In the Garden

Field to Vase

A thriving crop of Southern floral designers are bringing homegrown style to the table

Photo: Alison Gootee

Japanese magnolias, late-blooming camellias, kumquats, loropetalum, and bottlebrush set off this Southern display by Pistil & Stamen, of New Orleans.

The Wild Ones: Mandy and Steve O’Shea

Mandy O’Shea, the co-owner of Moonflower Design, in Athens, Georgia, doesn’t need to look far for inspiration. She and her husband, Steve, grow all of her flowers on their own 3 Porch Farm. Makes sense, as O’Shea found her way to floral design after earning a horticulture degree from the University of Georgia. “I’m not a formally trained floral designer,” she says. “I just take my cues from nature. My aesthetic is less about a specific floral focus and more about texture and movement. I like an interesting little tendril to be as well represented as the biggest flower.” Indeed, even with 250 heirloom rosebushes at her fingertips, O’Shea has top event designers lining up as much for the wild elements she uses, also foraged on the farm. “I love briar berries, grasses, and seed heads that look like weeds in the field but up close have gorgeous structure,” she says. “Right now we have this wild climbing vine that I know my husband is dying to trim, but I want it for a wedding. Everything has a purpose.”—

The Traditionalist: Maria Elisa Maxit

I’m a girl, so I have a soft spot for feminine Southern blooms like magnolias and garden roses,” says the Houston floral designer Maria Elisa Maxit. “The larger the bloom, the more entranced I get.” But Maxit also revels in elements such as architectural cactus pads and aloe vera leaves that thrive in the Lone Star State and lend a modern, unexpected twist to arrangements when she combines them with classic flowers. This artistic freedom leaves her with no regrets about getting laid off from a corporate job as an environmental scientist a decade ago. A supposedly temporary gig at a floral shop helped her discover her true calling, and she soon founded Maxit Flower Design. Now she’s building her business for the long haul by helping clients make memories that stand the test of time. “I’m not a very trendy person,” Maxit says. “When my clients look back at their wedding photos twenty years from now, I want them still to be in love with the flowers.”—

The New Urbanists: Megan McHugh and Denise Richter

Megan McHugh and Denise Richter have cultivated their green thumbs in every way possible—from working with the Edible Schoolyard program to integrate vegetable gardens into New Orleans schools to nurturing seedlings in a greenhouse with Parkway Partners, a local nonprofit that helps build urban community gardens. But it was their work beautifying overlooked Crescent City lots with scads of flowers that blossomed into a full-time floral business, Pistil & Stamen. “We are products of New Orleans,” Richter says. “This is a deeply celebratory place, and we’ve found our niche as deeply local florists.” Because many New Orleanians are also foodies, they naturally appreciate the fresh herbs, berries, fruits, and peppers that McHugh and Richter weave into their arrangements among fragrant Southern sweet peas, gardenias, and jasmine. While Louisiana’s long subtropical growing season keeps them in fresh blooms year-round, the sultriest heat of summer actually challenges their productivity. “Thank God for zinnias,” McHugh says, laughing. “They keep us in business in August.”—