The first time I ever stumbled upon Alea's work was @ Spirit Weavers Gathering this year. She was part of the absolutely gorgeous mandala creation that was a focal part of the gathering for our entire 5 days. When I learnt more about Alea I found out she co-owned a florist that worked with local & sustainable farmers. How often do you think about where your flowers are from ?
Tell us about your path into floristry and plants ?
I have always had a very active imagination. When I was small and living in the country with my family, I used to roam wild all day playing with the natural world. This sort of clicked this world into focus for me, I felt the living personality of my plant friends, and it was something that didn't disappear as I got older. What did disappear of feeling like play was a way to make a living. In my early years I thought that working in an office was the right thing to do for someone who was serious about success. I had a computer, a cubicle and a part time job doing corporate accounting for a giant, evil food brokerage firm while I worked my way through college. I was miserable! As soon as I graduated I calculated how much I needed to make rent alone and walked into a flower shop and asked if they had any shifts. This was incredibly naive, knowing what I know now, but it worked. I got 14 hours of work (just enough to cover rent) and quit my job with the faith that I could make it. In five years time I had worked my way up in that company to the buyer for the largest, busiest location. It was hard work, and lots of ungodly early mornings, but I learned hands on from my customers and my product, going through the seasons year by year.
In 2008 the economy crashed and the floral industry took a huge hit. The company I worked for lost massive amounts of business and people scaled back. It became an unpleasant place to work, so my business partner, Sarah Helmstetter (who was another manager at the same company at the time), and myself decided we may as well strike out on our own. We leaned on our experience with our clients, our connection with our local growers, and faith that the plant kingdom wouldn't forsake us. It's been a very long path, but it is working!
At what point in your life did you click/understand the universal connection between humans & plants?
Again, I always felt they were equal to us in life and spirit from my time playing with them alone as a child. In my teenage years is when I really started to rely on them spiritually. I suffered from deep dark depressions and suicidal thoughts at that time. During one particularly painful summer, I remember placing my whole spirit, my whole life force, onto one particular tree. I felt if she could sit there in the sun and rain, then I could, and if that was all my life was it was ok. We waited together until things felt good again.
Really though, there is nothing we can do without them. The interconnectedness between humanity and plant is wordless and infinite. We work with them in so many ways, it's really quite awe inspiring.
What are some of the ways we can work in harmony with flowers & botanicals ? / What are your top 3 ways of integrating plants and botanicals in our daily lives ?
1.) Obviously, my main way is to help people bring them into their homes and cultivate the balance and symbiosis of living with plants. Healthy house plants are way more than a style feature. They are a reminder that we are part of a larger world. That there are beings which can flourish near us, be part of our everyday lives and actually reach a joyous expression there. It creates almost a happiness spell in the home. When a new person comes to my home literally filled with healthy, humming house plants, I watch their reaction. While plants are beautiful, that isn't what people comment on, they comment on the feeling. It feels beautiful, often they stand for a minute with eyes closed or walk from room to room, ignoring me for their presence. I love it!
2.) I have recently had the pleasure of meeting so many women using pure botanicals for cosmetic and healing purposes, and starting truly inspired companies putting out truly amazing natural products. Walking away from artificial and mass produced products is a must. Supporting those that honor the plant world is a really simple and super fun way to integrate yourself and your body. My current favorite natural makers are: Poppy and Someday, La Tierra Sagrada Hair, Marble and Milkweed, Roots and Crown, Portland Apothecary, Golden Apothecary. Once you start exploring this world, it's hard to stop, it feels amazing for both spirit and body.
3.) Honor your flowers. Flowers are special, they take an amazing amount of energy and dedication to grow, and they are an important part of the being that is a plant. Bringing them into your life is an act of celebration and has been a practice humans have felt called to since time immeasurable. We know this because we see it cross culturally and all over the world. So, I would love the practice to continue, we just need to remember that everything comes form somewhere as well. A simple way to improve the floral world (and our greater agricultural impact) is by choosing floral like you choose the food that goes into your body. Supporting floral that is grown locally, floral that is in season and floral that comes from a farmers that use sustainable practices makes an immense amount of difference in our environment. They are jewels and should be treated with the respect they deserve.
How do you think these benefit us ?
It's all about conscious integration, about respecting the plants as beings. We use them and they use us, life and death are a part of our cycle together. This is why it is important to do it well.
What can we do to benefit the plants ? eg. are there certain ways you recommend we return them to the earth ?
Yes, compost! Give them the chance to go back to the earth as cleanly has they came in.
Its hard for the consumer to know where and how their flowers and plants have come from - what are some tell tail signs that we are supporting local and sustainably grown flowers & botanicals ?
Thank you for this question. The answer is simple, in the world of big box store plants and grocery store florals, ask yourself this before you buy. Does the person you are buying it from know where the farm or greenhouse this plant came from is? They should be able to tell you. If they can, then it is likely you are cutting out a lot of the brokerage houses ship mass amounts of plants and flowers. The places these things come from are built for profit only, and have the same issues of pollution, huge environmental footprints, worker rights issues, etc as the large scale food production world. Sustainable agriculture and those that support it know each other, and care for the health and success of their product from the ground to the consumers home. Go to farmers markets, find a local florist to work with, or try nursery direct plant sources. The quality is way higher, the environmental impact is way lower, and surprisingly, the cost is most often very comparable.
You have worked on some beautiful creative projects including some beautiful flower mandalas and 'sky gardens' - tell us about the mandalas, what inspires you to create these ?
The mandalas specifically have been a wonderful gift that have come in out of my life over the years through travel and meetings with florist around the world. This most recent incarnation people have seen on social media was spurred by my connection with two other ladies, Finley Jordan and Pony Reinhardt, and my relationship with a wonderful cultural community here in Portland. I hired Finley about a year ago to help at my retail shop. She and Pony had been making these totally gorgeous mandalas with fresh produce at farm they had stayed that previous year themselves, and it all sort of evolved naturally. For years previous this meeting though, I had been helping with a huge Dia de los Muertos celebration with a community here in Portland. The alter was massive and I was always able to get tons of product donated from farmers (which was easy considering the intimate connection to hispanic culture in that world) to make these intense floral alters, as well as provide product for these awe inspiring traditional Aztec dancers. The celebration surrounded the alter space, and they would make these complex floor mandalas of their own with floral and also traditional foods.
In honor of the dead, I always really wanted to use the flowers more after this event, not just toss them in the compost. Super large floral mandalas are a community project, since they take hours to complete and can be overwhelming alone. They are also time based, and you are on their schedule. After putting on and cleaning up a large event, it felt overwhelming to know what to do with the floral. The energy, artistic know how and positive vibes of Finley and Pony pushed the project a few days longer, allowing for our first mandala collaboration on that scale, as well as conscious deconstruction, and returning of the floral to the earth. It was so fun, but also seemed to hit a nerve on Instagram. People find them so beautiful, and they are, because they belong to all of us. We have had a revolving cast of women who help us on the larger ones since then, but is always a way to use excess floral, or floral that would be wasted otherwise. In this way it feels like an homage to the spirit that supports our business and livelihood, as well as way to bond with a wonderful community of women.
What are some of your favorite flowers & botanicals to have around and work with ?
It changes with the wind, and the seasons. That's the best part of my job, it is an infinite world, new favorites introduce themselves all the time.