It is a truly beautiful thing when talent, passion, and a labor of love collide. That’s just what Passiflora is to vagabond-florist, Caroline Eells Waller — a labor of love. If you’ve had the pleasure of seeing Caroline’s work first hand, you know that Marietta is fortunate to count her as a resident. I sat down with Caroline over lunch to learn more about her journey back home and how she grew into a profession she whole-heartedly enjoys.
Originally from Marietta, Ohio, Caroline traveled far and wide during her high school and college years, exploring and honing in on what really made her heart sing. As a senior in high school, she spent seven months in Helsinki, Finland before driving across country to begin college at the University of Washington in Seattle. After her first year, she came across an article about an organic farmer in Idaho, inspiring her to call the farm about internship opportunities. So instead of returning to U of W the following semester, Caroline packed up and moved to an isolated organic farm in Idaho, where she lived in a cabin two miles away from her nearest neighbor. “After asking myself, ‘What have I done!?’, I experienced a lot of growth during that time,” she reflects, “I went back to school with a new mentality, I knew that I wanted to do something with the land.”
Switching to a major in landscape architecture, Caroline soon stumbled upon another life-changing article, this time about a public garden in upstate New York with an incredible plant collection. After completing her sophomore year of school, she packed up and headed back to the East Coast for a two-year internship program in horticulture, “where I really fell in love with plants,” she adds, smiling. After her time at the garden, the journey seems to pick up pace — a fellowship in Washington State for Public Art, another year in New York, and finally three years in Philadelphia where she studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, while doing garden design for the Tyler Arboretum.
By what could only be described as fate, Caroline received a call from a man looking for a landscape designer here in Marietta. “But I didn’t want to move back home,” she tells me. “My life was good, I was in this cultural area, I had my circle of friends– but he was persistent.” After meeting with Brian, the man who would eventually become her husband, during a visit home, she decided she could move back here after all.
“This was a pretty life-changing decision for me. I wasn’t sure about it, and it took me two years and a lot of thinking to readjust, but I came to realize that this was where I was supposed to be.”
Sometimes, that’s just the way life works.
“Then one day, Chuck Swaney asked me to do flowers for his niece’s wedding. I wasn’t sure how he got my name, flowers weren’t really my specialty and the only bouquet I had made was my own.” But she did it, and it was the most natural thing in the world. “It was the flowers, the plants, the design, the art, the sculpture — all of it coming together into one perfect marriage. Right then and there, I decided I should do this!”
Since her initial epiphany, Caroline has set us up shop in the back of Chuck’s store, Found Antiques in Harmar Village where she has hand-crafted a multitude of gorgeous floral creations. Wedding bouquets, centerpieces, special occasion arrangements — during this photo shoot, she was working on a magical Christmas mantel for the Blennerhassett Hotel “Festival of Trees”, a joint effort between her and Chuck. I asked Caroline if she was interested in having her own shop, but this isn’t on her wish list. “I’m more of a vagabond-florist,” she laughs, “Have flowers and cutters, will travel!” She does, however, have plans to build her own studio someday, and her latest venture was to begin farming her own flowers, something that she has been inspired to do through working with other local growers.
Although “slow flower” is not yet a household term, the growing interest in sustainable food has led to a greater focus on environmentally responsible flowers. Currently, about 80 percent of all cut flowers sold in the United States are imported. The amount of energy used to cut, transport, and preserve a flower from such a distance is extraordinary. To Caroline, it just doesn’t make sense — farming her own native flowers was a natural next step.
As a recent bride myself, I fell in love with how natural Caroline’s arrangements came together and knew that I wanted to work with her on the florals for my big day. “You were actually one of the first brides to ask me about which flowers were in season!” she exclaims. Not only was everything beautiful beyond words, but Caroline, helped by Nikki Butler, truly made magic happen the morning of the wedding. Working with our limited budget, they were encouraged by the owner of the venue to use whatever they wished from the surrounding gardens. They clipped buckets of fresh flowers and arranged garlands and groupings on the fly. The end result was nothing short of amazing, and just goes to show that this was the work of a true artist, at home and completely immersed in the process.
With winter and bone-chilling weather on the way, Caroline will be dreaming of springtime and new growth, planning and preparing for a new season. As a final thought, I asked Caroline if she had a favorite flower. She smiled and thought to herself for a moment before replying. “I can’t say that I do, although there are some I might love more than others. I love them all. Even carnations.”