8 Years of Carolina Flowers: Reflections on Year 6

It’s been 8 years since Carolina Flowers began with a “eureka” moment in my garden. This month, we’ve been celebrating, and I’ve been telling our story one year at a time. You can find all those memories on our blog.

Year 6, properly, was June 2021-June 2022.

The closer we get to the present moment, the blurrier the story becomes. It’s more complicated, sure, but as I near the current day, I can’t always see the outcomes of decisions like I can looking way back.

Year 6 is when Carolina Flowers began to look very much like it does today. It was smaller. It was wilder. So many of the systems we benefit from now were nascent then.

It was an intense year. That spring, we booked larger weddings than ever before. I was still the only fully trained florist, but with the amount of work we had, that would change before the end of the year. By the end of Year 6, we had two fully trained florists (plus me), and now, we are training a third! By the end of this calendar year, that will bring us to three full-time florists and me — a fourth florist, I suppose. Back at the beginning of Year 6, that knowledge would have been a balm to my tired mind.

My mind was tired because in addition to doing all our floristry, I as opening a hotel and market/restaurant. How did I do all this? I worked constantly from waking at 7 a.m. until going to bed at — 11? 12? 1?

For the record, I don’t recommend this lifestyle. When I had a “day off,” usually a Sunday or Monday, I would spend it in a stupor, and to see family, they mostly had to come to me and work alongside me. I am so grateful for the ones who did!

You cannot and should not work like that for the longterm. I couldn’t. I don’t anymore. But you can get a whole lot done if you do. Pardon me, however, for lapses in memory.

One of the reasons I decided to stop working like that was because my memory was getting foggy. I had short-term memory issues that were mostly from overload. But it was the mid-term memory stuff that bothered me the most. When I would look back on the preceding few months, I would see a haze. It was definitely stress and lack of sleep.

But I did open the market/restaurant and the hotel. Most of you who read this far already know about those businesses. They remain as Zadie’s and the Old Marshall Jail Hotel. My ex-husband continues to steward those, and they are doing well from what I can tell. I know I worked hard to build them in a systematic way so they could be run like little machines, complete with manuals for maintenance and repair.

This story isn’t the story of those businesses. It’s not the story of what happened to my marriage. (Many of you will chock it up to the crazy hours and that’s a simple way of explaining it.) You don’t need to know that story. Suffice it so say that so much of my life was on public display for so long that I have thoroughly learned the consequences of “seeming” rather than “being.” And I am aspiring to live more truly and authentically, and that means quietly. Even though quiet is bad for marketing, and you can get a lot of clicks/likes/followers/readers by oversharing.

What I will say is that I had a vision of an ecosystem of local businesses that worked together. What I overlooked during that year was what I actually wanted for the farm. In some ways, I didn’t have enough experience to know what I actually wanted. But I know I have always wanted a bigger and more permanent farm with the opportunity for permanent infrastructure — plus electricity and running water.

I am glad for the time spent working on the sales side of the flower business during Year 6 — the floristry. Today, we are close to having the sales we need to support a larger farm vision, and we’re moving in that direction.

Also, starting online grocery/market/restaurant and tiny hotel is a great type of business school.

By early 2022, our studio manager, Sophia, had come on as a florist. She’s been really wonderful at helping me hone and refine our design style and techniques. She also challenges me to be a more organized manager. When she began, we were designing dailies and events as a kind of flower free for all. I would say: Here’s what we have, here’s what we need to make. Figure it out.

That’s stressful for the staff. Creating systems makes everyone happier and more productive.

Today, we plan for every stem that goes into event orders. We know what we need and where it’s going to go weeks ahead of time. Does it always pan out like we plan? I’d say yes, about 90 percent of the time!

That process began during Year 6 as identifying what needed fixing!

In March of 2022, we had a massive winter storm. One of the worst I’ve ever experienced that late in the year. Icy snow and stinging wind. Melissa and I cobbled together tables and plastic to build forts over all the flowers. We built emergency hoops and put out propane heaters. Surprisingly, we had reasonably good results, although we worked very hard for them!

At the end of Year 6, Melissa went on maternity leave. One of my proudest achievements is that the business is able to provide parental benefits for employees.

When I look back on how I felt that year, despite the exhaustion, I definitely felt a sense of everything coming together! I felt professional. I think that was largely due to the support of the team.

Of course now, I think about how much I still needed to do and learn, but I think that’s true all the time. Sometimes I sit around now thinking about how much I need to do and learn.

It’s definitely more fun writing about the early years, before COVID, when I was so naive but so hopeful and energetic. But reflecting on more recent events is useful too!

Thank you for your interest in our story! Looking forward to the conclusion later this week!

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