Wind cascades through Jocassee Gorges, caressing Kendra Schirmer’s organic palate at Laurel Creek Florals. Just like Monet, the artist draws inspiration from nature’s bounty; yet, unlike the French master, Kendra’s medium is flowers. Her striking sculptures, utilizing pods and petals, leaves and stems, are in high demand. “I never thought I’d find such artistic satisfaction in floral design,” the creative reveals. “I find myself getting to that trans-like state as I work on a design, and I think, ‘Oh, that’s what people feel when they’re playing music.’ They get that high and vibe on each other. That’s what I’m feeling with the flowers.”
Please pardon the pun, but the root of her raw materials elevates the beauty of her art. Each showpiece is filled with seasonal ingredients grown just beyond her farmhouse door on a quarter-acre plot tucked among trees at her Appalachian hideaway in Sunset, South Carolina. “Some of the crop is designated for bouquets for the Swamp Rabbit Café, with bright, hot colors,” the 31-year-old points out. “Then I like to grow the weirder colors with muted muddy tones, funky stuff for my own play time. Right now, I probably have the most variety I’ve ever had all blooming at once, and it’s a lot of fun.”
La Belle Époque tulips, Chantilly snapdragons, brilliant orlaya, subtle delphiniums. Kendra’s composition is sublime, with sophisticated balance and juxtaposing qualities. Textural seedpods, silky casings, conical buds, pointed turkey feathers. “I try to let the flowers speak in their natural voice,” the craftswoman explains of her unique style. “I try to make it look like the way the garden is. I try to grow a couple of new things and experiment every season. That’s the most exciting day for me, the little treats I fold in. It’s hard to say what my favorite is, like picking a favorite child. It’s usually the newest thing that I’ve not had bloom before.”
It goes without saying, her art is prey to weather and animals. But it’s the picky bride she detests the most. “I don’t like clients who have a recipe for me,” the florist admits. “I never guarantee anything specific. Things may not be blooming, or there could be a crop failure. I prefer to work with the idea of shape, texture, color and style.” Her whimsical presentations are gaining raves, just don’t call them wild. “Wildflower implies haphazard to me. It sounds like I just went out to the ditch near my house and picked these flowers for free,” she tactfully points out. “These are expensive seeds, and I work 10–12-hour days in the garden. To get the real, loosey-goosey, just-picked look is actually much harder to look really good, and not just some messy clump you threw together.”
The photography major has mastered her “naturalist-floristry” approach on her own, reading books, watching YouTube, studying online, and joining Facebook groups. “I attended a workshop in Charleston, and I started weeping in a room of twenty other women,” the artisan confides. “I spent much of my 20s feeling guilty about student loans and not using my degree. That workshop was my ‘a-ha!’ moment. I’m an artist, and the medium is flowers.”
In establishing her “studio shed,” sustainability is as important as the perfect zinnia. “Depending on the wedding and colors, 75–90 percent of the flowers are locally sourced,” Kendra affirms. “I just finished one corporate job that was 100 percent locally sourced. The idea of a naturalist, cataloguing a species, and taking notes also encompasses my obsession with sustainability.” She relies on local flower-farmer friends to round out what she doesn’t have, and upon occasion will order garden roses from California if she needs to soften late-fall wedding bouquets with a “little ruffle and fluffle.”
“Well, hello. Welcome!” Kendra’s talking to some new buds as she walks her bountiful garden. Her life partner, Sam, is heading off to his vegetable farm, leaving the cats, Spider and Mullein, to keep her company. The floral virtuoso can see a future “wearing a baby,” weeding, and making bridal bouquets. A future that’s creative and fulfilling. “It makes me feel so grateful I found my medium. If you’d told me four to five years ago, I probably would have laughed at you,” she reflects. “Since I was a kid running around barefoot in the woods, I’ve always come back with little treasures in my pocket.” Now her treasures are fragrant living art, for others to enjoy.
For more information, visit Laurel Creek Florals.