ISSUE 95  |  Southern Gothic

Shopper’s Diary: Berries and Branches from a Charleston Florist

October 29, 2013 10:00 AM

BY Olivia Rae James

Floral designer Lily Peterson splits her time between two jobs: one in wine, the other in flowers. With her husband Nat, she lives on the Charleston, South Carolina peninsula and spends her morning doing archival work for a wine app (Delectable) based in San Francisco. Afternoons?  That’s when she creates floral arrangements for local businesses, namely in North Charleston’s Mixson development and events (though not weddings). She has a unique aesthetic, with minimal use of color and a love for all things berry-and-branch-related.

Photographs by Olivia Rae James.

I recently sat down with Lily to talk about how she got into the flower business, how life in Napa compares to life in Charleston, and how her two jobs are more closely related than one might think.

GD: How did you get into floral design?

LP: After college, I moved to New York City without any direction or interest in pursuing the field of my degree. I passed a beautiful flower shop in a cab one day and thought, “I think I’ll try to work in a flower shop.” At the time I was very naí¯ve and had no idea what that meant or what it would require to do so. I was fortunate to be at a dinner with someone who was friends with the owner of a very special New York City flower shop, Bloom, and he agreed to put us in contact. 

LP: I could tell the interview was going nowhere, but the owner told me to go visit 20+ flower shops within the day and come back to him with my thoughts. My first thought was “I better get another pair of shoes.” I set off on foot to visit the shops, take notes, and make it back by 6 pm.

I saw some beautiful and grandiose floral productions that day. I saw incredible spaces. But I saw surprisingly few arrangements that were my aesthetic. Ultimately, that’s why I think I got the job. I had a strong opinion and knew what I liked.

Being thrown into one of the top flower shops in the city with zero experience was overwhelming, but I was exposed to the finest flowers, designers, and spaces, and that’s what shaped my principles and understanding for the business and craft. 

GD: How do you gather inspiration from Charleston?

LP: With the climate being so temperate, there is always something interesting in bloom. Living in the heart of downtown, I’m surrounded by beautiful gardens, hanging foliage, and window boxes. People take such pride in their outdoor spaces; there’s inspiration everywhere.

GD: What are your favorite flowers to work with?

LP: I spend a lot of time thinking about the base of my arrangements, which will almost always be a slew of greens, varying in texture. That way, the cut flowers really shine. But, to name a few favorites: hellebore, ranunculus, scabiosa, camellia, astilbe, astrantia, anemone, dahlia, lilac, poppy, and pink jasmine. Branches, berries, and pods are always excellent accents to any arrangement.

GD: Do your jobs in wine and flowers overlap?

LP: I find similarities. There’s a multitude of flower and plant species. The same is true for grape varieties, wine regions, winemakers, and styles of wine. This means that I can have my favorite wines and favorite flowers, but I can also step outside of my comfort zone and work with and enjoy something new. The vessel is crucial for both. The vessel can make or break an arrangement and wine served in a proper glass makes all the difference. 

LP: Ultimately, creating floral arrangements and drinking wine should bring everyone joy. Anyone can do both. Everyone has an aesthetic and everyone has a palate. So many people tell me, “I know nothing about wine,” and I always respond, “You know what you like and that’s a lot. I feel the same way about arranging flowers. If it’s beautiful to you, then it’s a beautiful thing.” I make arrangements with materials that I find beautiful and that bring me happiness. The hope is that someone else the room finds them beautiful as well. 

Above: One of Lily’s arrangements with olive branch, astrantia, lantana, white majolica spray rose, anemone, ligustrum, silver brunia, and chocolate lace.

Above: Another arrangement with tuberose, chocolate lace, astrantia, chinese tallow tree berries, ligustrum, olive branch, silver dollar eucalyptus, silver brunia, and anemone.

Above: Three tiny windowsill arrangements. In the first, huckleberry, silver brunia, anemone, and purple diamond loropetalum (L); in the second, ligustrum, chocolate lace, chinese tallow tree berries, and olive branch (M); and a tiny brass floral frog with purple diamond loropetalum and astrania (R).

Above: Lily and friends set up the arrangements for a recent event for Kinfolk magazine in Awendaw, South Carolina. Lily describes the event as a dream project, where she was “able to work with many artists and an outdoor dining space to create arrangements that accentuated the beautiful art, people, and environment.”

To contact Lily, email [email protected]

In a flowery mood? See all our posts on Floral Arrangments.