Recently, I visited my friends Polly and Brooke Harrington the mother-daughter team behind Valley Flora, a custom floral design studio in Napa. I tagged along as they delivered to one of their weekly accounts, The Thomas and headed back to their studio to finish orders. We talked about what we always talk about, flowers and the flower world. Polly has a strong background in cut flowers and a vast knowledge of plants. To say that Brooke is into gardening is an understatement, she has such a deep love for plants, her garden is the envy of every green thumb! Polly and Brooke are incredibly hardworking and dedicated to maintaining the inherent beauty of flowers, their work is simply beautiful.
Questions with Polly and Brooke;
How did you get your start in floral design?
Polly: I started working with flowers very young, when I worked at my family's resort gathering flowers from the garden, arranging them in cute little pitchers and placing them on the guest's tables.
Brooke: I got my start in floral design when I was about fourteen years old! As a teenager I was pretty naughty and as punishment for my episodes my mom took me to work at the butt crack of dawn to the flower studio to process flowers all day! I guess it wasn't a punishment after all, I love my job.
How would you describe your style?
Polly: My style is loose, garden (natural) style.
Brooke: I would say my style is garden inspired. I like to take what's in season and looking great and use it in my arrangements as much as possible.
How is it working with your daughter/mom?
Polly: Working with my daughter is a blessing and a joy, but like any relationship sometimes there are challenges.
Brooke: Working with my mom is great! Sometimes I feel like we read each other's minds. We do have the occasional bumping of heads but quickly get over it. Even though I have been fired (she was pissed when I really didn't come in to work the next day). Ha ha.
How do you feel the cut flower industry has canted in the past decade?
Polly: The cut flower industry has changed with the economy. For a while there was a decline in variety, a lot of the unique perennials were not available. Now, they are becoming more available, lots of new choices again.
Brooke: The floral industry has changed dramatically in the last decade. Before it was all word of mouth or who you knew, now it is almost ALL social media. It's my personal feeling that some people get by with a large following EVEN though they are not the best at design, just because they are good at marketing themselves. People can take a floral workshop class and instantly think they are a designer! On the other hand, I had to earn my keep! I worked for five years with a very talented floral designer learning the basics without ever being about to design!
What are some your favorite flowers and plants that you would like to see being used more?
Polly: I love garden roses, peonies and most viburnums. I also like a lot of deciduous shrubs: deutzia, weigela, fothergilla etc.
Brooke: My favorite flowers (right now) are cestrum, nicotiana and nasturtiums. All are really easy to grow and just so cute in an arrangement! Strawberry plants are really fun and fresh in the springtime as well.
As avid gardeners, what are some of your favorite nurseries?
Polly: Emerisa, Devil Mountain, Berkeley Horticulture, Cottage Gardens and Sonoma Mission Garden
Brooke: Where do I begin! I spend so much of my free time hoarding plants! I frequent Berkeley Horticulture, Annie's Annuals, Sonoma Mission Gardens, and Flowerland. I also find treasures at Friedman Brothers (Petaluma is the best one) and my local Benicia Ace Supply.
Laura is an Oakland based floral designer who specializes in weddings and special events. She was kind enough to open her adorable house and studio to me this past weekend, which she shares with her dog Parker and cat Cleo. With nearly two decades in the floral industry, Laura describes her design style as "inspired by nature, the way plants grown naturally, with layers of texture and dimension. And as an avid gardener, I include unique blooms from my own garden into my designs whenever possible". She has an awesome garden and a massive love for clematis and succulents. Laura is also a collector of vintage ceramics and has wonderful vignettes displayed throughout her house.
Questions with Laura;
How long have you lived in your house?
Questions with Laura;
How long have you lived in your house?
Eight and a half years.
What are some of your favorite things about living in your house?
I've always been drawn towards older home and feel in love with it's character and charm, along with the garden space, at first site.
It's small, but has everything I need wrapped into a perfect package. I love the diversity of Oakland, and the fact that it's so centrally located to many different areas allows me to work in areas outside Oakland.
When did you start your floral design business?
I started working in a flower shop in Los Angeles as a bookkeeper, quickly I was drawn into the "floral" environment, being a gardener at a young age in made sense. I worked in a few retail florists and gift shops as a sales person learning the ins and outs of the business, then I landed a job where I learned design, and that ended in my purchasing an existing business 16 years ago.
What are you favorite elements to design for a wedding?
Lately I'm enjoy creating centerpieces more and more, but I've always loved making bouquets and boutonnieres.
What would be your ideal setting and florals for a wedding?
Outdoors in a natural setting. Being a lover of nature and gardens, I've always been more attracted to including a wide array of elements in my designs. Including textural foliages along with different sized and shaped floral blooms to create what we see in nature. I'm a sucker for a cool vessel.
What do you find easiest and hardest about having a home-based studio?
The easiest thing is NO commute traffic to deal with ever. The most difficult is motivating myself to get things done every day, to keep on top of the future work. When I do have a job I have a difficult time saying good night and not going back outside to work on something else after hours.
You have a lot of collections and vignettes around your house. What are some of your favorite pieces?
My doll parts and pottery collection are the overall favorites. I love the floral prints above my desk and the old sheers, but the current favorite is a wooden box vignette in my room.
What are some of your favorite places to go in Oakland and the East Bay?
Tail of the Yak (ribbons), Urban Indigo (gifts), Bocanova (food/drinks), Redwood Regional Park (hiking with Parker), Dona Tomas (food/drinks), Tattoo 13 (tattoos), Esqueleto (jewels), The Fox Theatre (music venue), Farmer Joe's (grocery store)