashy wedding; this time, they hope to explore town and beach a bit.
As happens with so many happy careers, Mr. Campbell and Mr. New fell into the flower business. “I needed beer money when I was in college,” laughed Mr. New. Happily, they fell into and under the tutelage of John Hoover, one of the south’s most influential florists. Eventually, the two men acquired the business and shaped it to reflect their own visions. Tucked into the elegant and vibrant East Memphis neighborhood, Garden District is a potpourri of a shop, selling candles and antiques and home decor and all things charming but it remains flowers first, insist the owners. And, it’s a business.
The business was challenged by COVID-19 in Spring 2020. They were – and are – limiting the number of people in the shop at any one time. But what to do with a huge inventory? So they did the pandemic pivot. Tables were set up outside the store and an outdoor bazaar with ready-made arrangements was created. Customers like the “Grab and Go” system, realizing that they could quickly and with limited contact pickup fresh flowers and be done in under a minute. This was run on a quasi-honor system.
Two things happened. “It opened our eyes,” says Mr. Campbell. First, customers liked the convenience, as well as the decreased risk of catching the virus. This service will continue to be part of their business model into the future. Second, “We were selling things that people didn’t know they wanted,” noted the owners. People usually say they like pinks or roses or tulips or whatever has been their preferences, they note. But when that’s not available and an arrangement with flowering quince or massive bowls of orange and pink and purple zinnias catch attention, customers’ tastes and habits can broaden.
Florists to the Fields, which has earned only positive press, is a tribute to the flower farmers who are the backbone of the business. As chefs work with farmers to offer a field-to-table culinary experience, they worked with their vendors to deepen their relationships. They looked in on 12 vendors, from Washington State to the Netherlands, taking little more than their snippers (and a photographer and writer to document the visits). Using their garden snippers and their eyes, they would work their way through each farm, cutting and trimming and using only natural elements found on the farm to create a series of dazzling floral-drenched dinners, shown in the book, for their vendors. The parties were tailored to what the farmers wanted. In the Netherlands, it was a cocktail party for the farmer’s staff. One probably overworked farmer requested a romantic diner-for-two.
To obtain a copy, place an order on their publisher’s website, southerlymedia.com; if a code is requested, use FTTFmedia. Everyone from the Garden Club who orders a book will receive a signed copy.
Both the meeting and the workshop will be structured so that participants can be socially distant. As per the norm for 2021, members only are invited to the events. Wednesday’s presentation will be taped and posted on the club website, bocagardenclub.com.