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Texas Wildflowers: Austin Florist Samantha McCrary’s Tips for Foraging and Arranging

“I like to play with negative spaces rather than clumping all the flowers together,” the Bricolage Curated Florals owner says

Well, folks, we did it. We survived April and are already one whole week into the month of May. As we gradually prepare for re-entry into a post-quarantine world, celebrating the special people in our life feels more important than ever. If you missed our Mother’s Day gift guide featuring fabulous local businesses, it’s not too late to do something special for mom. 

We reached out to florist Samantha McCrary at Bricolage Curated Florals – herself an expectant mother – for a little inspiration. Read our Q&A below to hear how she’s pivoted her business in light of (and in spite of) the global coronavirus pandemic, watch a time lapse on our Instagram to see how she’s staying inspired and follow her tips to forage your own organic creations at home.

Local florist and owner of Bricolage Curated Florals, Samantha McCrary.

How did Austin’s shelter-in-place mandate affect you as a small business owner?

I was already in a very transitional time with my business right before COVID hit and SXSW was cancelled. I was starting to prepare for my maternity leave by hiring more people and delegating tasks, so that was a huge setback. My maternity leave has essentially just been elongated and my quarantine may continue into the new year since I will have a newborn, so I’ve been wrestling with how to prepare for that both personally and as a business owner.

What specific struggles have you faced during the pandemic as a business owner and an expectant mom?

First, I struggled with a lot of guilt, which I think came from social media because I saw other companies doing whatever they could to keep serving customers. I had decided to stay home to protect myself, my baby and my customers, but I kept feeling like I should be working. Second, I felt so much pressure to get things done while staying at home, whether starting a new workout regimen or baking from scratch or doing DIY projects. The pressure of that as a business owner was a lot, but some days I just didn’t have it in me, which gave me so much anxiety. 

How were you able to cope with that anxiety? What kept you sane?

At first, I just started planning for next year. Thankfully, we were still getting wedding inquiries, so I took time to bust out those proposals and baked a lot and focused on fitness. By the third week of quarantine, I just needed to play with flowers again so I could give attention to that part of my being. I didn’t want to go anywhere to buy flowers, so I decided to just use the wildflowers around me. I felt like that could also be very relatable and inspiring to everyone else at home, and that’s also what “bricolage” means – to create something from whatever is around you.

What kind of lessons or blessings have you seen during this time?

Any order that was placed at the beginning of all this, and even inquiries that I’ve had to say no to has shown me just how supportive our Austin community is. It’s meant so much. I know that everyone is financially struggling right now, and the fact that people want to spend money on flowers is just amazing to me. And obviously, I’m realizing that health by itself is a blessing. Becoming a mom has made me even more protective and appreciative of that.

Photo by Mint Julep Photography

You decided to start taking orders again just in time for Mother’s Day. Why was that important to you?

On the business side of things, Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day are the biggest holidays for any florist. But on a personal note, even though my baby won’t be here by Mother’s Day, it felt really special to me as an expectant mom to provide that service for other moms. Especially when you consider everything that moms have been doing during quarantine – as teachers, partners, caregivers – their roles have just expanded so much and so quickly, so they deserve some pretty frickin’ flowers! 

What are you most looking forward to in the coming months?

I’m using Mother’s Day as our starting point to slowly start taking on more business, all within safe measures. We will still practice contactless orders and will not be doing events until, hopefully, the fall. But over the last week, I’ve also been brainstorming different outlets to bring in revenue while doing floral-centric things and still getting joy from it all. I’ve come up with a few fun ideas that I’ll be announcing after Mother’s Day, but I’m excited to explore some new outlets that will look totally different than what we’ve done in the past.

For procrastinators, McCrary’s floral creations will be available at Spread & Co’s Sunday pop-up market from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., or as an add-on item on Contigo’s Mother’s Day menu. You can also find her bouquets at Contigo’s daily market, and her tips for arranging your own foraged finds are below.

Photo by Paige Newton

Tips on foraging and arranging: 

1. Make sure you’re clipping things that seem to be heartier leaf greens because they will last longer. Thankfully, a lot of wildflowers are super hearty because of the heat tolerance here in Texas.

2. I always recommend getting stuff that doesn’t look like new growth, and if you cut older branches, you are actually promoting new growth. While every plant varies, you can tell new growth from old growth by paying attention to the top of a stem. If leaves look smaller or lighter colored compared to the bottom portion of the stem, they are new growth. Older leaves look bigger and heartier.

3. For this arrangement, I tried to design and arrange it in a way that you would see it in its natural element. Rather than putting a polka dot version of yellow flowers throughout, I grouped things together by species blocking rather than color blocking. 

4. To get that “wild” look when arranging – whether it’s foraged or not – I like to play with negative spaces rather than clumping all the flowers together. With roses, I like to stack them together really tight, so I do the opposite with a more foraged, organic look. Like species blocking, think about arranging the way you would see flowers on the highway. When you see Black-eyed Susans, some are super tall and dancing above the rest.

5. For foraging around Austin, watch out for the milky sap substance that comes out of a lot of our native greens and flowers when you cut the stems. This can be detrimental to other stems in the arrangement, so when you’re using an element that produces that light sap, try not to get it on your skin because it can cause itchiness. Take a flame to the bottom of the stem that you just cut; when you see the sap bubble and the stem change to that darker color, you’re basically soldering it to protect the rest of the arrangement.

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