-Photography by Jennifer McMenamin
The Flower Girl
How one florist’s passion for “shopping local” grew into a beautiful business.
When Ellen Frost decided to plant flowers in the tiny plot of her Butchers Hill row house, she never imagined it would lead to a full-time career as a florist. Having lived in cities her entire life, Frost's thumb was anything but green. But, after a master gardener program through the University of Maryland, she was hooked.
“I started to meet people that grew things for a living," recalls the former vice president of a construction company. “It seemed so foreign to me, but it was really exciting and fun." Frost began working part-time in a flower nursery, selling at farm stands and markets. When friends began getting married, she and a pal decided to buy flowers from farmers and assemble them on their own. “We had no idea what we were doing," says Frost, “but we did it again and again for years as a hobby.
One day, we thought, 'Maybe a stranger would hire us.'" With that, Local Color Flowers was born. Passionate about supporting local growers, Frost formed strong ties with 25 flower farmers, all within 100 miles of Baltimore. “I always had this thought that business is bad, like The Man," says Frost. “Then, I realized I could be The Man and do great things for my community. We are not just in business for the money or to sell a product—we see ourselves as a group trying to change an industry from the inside."
Never having thought of herself as a creative person, Frost now runs Local Color Flowers full-time with her husband and a handful of designers. “Our relationship with the farmers is the best. They're my friends now, and part of our family," she says. “Forming those relationships and being able to express ourselves creatively every day—I can't believe we've found all of those things in this business."
Q: What are the advantages and disadvantages of only using locally grown flowers? Are you seeing noticeably more interest in eco-friendly flowers?
A: Buying local flowers supports local farmers and farm families, keeps money circulating in our community, and reduces the amount of fossil fuel used to transport flowers from their place of origin to the end user. For the client, it provides the freshest product available from a wide variety of beautiful, unique flowers, herbs, and branches throughout the year. Our process allows clients to know the farmer who grew the flowers they are using, forming a real relationship between farmer and consumer. People want to feel good about their wedding purchases; thus, we are definitely seeing increased demand for locally grown flowers. Clients want an amazing product that also reflects their passions and convictions. One disadvantage is that some flowers are just not grown in our region, including roses, orchids, proteas, and other tropical flowers.
Q: What do you need to know before you start designing flowers for a wedding?
A: Our model is different than traditional florists. Since we use what's seasonally and locally available, we don't promise clients certain flowers. This means that our clients allow us to pick the best flowers within their style that are locally available on their wedding date. In order to choose the right flowers for our clients, we need to know as much as we can: the venue, the color palette, the dresses, the décor, the flowers they like and dislike, the Pinterest board, the blogs they read—the list goes on.
Q: What about the bouquet?
A: Choosing the flowers for the bouquet is an important job. We'll look through examples to figure out if they want the bouquet to feel formal, rustic, picked-from-the-garden, or modern. Do they like large bouquets or something more petit? The style and color of the dress can help inform the way the bouquet is wrapped, whether with ribbon, vintage lace, twine, burlap, or some personal piece like a handkerchief or a piece of material from their mother's dress.
Q: Are there any particular flowers that you recommend brides avoid?
A: There aren't any flowers we would recommend against. Some flowers, such as poppies or Queen Anne's lace, don't hold up well out of water. In those situations, I may suggest using those flowers in the centerpieces rather than in the bouquets.
Q: How should a bride broach budget concerns with her florist?
A: Clients should be honest with their florist about their budget. The more information the florist has, the better they'll be able to work with the client. Additionally, prioritize what's important to you. With the popularity of Pinterest and wedding blogs, it's easy to think you need it all. Figure out where you want to spend your money and let go of the other things. Find ways to get double duty from your flowers. For example, if you are using hanging arrangements on shepherd's hooks for your ceremony, have your planner or caterer move those arrangements to the dessert table after the ceremony.
Q: How do you keep the flowers fresh until the ceremony?
A: When the flowers get to the shop, a few days before the wedding, they've already been conditioned by the farmers so they can go right into our walk-in cooler. They stay in there until we're ready to use them. Once we make the bouquets and centerpieces they go back into the cooler until it's time to deliver them.
Q: What are some recent trends that stray from the traditional?
A: Many trends these days stray from the idea of traditional design, including colorful bridal bouquets and the use of non-flower elements like succulents and edibles. We've added locally grown fruit, vegetables, herbs, and branches into our creations. We've also included personal things like bike cogs—one groom owned a bike shop—broaches, feathers, and golf balls.
Q: How does sustainable farming differ from conventional growing practices?
A: Sustainable farming focuses on the most responsible use of natural resources including water, soil, and fossil fuel. Conventional farming methods deplete natural resources with no thought to environmental impact. Their goal is to make the most money selling their product. Sustainable farming methods also include composting, crop rotation, and selling locally.
Q: What is the best way to maintain floral arrangements after the big day?
A: Some tips for maintaining any flower arrangement include keeping your flowers hydrated by giving them clean water every day, trimming the bottom of your flowers a half inch every other day to help them take up water, and keeping your flowers out of direct sunlight.
Q: What are some substitutes to a standard vase?
A: There are so many fun alternatives to traditional vases—really anything that can hold water. The most obvious are Mason jars and vintage bottles, but more and more we're using vintage tea and flower canisters and vintage wooden boxes, which add a bit of interest to the vessel. You can also use natural elements such as pumpkins or gourds in the fall. Just core them, clean them out, and put a vase or Mason jar inside. We've used cowboy boots, oyster farmer boots, and ice skates as vessels, too.
Q: If a couple wishes to dispose of the flowers post-wedding, what is the most eco-friendly way to do so?
A: A great option for the flowers after the wedding is donating them to a nursing home or nonprofit. We offer a donation service where we will coordinate the donation, pick up the flowers at the end of the wedding, and deliver them to the recipient the next day. If you just want to dispose of the flowers, you can compost them. If you don't compost, there are places locally you can take your compost free of charge.