January 25, 2020

Connections, Numbers, and Dance Flowers

 The past couple of weeks have been very full.

I’ll start with some happy news: I received my first customer from my Google listing! Woohoo! That was exciting, and I was more than happy to make an arrangement for them. I had to go buy more flowers to have enough, but it was great!

This ranunculus was so very gorgeous! Man alive, I need to plant some this year!

Then, thanks to my husband coming home early one from work one night, I was able to drive down to Pleasant Grove, Utah, to Snuck Farm and attend the Utah Cut Flower Farmer Association meeting. That was such a great night! It was so energizing to be around like-minded people, to see friends I met at the first meeting last summer and make some new ones.

Plus, the topic was just what I’ve been looking for: NUMBERS. In other words, knowing my numbers as a business. What is my profit? What are my margins? What is my breakeven point? All of these things that I currently don’t know. We were given a basic overview of a specialized spreadsheet to figure this all out—the “breakeven” sheet—and even given a free copy of it via email to use.

Since the beginning of my business, cash flow has been an interesting struggle. As the old saying goes, “It takes money to make money.” Well, that’s certainly true when you have to purchase products in order to fulfill orders that come in. So, essentially, you have to already have a portion of the money in your bank account, in order to pay for the stuff so that you can make the money. I keep falling short beforehand. So I plan to get to work right away on this spreadsheet and see how I can help myself do better in those areas.

Now let’s talk about dance flowers. I finally called the high school and just asked when their dances were going to be, since that information is nowhere to be found online. I learned that there was a Sweetheart’s Dance on Feb. 1. Yes, last weekend. I purchased some floral supplies that I’ve needed for quite some time, and I watched several online tutorials, and then I put myself out there and advertised on a local Facebook page. I had made boutonnieres before, and silk corsages, but not fresh flower corsages yet.

I received 2 responses from that, plus a repeat customer from before. When I first saw that DM pop up on my screen, my heart was pounding so hard. Why was this so scary?! I don’t know, but it really was! I ended up with 3 couples that bought both a corsage and a boutonniere from me. I gave them a discount if both were purchased through me. So 3 corsages, 3 bouts. Ready, steady go!

I knew that the day of, Saturday, was going to be quite a busy day because 2 of my kids had basketball games in the morning. So I knew I wouldn’t be home to even get started until 11am or so. I prepped the flowers the night before, using Sue McCleary’s hydration chamber technique.

Saturday came, we got home from basketball, and I started making flowers. I used Oasis Floral Adhesive, which is obnoxious. It was my first time using it, and there was a bit of a learning curve. It’s a lot like rubber cement—in fumes output as well as habit. The bouts were wired and taped the traditional way.

I had staggered pickup times, to give myself some leeway for getting each thing done. The problem was that one customer had ordered both items and so needed them both done at the same time. (Everything else had separate pickups.) I had done all the corsages first and was just starting in on the boutonnieres when she came to the door. That was when I realized my mistake.

I had to tell her that the boutonniere wasn’t done yet. It was awkward. She was super nice about it and said it was no big deal, and she would come back in a couple of hours. I even offered to drive it over to her as soon as I finished it, which she refused. Then I found out that she just lived up the street from me, so I felt a tiny bit better. Still, though—fail! If you tell someone it will be done at a certain time, it needs to be done by that time! Also, realization #2: I didn’t have a phone number for her to let her know in advance that it was going to take longer than anticipated. She and I had only interacted via IM online.

That was stressful. The middle pickups all went off fine. Then my last one came and I actually wasn’t quite done with that one either! Luckily, she’s a personal friend and was also very kind about it. It still added some stress, though to have to tell another person to come back later! I was going from one to the next nonstop, but it was taking longer than I had planned on. I was also a bit worried that with the glue, some of the flowers might fall off. They all seemed stable by the time I was finished with them, but that would have been bad to have this corsage that you just paid for start to lose flowers. Last week, I finally got up my courage and asked a few customers directly if their corsage had lost any flowers. The 2/3 I talked to, said they hadn’t. So that was a relief.

One reason I didn’t post last week was because I was still kind of coming down from the stress a little bit. It was still too recent. Actually making the corsages was fine—except for the annoying glue—but yeah, the timing. That was the kicker.

What worked well:

  1. I was able to make each set unique from the others, even using some of the same flowers.
  2. I think I did well with color matching for the colors I was given.
  3. I finally just purchased some plastic clamshell-style boutonniere and corsage boxes from the wholesaler. I still want to find some that are not single-use plastic, but I needed something other than Ziploc baggies I had been using (those don’t give off quite the professional vibe I’m hoping for.) They were surprisingly affordable and were definitely a step up.
  4. My awesome husband kept the kids out of the kitchen so I could work, then while I was still going and going, made lunch around me and got them all fed, and toddler down for a nap. Bless him!
  5. I thought the finished creations were pretty. Hope the recipients liked them!

Here’s what I will do differently next time:

  1. Get phone numbers for ALL my customers, not forgetting those who contact me via IM.
  2. Use the full conditioning/hydration method so that I can make flowers the day before!! This one needs a couple of underlines!
  3. Only promise pickup at a specific time if the flowers are already made, done, and waiting.
  4. If I am running behind, use those phone numbers collected in #1 and let people know in advance so they don’t show up and not be able to pick up their stuff.
  5. Learn more boutonniere finishing off tips and tricks. I get so focused on the flowers that I forget the boutonniere is supposed to have something tied around it to finish it off. I seem to use up all my creativity putting it together then I’m like “Well, now what?” That, or learn how to do the natural stems look. I didn’t put ribbons in the corsage, either. I don’t love that look, and even though it’s expected, I shy away from it.
  6. Find some magnetic boutonnieres. The one gal said when she picked hers up—so how do these ones work, then? (I had forgotten to put a pin in with it! I quickly grabbed one.) She had only ever used the magnetic style.
  7. Practice, practice, practice. I know the more I do these, the quicker I’ll get, and the less stressful the whole process will be. I just hope my current and potential customers will bear with me on those bumps in the road (like their stuff not being ready—ack!).

Some great experiences that filled me up, and a bit of struggle, which led to some good learning experiences. Definitely a net gain overall.

Then just a few days later, I made 9 mini corsages for the Daddy-Daughter dance at the school. Two of those were for my own cute girls. In fact, my 10 year old made hers with just a little assistance from me.

I think she did a great job! For those I was on the ball with my timing for the prep work (hydrating/ conditioning) and was able to make them the day before. Much, much better. Still not loving the floral glue, but I was able to get online (good old YouTube) and find some good tips that should help me have a better experience with it next time. I hope.

This coming week I will be doing Valentine’s flowers! So excited for those!

Always Learning

I love learning, especially learning more about flowers! The past couple of weeks I have been slowly getting caught up on my backlog of online learning videos. I signed up for Flower Farming School Online, which ran November into December, but fell behind when the December whirlwind came along. So now I’m finally getting to the end of those classes—almost! I have a few more hours left to do, but I’ve done all the main sessions. I’m actually glad I waited until now to take that class. I think if I had taken it back in the beginning, I wouldn’t have even really known what questions to ask.

For some reason, I seem to retain the information better if I have struggle a bit with it on my own, first. I think my brain is more actively engaged in finding answers to my questions and fixing my mistakes that way. I know I have taken all kinds of notes with it, particularly in regards to seed starting. It’s amazing, though, how you can pick up little tricks and things as you go along that you weren’t even looking for.

For instance, in this last session I watched, on Harvesting and Conditioning flowers, the teacher (Lisa Mason Ziegler) demonstrated how to strip the foliage from several different types of flowers—how much she leaves, how much she takes off, basically. So one of her examples was bachelor’s buttons. Now, I have grown bachelor’s buttons for the past 2 years—it is one of the few I have had some consistent success with. 

These purple bachelor’s buttons were volunteers that came up this spring. (Bells of Ireland on the left.)

However, it is a pain in the neck to harvest! I would put it off and leave it for last, because with the side shoots, stripping off the leaves seemed to take forever and they still would get all tangled up in the bucket! Guess what Lisa did? She cut off every single side shoot and all the leaves, leaving the one lonely little flower at the top! Wow, that really gave me something to think about! That would save a ton of time, and they are so prolific, that I could probably still get enough volume to be useful doing it that way. Even if not, I could save all the longest side shoots and strip them the same way, so I would have a single flower on a single stem.

In the picture above, there are several flowers already too old to use—they’re the ones that are a darker purple than the rest. Procrastination just makes your job harder. (I knew this already, but this picture is proof.) If you don’t keep a bed harvested, they start to get away from you, and then you have to hunt and peck to find any useable stems. So having a new way presented to me that would save me all that time and frustration? I’m going to take it and run with it! One flower, one stem on buttons. Ready, go!

See what I mean? I wasn’t going in to the class wondering how to save time prepping bachelor’s buttons, but there you go—a hidden gem.

There have been several “aha” moments like that throughout the class. I feel like it has been well worth the money spent on it. I understand succession planting better than I ever have. Also, I’m really wondering if my seedlings haven’t done very well the past 2 years because the dining room is too cold. I have been thinking about ways to make them a little warming chamber or something to keep the heat up in the 70’s. Another little bit of information that she had mentioned in one of the videos.

If you do what you’ve always done you’re going to keep getting the results you’ve always gotten, right? I feel like I had respectable germination rates last year, but then my seedlings just sat there in the trays and didn’t grow for a very long time. Then also, I tended to kill them off in the hardening off process. But maybe if I had much bigger, healthier transplants going into the hardening off they wouldn’t be so fragile.

On the Floral Design side of things, I have really wanted to get better at my personal flower skills. You know, corsages, boutonnieres, crowns, etc. The one lady I know of who is a rock star in the world of wearable flowers calls herself "Passionflower Sue” online. Anyway, she teaches courses! She has tutorials, but you have to pay for them, of course. For a long time, the only option was to pay $1000 to get full access to all her stuff. I just couldn’t spend that much! Several months ago, she came up with a monthly payment system. It is only $37 per month! Well, that’s definitely within my budget!

I have been signed up for it for 2 months now, but December came along.… (see notes above re: Christmas whirlwind.) So just today I have finally taken the time to sit down and listen to some of her tutorials. They are amazing! I have already learned so much about wiring flowers! Again, something I have struggled with on my own for the past 2 years now. In just a couple of 20 minute videos I learned game-changing techniques that are going to make my boutonnieres and corsages so much better! In fact, I’m excited to have a high school dance coming up in a week so that I can practice my new skills!

The more I learn, the more there is to learn…and I love that! Give me all the lessons! I feel like every class I take bumps me up to another plateau. From my new height, I try things out, succeed and struggle, until I’m in a place where I’m ready to add the next piece to the puzzle. Then up I climb again to a new plateau.

Who are you inspired by? What have you learned lately? I’m all ears!

January 11, 2020

It's a Jungle in Here!


I have started putting together planters this past week. I had one order, then 2 more came in. So I have spent some quality time purchasing various houseplants to put together into planters for my customers. It’s fun! Also, I may have purchased one or two for myself (cough, cough).

There were 2 maidenhair ferns that were just begging to be rescued from the Clearance shelves, which I did. They are getting some TLC now, in hopes that they will revive and live long! No, they’re not going into the planters just yet. I’ve never been great at keeping houseplants alive, so only paying a dollar or two for them helps with the guilt a little bit. Hey, I do try. So who knows? Maybe they will do great this time! One is upstairs on my bathroom windowsill and one is down here under the lights.

My first planter had a mini orchid in it, 1 dracaena, and one maidenhair fern (a healthy one.) It was pretty, if I do say so myself! I’m going to do a very similar one for someone else—and I even was able to find the same orchid, which is what she wanted. Woohoo!

The other planter will have red anthurium, a small croton with red in the leaves, and either a silverleaf fern or possibly some ivy. I’ve just got to double check and make sure they all have similar care requirements.

Hey, by the way—I found out today amidst my wanderings that Home Depot and Lowe’s use the same supplier for their houseplants. How about that? And for the most part, Home Depot was cheaper, but Lowe’s had a better selection.

I also have 11 amaryllis potted up now. I opened up the gift boxes I had in my booth for sale. It stays pretty warm in the store, so I wanted to see what the amaryllis were doing. Sure enough, 1 of them had a 6 inch long bud and stalk, all white from lack of lights and growing sideways up against the side of the box. Another couple had buds just coming. So the 3 that were already growing in the boxes, I brought home and potted up. Plus I FINALLY got the rest of mine potted up that I had ordered back in November. They were all growing crazy directions, too. In fact, one of them was blooming—barely poking out of the burlap sack it came in! I’ve got 2 more of those almost ready to bloom.

Not to mention all my anthurium from last year that I’m trying to keep alive with varying degrees of success, and all the aloe vera plants left from my sale last spring. I would love to have some houseplants with pretty leaves that I could add to arrangements. Think how pretty the ivy would be! Just have to keep the blessed things alive.

What houseplant tips do you have for me? I’m all ears!

If you want a planter, let me know! They’re fun to make and then you get to take care of them! 

Hee hee.

January 4, 2020

Seeds vs. Plugs

I’ve got a decision to make this winter. Rather shortly, as a matter of fact. Here it is:

How much of my flowers do I want to grow from seed myself and how many should I purchase as plugs?

If you’ve never heard of them, plugs are basically seedlings started by a commercial greenhouse. They arrive still very small, but should be ready to plant right out into your beds as soon as they arrive.

There are several factors that go into this decision.

  1. Expense

Seeds are going to be much, much cheaper to buy. Your average seed packet costs around $3, and usually contains a significant number of seeds—25 or 100 or even more. The price goes down even more if you purchase a bigger quantity of seeds wholesale.

Plugs generally cost per plant. There’s a range with this too, of course, but on average they’re around $.35/plant. Still pretty cheap, right? Keep in mind that you often have to purchase an entire flat—too hard to split up flats between orders—and on top of that there are usually shipping minimums as well.

  1. Time

In terms of time, plugs are definitely the cheaper option. Maybe once I get it figured out better, my seed-growing won’t take so much time, but I’m telling you, growing those tiny green babies takes TIME! It’s not a sprint, either, it’s a marathon—particularly with the ones that take several weeks to get big enough to plant outside. That’s weeks of daily tending! Also, heaven forbid you take a vacation during that time—that would be throwing away all your hard work.

Plugs arrive at the point where you can pop them in the ground—from what I’ve heard. Right around May, when I’m looking at 4 trays of seedlings that need to be hardened off, having a tray arrive ready to go in the ground sounds pretty amazing!

  1. Difficulty of growing

Some flowers are hard to grow. Lisianthus, for example, has an entire Facebook group devoted to figuring out how to get it to grow from seed. As I’m still on 1st grade level seed growing, I don’t think I should attempt graduate level work quite yet!

  1. Space & equipment for seed starting

I am fairly limited on space in my house. Until we can heat the greenhouse—even minimally—this one is going to be a big consideration as far as what and how much I’m able to grow. I want to direct seed as much as I can, but it would be nice to have the certainty of seed-grown plants. If it could be a certainty—ha!

  1. Variety available

Very few of the plug trays are sold as a mix of colors or forms. For nearly all of them, it is an entire tray of that one exact type and color. In the small space that I have, I generally prefer to use the mixes. Unless it was something that was neutral, like Bells of Ireland that go with just about everything, I don’t feel like I can use the space on all of one thing. Also, I’ve got Bells coming up on their own accord and an abundance of seeds to direct sow as well.

So, essentially, I need to decide if it’s worth the extra expense to free up some time this spring. Last spring I found this flat of ‘Rocket’ snapdragons (pictured above) at the grocery store, of all places. Same variety I was attempting to grow from seed, myself, but these were already decent-sized plants. I bought the entire flat for $20 and got them in the ground. None of my own survived and I was so glad I had these to count on.

I am going to keep trying on the seed starting bit, despite my many MANY failures. However, my plan right now is to purchase some select flats of seedlings. I believe they do sell snapdragon trays with a mix of colors, so that may be my first investment in the world of plugs. I also would like to possibly purchase some lisianthus plugs—although those are going to be 1 whole tray of the same. The varieties I’m looking at, though, could be used with many different colors—white, navy, and a deep maroon.

I just saw someone in the UCFFA comment that they use soil-blocking to start all their seeds, and basically plan on it taking just 3-4 weeks from when they start them to planting in the ground. I think I need to call her and beg for more information, because there’s a crucial step I’ve been missing! Or perhaps she plants out her seedlings much smaller than I have been? 

Anyway, along with determining my growing plan, my “recipes” and all the rest, I will be perusing the plug options in the next couple of weeks as well! Wish me luck!