The Florists

Four Vineyard florists from three local businesses tell us about their trade, and remind us why it’s so important to stop and smell the flowers.

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Emily Coulter, owner
Morrice Florist
149 State Rd., Vineyard Haven
508-693-0392
morriceflorist.com

How did you come to own Morrice Florist?

Five years ago, I took over the business. It completely changed my life. I had never worked with flowers — I didn’t know this profession existed. I never bought flowers to have in my home … they were something you would order for a funeral; they were something that the wealthy people had in their homes. I didn’t think it could be an everyday thing for everyone to enjoy. Now, I am amazed at how many people treat themselves to flowers or use flowers as a thank-you. It’s a whole world I didn’t know existed.

My dad was a friend of the previous owner of Morrice, who thought of me as a good replacement for her as she decided to move on from the business her grandfather had started in 1940. She saw something in me — I said yes instantly. It was a bit crazy! I was involved with wedding planning at the time, and busy raising two kids. I had seen what people were doing for wedding flowers, and was connected with other wedding planners and rental companies. So when I took over the shop, I already knew sources for weddings. It was helpful to spring forward.

The previous owner stayed on close to three months, showed me how to cut stems with a knife, how to process flowers, who to order from, how to make an arrangement, the flower names. She had to teach me from scratch; I picked up pretty quickly. It’s incredible how far I’ve come in the past five years.

You brought a great aesthetic to the shop.

Yes, what the shop had lacked for the past few years was the love to keep it fresh. I have an aesthetic that I brought in, and a team of people that help carry out all the necessary things, including the product selection. We take a lot of time sourcing things, and feature many local items. There is an aesthetic, but I don’t know what it is exactly — we gravitate toward beauty, of course. I feel very lucky that I’m surrounded by all this beauty every day.

What have you learned from flowers?

Flowers have taught me a lot. There is such a healing property with flowers, as they bring so much joy to people. The gift of flowers is such a simple gesture to give to someone. Who doesn’t want to get flowers? For me, it’s such a joy to see that and bring happiness to people’s lives through flowers, particularly when you are going through hard times. There is a reason why people send flowers.

Do you have a favorite flower or plant?

Impossible to answer! There are so many flowers that I love, and they’ll stop me dead in my tracks. We will all come and look at this flower — the way it has opened or whatever it is doing. “Look at the ruffle of that petal, the color …” whether it’s a zinnia or a tulip. Tulips might be one of my favorites. And daffodils. I gravitate to the spring flowers..

How much of your flowers are local?

About 70 percent are local this time of year. We buy from a lot from great farmers, including Tea Lane Farm in Chilmark and Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown. Robyn Athearn is doing an incredible job at Morning Glory elevating what they are doing with flower production. We use a few off-Island growers who put flowers on the Seastreak for us — sustainable-practice farms in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. We’ve found the right farmers who grow such an incredible product — flowers that will last a week to two weeks. We are lucky that we have access to them.

Talk about timing and shelf life.

Working with such a perishable product is tricky. It’s hard to feel like you can get ahead when 

you’re constantly ordering fresh flowers every week, as I have to put orders in for the week before. Mentally, it’s very challenging. Like a restaurant, a chef would do the same. 

We have four giant coolers here that help with shelf life, and so does the way we process them. After the week is over, we move any remaining flowers to another cooler, and figure out other things to do with them. Sometimes I make arrangements for Hospice — we give the older flowers away to people the best we can. Recently, Felix Neck needed flowers for a kids’ program, and we were able to give them some. It’s hard throwing them into the compost, but we can’t sell them either. 

How much of your business is weddings?

We do a ton of weddings, but really only about 25 percent of the business (we did 60 weddings last year). The single purchase of everyday flowers keeps us so busy and really keeps the business going. We have a driver delivering flowers all over the Island all day, every day. The elements make it very tricky, whether it’s a 90-plus day, or pouring rain.

Do you feel you are on a 24-hour alert?

Definitely. We opened up on Sundays this summer, too. Sometimes I work seven days in a row — it may be 14 days before I get a day off. I feel like I’m so obsessed and so immersed in what I’m doing. Whether I’m here or not here, I’m still always here. There’s never a moment when I’m not thinking about the shop.

What’s your biggest challenge?

Trying to be a mind reader for what people want. It’s very difficult to get that information out of people, and they can be very particular, but they don’t know how to tell us what they want in flowers. And everyone has a different idea of what’s beautiful. We do a lot of picture sharing. We hired a photographer to help us organize and update our website, and it’s making a huge difference. People are calling us now because they like our aesthetic — that’s working out in our favor. 

What sets you apart from other florists?

I grew up on the Island, Rebecca [Swartwood, floral designer] grew up here, and other staff understand the Vineyard so well. We tap into this vibe that can be very elegant, but also very laid-back. We have a Vineyard vibe that makes flowers not feel fussy or too much, but approachable while being really beautiful. Our flowers can be put on any elegant table or a kitchen counter in your summer cottage. They speak the Vineyard. We don’t manipulate the flowers to do anything they don’t want to do. So our arrangements feel very free and natural and very elegant at the same time. Which is very Vineyard in a nutshell. 


Marc Cooper, florist
Middletown Gift & Floral Shop
680 State Rd., West Tisbury
508-696-7600
middletownnursery.com

Where do your flowers come from at Middletown?

We get cut flowers from Holland, we get local flowers, we get a lot of flowers from Boston. Basically the style of flowers that I like determines where we buy from. I like classical, vintage-looking roses, hydrangeas, mostly big white lilies. I still like to get some tulips in — the parrots and the doubles. Right now we are getting a lot of local items; the sunflowers are big. But many of the flowers that I have you can’t grow here; the quality is not the same. 

How did you learn the florist trade?

For 10 years I had a gift shop in Worcester where we brought in flowers, and I had to learn quickly. My business partner at the time liked doing flowers, then she had a child so could not be in the shop that often. I ended up working with flowers. I learned to do what I wanted to do with them, and created my own style. 

As a designer, what is it about flowers, personally, that you are attracted to?

I guess it’s the amazing quality of flowers, the color — putting them together — their natural beauty and how they go together without being planned, in an organic way. My style, for what I do, is more about the classic, full, abundant look. I don’t use a lot of filler flowers. I don’t tend to do a wild look. More is always better. It’s probably about color and shape, fullness or not fullness.

Who are your clients?

People know my style, they come in and say, “Can you make me a bunch?” Some pick exactly what they want. I sell cut flowers in bunches on Saturdays at North Tisbury Market. They are quite popular. 

We do a lot of parties, weddings, and house flowers, with many repeat clients. This time of year there are more big events and gatherings where people order flowers than during the year. I like to know in advance so we can plan and order special colors. Most people call a few weeks ahead to schedule.

What is the timing, the life of the flower?

They are flowers — it’s fleeting. They could live a day, they could live a week, they could live two weeks. It’s a moment that you enjoy. I try to get the freshest. We cut them when they arrive and keep them in a cooler. I don’t use anything left after a week. 

Your favorite flower?

Some of the hydrangeas from Holland — the colors are amazing. There’s a pink and green type that we get during the spring, when they are more colorful. Their lifetime is a week or two, depending on how you take care of them. We now have the Massachusetts sunflowers. In the cooler case we have some snaps, roses, lilies, purple vintage-style roses. I don’t have the typical roses; mine open up really big. I have many tulips of various colors. 

Do flowers give you an artistic challenge?

The challenge is that you have to look at other elements at times to make it work artistically. Sometimes my hydrangeas are too small, too big, no leaves, too many leaves — they are never the same, and never the same color. I love those purple and green ones, but if I’m expecting them to be like a few weeks ago, it’s not the case. 

I enjoy putting gift packages together — we have some interesting containers. It’s nice to combine the two. Using flowers as one element as a gift — we do a lot of that. We have specialty items for the house and garden that can be added to the flower arrangement. 

Your future?

I’ve been working with flowers for 20 years. It comes naturally to me — it’s what I do. The hard part is that I don’t get to go off-Island to pick my flowers. Getting off the Island is too hard to do every week to see what’s out there. Perhaps one day I’ll get there.

Sue Weyl and Mariko Kawaguchi, senior designers
Flowers by Donaroma’s
270 Upper Main St., Edgartown
508-627-8366
donaromas.com

What got you started working with flowers?

Sue: I’ve been with Donaroma’s 20 or 25 years, but I’ve been doing floral work for over 40. I started in upstate New York. My grandmother had a wonderful flower garden, and I always worked with her in the garden, and loved flowers. During high school, my first part-time job was in a flower shop. I got to wash buckets, fill funeral containers, and process flowers. I wasn’t allowed to touch the flowers for the first three years. I worked there for many years after college, until I moved to the Vineyard and came to Donaroma’s.

Mariko: Sue and I have been working together longer than most marriages. I came, I left, I went to work with orchids in Boston. I came back to do an interesting project — Donaroma’s was having its 25th anniversary, and Sue and I created a float together for the July 4th parade. 

We took an Isuzu flatbed and turned it into a bee — a vision I came up with when I saw the brand-new Donaroma’s Isuzu lawn-mowing truck. 

Sue: Mariko and I have always felt that we work well together, as she comes up with the visual aspect and I have the mechanical background. How are we going to create something? She has the vision, I solve the technical part.

What flowers are most popular on the Vineyard, and where do you get your flowers?

Sue: We use so many blue hydrangeas, easily a couple hundred a week. During the summer months, it’s our most popular flower. People associate blue hydrangeas with the Vineyard. You can’t grow blue hydrangeas in upstate New York. The farm flowers are also popular — the farmer’s market–type bouquets.
We buy locally out of Fall River (they source worldwide); we also get orchids in out of Singapore, dealing with a broker from Canada. And we buy from small farms in California and New Jersey — mixes that come out of Fall River. This year we are buying from Morning Glory Farm, which provides us with flowers that are not available on the open market. For example. zinnias do not ship well, so we are buying zinnias, cosmos, and short delphiniums from Morning Glory. 

What keeps you going as a florist?

Sue: Green blood. Once it’s in your system and you love it, it’s fascinating. There’s always something new to learn. You never know who will walk in the door — who will need something, like an arrangement for a new baby or a special birthday gift. The next customer walking in may have lost a loved one, and is making a bereavement order. It can be an emotional roller coaster, as on a small Island you often know your clients and share in their celebrations or grief.

Who creates the flower artistry?

Mariko: It exists in all of us here at Donaroma’s. We are all visual by nature. My background, coming from the Baltimore/Washington area, was in photography. In all visual things, color is color. It may vary in format, as with flowers, but the principles are the same — it’s the same language. What is peach? What is coral? Therein lie some of our fun daily conversations, sometimes arguments. We have to be the mad conductors — like in “Fantasia.” This is our symphony. Our flowers are our ingredients to find a unified spirit to produce.

Sue: The concept of beauty in art is the client at hand.

What would you do if not a florist?

Sue: I did take one year off, and became a bank teller at a local bank here. It was the hardest job I think I’ve ever done. When I came back to Donaroma’s, I felt like I was coming home. It’s my comfort zone — I love it. I’ve passed it along to my family, and my granddaughter is working with us this summer. I think flowers are a universal interest for a lot of people. On a sad occasion, flowers bring comfort. It’s not only the visual part of flowers but the fragrance of flowers as well. The fragrance can evoke a memory — a happy occasion. My grandmother had honeysuckle growing in her yard on the Vineyard, and everytime I smell honeysuckle, I think of my grandmother.

Tell us about your team.

Sue: This summer, we are fortunate to have four high school students working with us, with two from the horticultural program at the high school. We’re excited to have Maddie, Aiden, Emily, and Delilah this summer. They are like little sponges, wanting to learn all we can teach them. Mariko and I can talk with them about trees, plants, and even weeds. They are part of our support team, and are integral in getting all these flowers cut and put into buckets as they come in from deliveries. We get about 65 boxes of flowers every Tuesday, our busiest day of the week.
The staff count is 15. We have our high school people who help us process, our design team who create the arrangements, and front-counter sales help. We have one IT person doing a lot of computer work, and we have our delivery people. Mariko and I head the team, and we do the flower ordering. For big events and weddings, we recruit our friends and family to help as much as they can.

Are weddings your biggest one event?

Sue: Yes, weddings. Donaroma’s has now purchased a refrigerator truck for really big weddings to have enough cooler space to keep the finished arrangements.

A flower message for us?

Sue: My wish is to teach the next generation to love flowers the way I do. With all the crazy things that happen in today’s world, to be able to stop, look, touch, and smell the flowers is so very important. It is our calm, peace, and tranquility. Send flowers, have them on your table, put them on your kitchen windowsill. That one special bloom picked from your garden. Get them wherever you can: farm stands, food markets, or here with us at Donaroma’s. Have flowers! 

Mariko: At the end of the day, our foremost goal is that we make many kinds of people happy through the gifts flowers bring.

1 COMMENT

  1. These are all amazing stories. Each florist talks about how flowers can elevate any space – we couldn’t agree more! From small family gatherings to large weddings, floral arrangements simulate various senses. A well put together bouquet can smell great and look great as well.

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