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Meet Jillian Summers of Summers & Stems

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jillian Summers.

Jillian, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I moved to Seattle in 2016, I took a position at a PR agency as an Art Director, this was my first big move of my adult life. I moved from CA leaving family and friends that I was really close to for an opportunity to live in the PNW, a place that I had prepared myself to put down long term roots in. I pushed myself to spend as much time as I could outdoors, my favorite part of Seattle was the amazing bounty of beautiful flowers that grew effortlessly everywhere. I had always been an avid gardener, and this was heaven. I took my first floral design workshop with Thatch Floral, and that introduction opened my eyes to varietals of flowers I had never seen before, it instantaneously lit a fire, and I knew that floral design was something I wanted to do more of.

Unfortunately, while I was living in Seattle, my Nanny who I was very close to died of cancer and that shook me to my core. Simultaneously, my dream job had quickly gone South, and I wasn’t acclimating to the weather as well as I wanted to (shocking… I know). I ended up moving home a year later needing to reset. On my move home I decided to take a week to drive down the coast along the 101, I needed time to process, and it’s my MO to immerse myself in nature when life gets chaotic. Along my journey home, I kept thinking about a story I overheard about my grandmother growing up. My grandmother’s family grew up very poor in Utah, she was raised on a flower farm, and she and her siblings would sell Dahlias and Chrysanthemums to help provide for their family.

I knew she loved roses and being English she had an impeccable garden, but for some reason, this story really resonated with me. I visited a couple of dahlia farms on my way home, but it was this special farm in Santa Cruz that really made an impact on me. I took a detour off the freeway to make my way to what I thought was going to be an average working flower farm but what I stumbled upon was a quaint home that had been converted into a cutting garden, and there were dahlias from the street to the backyard. I was blown away and knew as soon as I got home I was going to start growing dahlias, easier said than done LOL. The big take away from this was that I thought I would have to own acres of land if I ever wanted my dream to come to fruition but sometimes dreams can start small, and you scale up as you go.

Now that I look back I think I was desperately looking for a way to connect with my grandma, but it was this epiphany that made me decide I wanted to be a farmer florist. I also felt that it somewhat made sense, farming was in my DNA. The other piece to this that further compounded this notion was that I had grown up with my other set of grandparents who owned a local gardening service. My grandmother who is still alive took over my grandfather’s landscaping business when he passed away, she had multiple homes in Ventura that she serviced till she was in her 60’s. Not only was I inspired but for me this was a way and is a way that I get to honor two incredibly strong women who helped raise me.

When I finally made it home to Ventura, I made it a point to educate myself as much as possible via online and in-person workshops, taking local courses and connecting with other farmer florists. I officially launched Summers & Stems in September 2018, it’s still very new. My main hustle is still as a graphic designer and Art Director, I probably won’t ever let that go. In the meantime, I’m steadily growing my floral business and my little farm/cut garden, trying to figure out where I belong in this landscape. Flowers are a tactile and visual reminder that life is about beautiful fleeting moments that are meant to be embraced and let go. They carry so much emotion and are always sent with love. It’s an amazing feeling to be able to deliver that sentiment to people when I make my daily deliveries.

Recently, I’ve been trying to switch gears a little. I think when you start on a venture like this you put a lot of pressure on yourself to be successful. You need to hurry up and build your client base and build a revenue stream. Luckily, because I have my other business, I’ve been able to take a step back and think about how I want to carve my place in the industry. My business is still really small, it’s just me in my home studio. I really want to be mindful that this continues to be a creative outlet. Right now, I’m fortunate enough to have the time to meditate and ground myself, so I can design from a place of love, creating something that I enjoy and hopefully that energy is translated to the person I hand my flowers off to.

It’s therapeutic more than anything, and in turn, I get to share my craft with my community. I understand this is such a luxury and for many florists, they don’t have that opportunity to slow down, and I really respect them for their hustle. Summers & Stems is a work in progress, I invite those that appreciate my work to follow me along my journey.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
This isn’t new news to anyone in the industry but being a florist involves a lot of really hard physical work. Designing is such a small portion, most of your time is spent at the wholesalers, processing your product correctly and washing buckets. I also wasn’t prepared for the fragment of the industry that’s still very competitive and cutthroat.

I’ve experienced way more positive interactions within the floral community but the other was enough for me to decide that I don’t want any part of that, that’s just not who I am.

The farming side is a whole other ball of wax. Last year was my first season growing Dahlias, and I’m pretty sure I cried multiple times trying to get over the learning curve. However, it only takes one bloom to reignite that passion, you suck it up, keep planting and move forward. It’s the worst when you’ve poured so much energy into a plant to see it succumb to bugs or weather etc. However, there were also days I’d go out to my dahlia patch and find a dinner plate blooming that reminded me that this is why I did this and holy shit I grew that. I’ve done a lot of research this year and have changed up my growing strategy, so hopefully, that’ll help make my little space more prolific.

One thing I’ve learned is to always grow something you know is easy, like ranunculus, something that gives you the confidence that YOU CAN DO THIS. It’s a nice reminder when other crops don’t turn out as expected that you’ve got this.
The biggest pressure is we only have so many seasons and crops we can grow, you want to limit your waste. You want to do your best to make sure that the majority of your time as a farmer is spent with flourishing crops and not multiple years trying to figure out why a certain plant isn’t growing. There’s a lot of learning to do but at the same token there are some really amazing FB groups and the community there is so generous with their knowledge.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Summers & Stems story. Tell us more about the business.
Summers & Stems is a boutique floral design studio based out of Ventura, CA providing daily florals to Ventura County. I specialize in bespoken hand-tied bouquets and arrangements that lean on the more loose and wild side vs. traditional and round. I really enjoy introducing clients to new flowers and colors that they haven’t experienced before.

I take a lot of pride in knowing that a lot of care goes into my color palette, floral materials and that what I create isn’t the output of mass production but carefully crafted to be one of a kind. I also am a huge Slow Flower advocate. Summers & Stems supports the Slow Flower Movement and is dedicated to supporting local flower farms by largely using responsibly sourced American grown flowers and foliage in an effort to help save our domestic flower farms.

I admit I don’t use 100% American grown all the time because sometimes you’ll find some really special pieces that you can’t resist, but I do make a conscious effort to get to know what product comes from what farm so I can request domestic. Also, getting to know what local farmers in the area are growing is important to upholding this ethos.

To me, it’s worth making a few extra stops to the local flower farms because I know I’m supporting local economy and doing my part.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I don’t really think of luck good or bad as a component. When you look at your wins as being lucky you strip yourself of validating your own role in your own success.

I also don’t think of someone as unlucky or having bad luck, we all have certain challenges to face, but they’re a necessary means of learning to help navigate future experiences.

Pricing:

  • Hand-tied bouquets start at $55
  • Arrangements start at $65

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
MARIEL HANNAH PHOTO | Michael Sharp Photo

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