B.J. was the Grand Prize Winner in our JTV/uBloom Leatherleaf Design Contest sponsored by FernTrust. Her award winning design “Cornucopia,” took not only the Grand Prize, but was also voted the People’s Choice winner by the uBloom Community. B.J.’s double win was the first time a single design has won both the Grand Prize and People’s Choice Award in a uBloom Contest.
Ms. Pitts currently lives in Dothan, Alabama…the self proclaimed Peanut Capital of the World, and is the owner/operator of Sweet Gardenia Florist and Gifts. B.J. loves cats and owns three beautiful kitties which she spoils rotten.
When did you first become interested in flowers?
To be honest, my first interest in flowers was because I needed a job and it seemed better than flipping burgers. But then it really captivated me. I mean, how often do you get to be a part of peoples lives in such an intimate way? As Florists, we make such an impact on our customers’ histories. We are there for all the joyous occasions and even for the sad ones. The gift of flowers creates a lasting impression on the recipient, and we are chosen to create the perfect impression.
How did you decide to take your love of flowers and turn it into a career?
As far as making flowers a career – I think it was just a natural progression. I love the arts, but I can’t draw or paint, however, floral arranging is an art form I can successfully use to convey emotion and that is appealing to me.
How did you prepare yourself for a career in the flower industry?
To be honest, I sort of just became immersed in it and developed skills from on the job training.
Did you have a mentor? If so, talk about your relationship and the information you learned.
I think the closest thing I have to a mentor is my friend Michael Durden. He has been in and around the floral industry for years, but now does mostly interior design. Michael took pity on me when I was just getting my feet wet as an owner and tried to teach me as much as he could. He always calls me his ‘cricket.’ Maybe one day I will make it to grasshopper! Michael has a very eclectic design sense and doesn’t even consider the box – let alone think inside it!
Talk a little bit about being the owner of Sweet Gardenia. (When & why did you become owner, Did you start it from the ground up or buy? What is your daily routine and responsibilities?)
Being the owner of Sweet Gardenia is nothing like I thought it would be. LOL! It has given me the utmost respect for shop owners that have been around for 30 years and more. You all should be proud of yourselves! We bought Sweet Gardenia about 5 years ago, but don’t run the business much at all like the former owners did. I am the head designer as well as chief phone answerer and sometimes even the best bucket bleacher. But anyone who owns a shop knows all about that.
How do you help make Sweet Gardenia stand out from your competition?
Fresh (in both senses of the word) flowers, giving customers what they ask for, and being honest and open communicators with our clients. Social media has been a huge thing for Sweet Gardenia.
What do you enjoy most about being a florist? What do you enjoy the least?
I enjoy creating an arrangement for a customer when they have no idea what they want, and then, after showing them the design, hearing them say, “that’s exactly what I wanted!”
The absolute havoc processing flowers wreaks on my nails has got to be my least favorite thing!
What is your favorite flower?
Orchids…Cymbidium, Phalaenopsis, Nun, Dendrobium…it doesn’t matter, I love them all the most!
How did you hear about uBloom.com?
A fellow Alabama florist, Earl Goodwin, corrected my gluing technique by saying, “haven’t you ever seen the J Schwanke video about how to glue?” So, of course I went right home and watched! LOL! Thanks Earl.
What is your favorite thing about uBloom?
I love to see all the new products and new floral varieties showcased on uBloom. And I enjoy seeing how J’s love for the industry shines through in everything he does – which is also true of the entire uBloom team.
You won both the Grand Prize and the People’s Choice award for your “Cornucopia” design in our Leatherleaf Design Contest. What was your reaction when you found out you won?
I was so excited! There were absolutely great designs from my fellow finalists, and I am so honored to have won! (By the way, this is the first design competition I have ever entered.)
Talk a little bit about your design. How did you come up with it?
When I saw the design competition I knew I had to enter. I have a great fern grower, C.W. Peterson, and he and my supplier C.A. Peterson, always notice when new arrangements from the wire services come out and don’t have any fern. So, I thought they would love to see designs with lots of leatherleaf. With this in mind, everyone in our shop got together talked about design ideas, and Michael and I thought a seasonal design would be nice. What says Fall more than a cornucopia?
Have you used the leatherleaf cornucopia design before?
I haven’t ever seen a horn of plenty made from leatherleaf, it was a unique, custom design I created for the contest.
Give us some tips on recreating your cornucopia design.
I think the next time I do the design I will insert the flowers first, and then create the horn, so I can make the proportions look better!
Describe your personal design style.
I love to showcase flowers. I realize that statement seems odd, but sometimes when you create a roundy mound you are more or less showcasing a design. My favorite creations are those that you individually recognize the beauty and majesty of each flower.
What designers do you admire?
Preston Bailey, Paula Prykeand to name a few that aren’t household names yet, I love Avante Gardens Florals Unique, Lewis Miller Designs and Nisha Kelen of fleurish.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
All around, I am one of those designers that likes to let the flowers dictate the arrangement. If all the tulips are straight up then insert them in a faux birds nest and let them bloom overhead like tree branches. If they are all leaning one way wrap them with decorative wire and put them in a vase that will accent their leaning. Nature is amazing because it is always new and different and that’s how I feel floral designs should be too.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
I don’t know if I can pinpoint any one piece of astoundingly helpful advice. But, I can tell you that I believe it is of the utmost importance to surround yourself with people that are better than you. It will inspire you to become better as well.
If you could go back and change something in your floral journey, what would it be?
I would not buy from another owner – I would start from the ground up. You inherit the bad along with the good and sometimes that is hard to overcome.
Life is a series of lessons, can you share a lesson that you have learned “The Hard Way,” but are now better from having gone through it?
They say you can’t please everyone and I used to think maybe you could, but it’s true, you can’t. However, I do believe you must please everyone that you agree to do business with. Or, at the very least, you must do what you have promised! If you can’t do it don’t say you can.
If a bride came to you and said “create a dream wedding” with no limitations, restrictions or budget…what would you create?
Beach wedding, sunset, distressed wood plank aisle (cause lets be honest nobody wants to walk in heels in the sand) bamboo chairs for the guest, antique white sash on each chair with a cymbidium bloom embroidered on each in toasted coconut and a single green cymbidium with green hanging amaranthus decorating the back of each chair.
Varying sizes of cylinders lining the aisle with submerged stalk cymbidiums in some, candles inside double walled cylinders so as to appear they are also submerged. White hydrangea, coffee roses and seashells covering the ground around the base of the cylinders. Wrought iron garden gate with distressed wood as frame for arbor behind wedding party. White hydrangea and coffee roses mounded at base of arbor and white sheer fabric on the gates blowing in the soft breeze.
The brides bouquet made from white hydrangea, coffee roses, green cymbidium and green hanging amaranthus. Mother’s flowers would be a cymbidium bloom attached to a small band with an embroidered hankie matching the chair sash tucked neatly inside. Men’s flowers would be cymbidium with bamboo background. Pomander for flower girl. Pocket square for ring bearer and box made from distressed wood with a bed of white hydrangea and coffee roses & two cymbidium blooms for ring pillow.
Cylinders matching aisle pieces for reception hall. Fabric on doors leading to deck from reception area. Food tables covered with hydrangea, roses, and candles. Food elevated on cylinders with cymbidiums submerged.
Out front would stand sculpture pieces of herons to greet guests. Distressed wood picket fence for parking area draped with fabric and cymbidium blooms. Light bamboo cubes for bathroom pieces and for side tables and bar tables through out. Hanging wrought iron squares between pillars of deck with small floral piece and candles.
Guest favors would be 4 inch orchid plants and they would line the exit way. Bamboo and teepee tree groupings at front walkway and through out venue. Registration book table would have large digital photo frame incase in distressed wood – seated in a mounding of roses hydrangea and cymbidium with candles. Etc., etc…
What is your favorite floral design to create?
I love to make tropical arrangements. I love how long they last and how beautiful and vastly different you can make a tropical design with only a few stems of flowers. Tropical flowers just have so much character.
If you could create a floral piece for a celebrity, who would it be and what would you design?
Julia Stiles, a simple and classic pairing of fresh flowers and orchid plants in a glass cube.
What are the 3 top selling items at your shop?
Designers choice mixed cut, dozen roses, and plants
What flowers and styles do the clients in your area tend to like the best?
Sweet Gardenia’s clients like ‘different.’ They want their friends to get something they haven’t gotten a hundred times before and we are more than happy to oblige.
If you could attend a floral school or train further in floral design, where would you go?
Europe. Anywhere in Europe. I love the structure to European design and yet it pushes the limits at the same time.
If you changed careers, what could you envision yourself doing?
Funny you should ask…I am in mid change right now. I am pursuing a sales job that will involve selling wholesale flowers to retail flower shops. Additionally, I hope to do freelance work for shops and event designers in the Orlando area.
Share with us a goal or two that you would like to achieve.
I would love to have a successful photography website where I would sell photographs of flora and fauna.
When you aren’t designing, what activities or hobbies do you enjoy?
I love to photograph anything and everything! I might take a hundred pictures of a lizard we find in a plant at the shop or twenty of every orchid that we get off a truck one week. They are all just so unique and intriguing. I also enjoy digital graphics and create things for my friends when they need something. Reading is another escape I enjoy. And on a more expensive note, I have a strange attraction to fast import cars.