This week’s Instagram takeover was a dear customer of our Detroit branch, and was first introduced to me after Detroit’s buyer, Andy Arthur, enlisted Julia Griffin of Willa Rose Floral to create his floral beard after winning our No-Shave November contest. She totally rocked the beard and set up the coolest urban photoshoot with Andy, so I knew we had to see more from her!
You learned a bit about Julia’s journey as a farmer florist through her takeover this past week, but let’s dive in a bit more!
So tell us a little bit about yourself!
I am a flower enthusiast – my life completely revolves around flowers! My cut flower farm and design studio are in Detroit, MI, a couple miles from downtown. I couldn’t imagine a better place to start a farm or business, as I am surrounded by tons of creative energy and encouragement. I have an amazing partner and 2 really sweet cats that love to eat flowers (the cats eat my flowers, not my partner).
You’re both a flower farmer & floral designer — which did you start out doing first, and how did it lead to the other?
I started out as a farmer, growing vegetables actually! I was getting my degree in nutrition and food science and I realized I had no idea how to actually grow food, so I contacted a local vegetable CSA farm and started volunteering there. After a season of volunteering once a week in exchange for a box full of vegetables (which was an amazing deal), they offered me a full-time job for the following season when I graduated. The couple who owned the farm, Tom and Nancy, were transitioning to flower farming the following season after winning a community development grant for non-edible crops. This worked out perfectly because Nancy and I were already in the midst of falling head over heels for flowers. They took me under their wing and taught me everything I know about farming which I am unbelievably thankful for. Growing the flowers naturally led to the idea of wanting to create with them. I have always been creative but I don’t think I ever had the perfect outlet, until flowers. About two years into farming I started to become really interested in the design aspect of flowers and I took on wedding and event design.
Tell us more about your farm!
Ahh my happy place! My farm is located in the Core City neighborhood of Detroit, which is about 2 miles northwest of downtown. The farm is small – about ½ an acre – and I’m focusing on growing unique and interesting varieties that I know I can’t get elsewhere. Everything I grow will be directly used in my design work. I’ve spent months planning, clearing, shoveling, and ordering, and seed starting begins in a few weeks!
I found the land when a friend introduced me to Philip Kafka, a developer who owns most of a few square blocks in the neighborhood. A few years ago, Philip built a village of Quonset live/work huts on a collection of vacant lots, and on top of building out my studio, is in the middle of building a bakery, restaurant, park and a handful of other projects. I am really excited to be a part of this community!
What are your favorite flowers to grow?
Wow that is a hard question… Anything out of the ordinary! Ranunculus are one of my all-time favorites. They are fairly easy if Mother Nature is kind to you. They produce a TON and the blooms last a solid two weeks or more. And the colors available to grow are phenomenal. I just put in a massive order for some Italian varieties for the 2020 season that I am beyond excited for. I also love perennials because they are fairly easy, they produce more and more every year and they add interest to design work. Some of my favorites are garden roses, bears breech, Japanese anemone and clematis. I’m also really into plants that attract pollinators — I’ll have hives on the farm starting in the spring, and am turning a whole nook of my farm into a pollinator garden.
I think it’s so interesting that Michigan has such a vibrant flower scene. From Detroit Flower House to all the small farms I’ve learned about, there are some really cool things happening there. Can you talk a bit about the floral community there?
I have been so blown away by the flower community here. Everyone is so supportive, encouraging, and kind. I swear I am like a kid in a candy store when you put me in a room with fellow flower lovers. We are so lucky because there are so many amazing growers and designers in Michigan who are so giving with their information and time. We also have Michigan Flower Co-op!! It’s the best. Local growers bring their product weekly and other designers/growers can shop. It gives growers an outlet for their flowers and it gives designers access to amazing, unique locally grown flowers! And Detroit Flower House… walking through that was truly one of the best experiences of my life.
Jumping to the design side of things… how would you describe your design style or philosophy?
I would say my design style is natural, romantic and whimsical with a touch of weird. I like to think my style is a bit unconventional. I really really strive to make things that I haven’t seen before. I try to do things as sustainably as possible by growing my own flowers, not using flower foam, composting everything after events and I even use the cardboard I get from wholesale boxed flowers as a base to build my flower beds! It’s called the lasagna method but I won’t bore you with more details.
What trends do you see emerging in the world of floral design & weddings?
I think floral design is becoming this insane art form and designers are really pushing the boundaries of an industry that seemed kind of stagnant for a while. Whether this is through crazy installations, massive headpieces, or really unique arrangements, people are thinking outside the box and seeking out more obscure flowers. And color! The use of color in the industry right now is stunning to me. I think this is slowly seeping into design for weddings too. Of course some brides still only want what they see on Pinterest. But I think they are becoming more aware of the fact that is okay to do something different! And designers appreciate doing something different.
Do you see yourself really diving more into one of these businesses in the future, or do your farm and design studio have a symbiotic relationship that will continue to grow and work together?
I don’t know if I could ever give up either. I do think I am already going deeper into the design aspect of the business and backing off a little from the farming. Instead of growing tons of flowers, I am really focusing on only growing rare and unique varieties, and focusing on things that I want to use in my own work that can’t be shipped or bought elsewhere. It would definitely be easier and probably more profitable for me to buy all my flowers and just focus on design, but I also don’t think I would feel satisfied. There’s something so special about using a flower you nurtured from seed to stem in your designs. And brides love being able to visit the farm months before their wedding and see their bridal bouquet blooms as seedlings!
We can’t end this interview without discussing that EPIC floral beard you created for our very own Andy Arthur!!! When we finished our Mayesh No-Shave November challenge, we honestly thought everyone would shave and that would be the end of it. But, since Andy is a rockstar, not only did he raise the most money, but he kept his scruff & enlisted you to design that awesome floral beard. Not to mention the photo shoot that followed! Tell us a bit about that process and how you came up with the design for that?
That was seriously so fun!! I was so happy Andy asked me and we have become good friends since. And by good friends I mean I bug him daily about flower availability and ask him about 10 questions a day. He asked me to do it and about 5 days later I built it. Luckily he is an amazing flower sourcer and got me everything I needed really quickly, with the addition of some plant bits from a local greenhouse. I went to his office and measured his face for the pleather base. Then I glued the flowers and plants directly onto that. To be honest, I didn’t really have a clear design plan for it. Like most of my design work, I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do, and then just started gluing. I did know that I wanted it to be super wild and have little curly pieces sticking out everywhere, which I accomplished with goanna claw. One of my best friends, Catherine Holden, is an amazing photographer and is always down to shoot my crazy ideas. So she and Andy came over and we had a little photo shoot of the beard!
Any advice for new farmer florists?
It is hard work! And it never gets easy. You will probably fail at a few crops. But you will definitely learn from those failures! And there is nothing more rewarding than when you finally succeed! Don’t be afraid to ask local growers or designers questions. Learn everything you can from everyone! And once you do that you will still probably only know a tiny portion – but that’s the best part! There are endless things to learn about flowers.
We hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about Julia & Willa Rose Floral! Make sure to give her a follow to keep up with farm & flower happenings!