Photos Rob Smith
There are times, perhaps rare, when an old interest from childhood returns and becomes a new love, then a vocation. That’s what happened in the life of Carmen Shirey Wood, owner of Wood Floral Design, a new business in Rome, Georgia. Initially, floristry was not her intended career; using her master’s degree, she taught special education at Model High School for ten years.
After she and her husband, Scott, a financial advisor, had their son, Huxley (the first of three boys), she left her teaching job and stayed home with him. But her love for floral design remained, waiting in the wings for her attention. Then, when the time was right, she was ready.
Just like grandmother did it
In the age-old tradition of learning a trade from a senior family member, Wood got her first exposure to floristry through her maternal grandmother, Gaynell Tucker. “For twenty-five years, my grandmother did floral design from a little shop at her house,” Wood says, “and she did a lot of weddings. I was fascinated with everything about it.” Tucker, who was trained and certified by the American Floral Society, also taught floral design at some of the local colleges, like Floyd College (now Georgia Highlands College) and Dalton State. Her granddaughter would go with her after school when she taught night classes. “That’s where I learned how to do this. She could do anything, and she was great teacher—still is!”
Before deciding to start her own business, Wood arranged the flowers for her own wedding. She enjoyed it so much, she did the same for her sister’s wedding. A third wedding finally did the trick: her babysitter’s. “After I did the flowers for our babysitter’s wedding, I realized how much I loved it, and that was it. I had to start this business.” So, in the summer of 2021, she launched Wood Floral Design.
Gaynell Tucker, who at 91 years old still takes a walk every day, no longer works in the industry but continues to be an ongoing help to Wood. She’s always available to give advice and encouragement. “For instance, when I first started this business,” Wood says, “the one thing I was still unsure of is how to make beautiful bows. Bows are a big part of what I do, so I had to get it right, so I went to my grandmother, and she taught me what I needed to know.”
Beauty that lasts and lasts
Wood Floral Design focuses on artificial flowers. There are several advantages to this. For one, they cost less than live flowers, which is especially important when budgets are tight. Then there’s variety. Artificial flowers come in an almost endless array of types (species of plants) and a wide range of fabrics, including silk, and even latex that has a soft, silky feel to it. Wood also works with dried naturals, that is, live flowers that have been professionally dried so they can be used in long-lasting arrangements.
Then there’s the benefit of ready availability. For florists who only trade in live flowers, it’s sometimes difficult to accomplish a client’s vision for their flowers if a certain type is out of season or only available in limited colors. Wood points out, “That’s not a problem with artificial flowers; I can give them whatever they want. There are loads of options.”
Perhaps the greatest advantage to what Wood Floral Design offers is permanence. Artificial flowers never wilt, shed their petals, or die. “One of the best things about artificial flowers,” says Wood, “is that brides can keep their bouquets forever, or I can take out a few pieces and arrange them in a shadowbox.”
Learning the trade and passing it on
Like her grandmother, Wood loves to design the flowers for weddings. “I just love weddings, making them beautiful—decorating the church, doing bouquets for the bridal party, table arrangements and bows.” Weddings are especially important to Wood, both professionally and personally. “On someone’s special day I’m able to use my gifts and know-how to make it extra special. It’s rewarding to be part of a day someone will always remember.” Like Wood’s flowers, these memories last.
One thing Wood enjoys most about her business is leading her wreath-making classes. It’s her way of sharing with others the skills her grandmother taught her. The students pay a fee, Wood brings all the supplies and walks the class step-by-step through the entire process, teaching them how to build their wreaths. Sometimes the classes focus on holiday or seasonal designs, other times they are about general, year-round themes. Each student goes home with a beautiful wreath. “When my customers have something beautiful on their front door it makes them feel good,” Wood says. “I love seeing the joy it brings them.”
Wood also teaches wreath-making classes for bachelorette parties, girls-night-out parties, and birthday parties. A popular item is the “Hello World” wreath, celebrating the arrival of a newborn. (The “Hello World” medallion can be removed and replaced with one that carries the baby’s name.) Wood says, “For the cost of the class, you couldn’t go to the store and buy a similar wreath for that price.” Recently, Wood arranged with local artist Siri Selle to teach wreath-making classes at her business, Studio Siri (those interested can sign up online at StudioSiri.com).
Another service offered by Wood Floral Design is decorating homes for Christmas, both indoors and outdoors: porch garlands, holiday wreaths, mailbox swags, Christmas trees, and fireplace mantels. The holiday season can be a stressful time for many, so this is a great way to check a big item off the to-do list by delegating the work. Also, it’s nice to have a professional’s touch for the festive season. “Some people want someone else to come in and do all that,” Wood says, “and that would be me!” For her customers’ convenience, Wood now sells her floral products at her own booth at River City Antique Mall in Rome.
An art or a craft?
Wood insists that her work is more than a craft, it’s an art form. She points out that florists use the same design principles as other types of artists: color, shape, texture, symmetry, asymmetry, and the arrangement of positive and negative space. But it’s not as easy as it appears. “Anybody can buy a hot glue gun and some stuff from a craft store and start gluing things together,” she says, “but you need to know how to start with the right foundation and build your piece up. That takes skill, training, and practice.” She adds, “For someone who really knows what they’re doing, this is an art; if they don’t, it’s more of a craft.”
“We all have gifts that God has given us, and we need to use them,” Wood says. “Some people can sing or paint, and even if they see it only as a hobby, it’s a gift. This (floristry) is my gift; using it to make something beautiful is my way of bringing glory to God.” That is an attitude and worldview she also picked up from her grandmother, as well as from others. “It’s not really about the money,” she says. “I just love doing this and seeing how others respond to it—getting paid for it is a bonus!”
The process is the thing
When asked what she likes most about her work, Wood explains, “I enjoy every step of the process. I love sitting down with the customers, listening to their vision, and helping them make the decisions that are best for them. I want them to have what they want at a price they can afford, and I like helping them find a way to make that happen.
Every stage of the process is fun: the idea phase, shopping for the flowers, putting it all together, and then showing it to the customer. It’s all fun.” One thing that makes it fun for her is the joy she gets from seeing how her work makes other people feel. “Knowing all the tricks of the trade I learned from my grandmother,” Wood says, “and making something nice for someone and having them recognize the quality of it makes it special.”
Family, faith, and flowers: that seems to be the melded-together theme of Carmen Shirey Wood’s life and, by extension, that of Wood Floral Design. The flowers may be artificial, but the heart behind the work is sure to last.
For more information, go to Instagram: @wood_floral_design