Columbia floral designer: 'We sell happiness and emotions'

News-DemocratJune 22, 2014 

Renee Nelson gets ready for a wedding just about every weekend.

The Columbia floral designer creates bouquets, corsages, boutonnieres and more in the converted garage of her home atop the bluffs. She calls her business Renee's Bokays.

"The wedding for tomorrow has three bridesmaids and all the reception items. We are doing really good," she said about 3 on a Friday afternoon. "All our centerpieces are made and in the cooler. Tomorrow we will deliver and set up everything."

Renee, 44, wrapped white ribbon around stems of a color-rich bouquet. A steel gray-blue succulent in the bouquet best matched the bride's colors.

"We wanted something fresh and bright and summery. ... (The bride) wanted pretty stuff, but kind of organic and natural, very romantic."

They toyed with a monochromatic look, but went with a mix of sweetness roses, lisianthus, waxflower, fragrant stock, dianthus and succulents. The pointy thistle-looking bloom is eryngium.

Don't know your flowers by name? The bouquet was rich in reds, hot pinks, purples, soft gray-blues and creamy whites.

Across the room, helper Cheryl Harris, a retired mail carrier with a passion for flowers, put the finishing touches on boutonnieres.

"We do corsages and boutonnieres last so they stay fresh longer," said Renee. "They don't have a water source."

Her flower source is Baisch & Skinner, a wholesaler in St. Louis that brings in blooms from around the world.

"It doesn't hurt that my husband Roger, manages that location," Renee said. "He's my personal delivery boy."

They have three sons, Corey, 25, Brendon, 21, and Tyler, 13.

"The older two, if Mom needs help, they are there," she said. "The oldest one knows how to arrange a bouquet like no one's business. Tyler wants nothing to do with flowers. He skateboards through, saying, 'I'm leaving now.'"

Renee's first job with flowers was in her teens.

"My great-aunt had owned a flower shop," she said. "I worked with her when I was 15 or 16. It was against my will. It wasn't my passion."

She later discovered she had an interest and a knack for it. She bought The Dupo Florist in 2001 and opened The Flower Company in Columbia in 2005. She moved the flower business back home two years ago.

What do you like about your job? "It's fun. We sell happiness and emotions. This is the day these girls have dreamed of half of their lives. When we do the reveal and show the bouquet, that is special. They say, 'I haven't cried all day. Now, you made me cry.' ... It really is a happy, fulfilling, rewarding job. Sometimes, we stay to watch girls walk down the aisle even though we don't have to."

Anything else? "It's work. Not all fun and games. We break a sweat often. We cut ourselves. Many times, we've dropped knives and almost cut our toes off. There are definitely hazards to the job.We scale walls and ladders to decorate and drape and hang items. ... I didn't know I was afraid of heights until Valentine's Day. I was on a 12-foot ladder, suspending candles and branches from a ceiling. The ladder wasn't quite tall enough. It was hard to reach. The ladder started to slip a little. I didn't think I could move." Cheryl steadied the ladder and they got the job done.

"The next day, my 6-foot-tall son got up on the ladder and snip, snip. All I had to do was reach for the items."

Any trends? "Succulents, anything organic and natural has been popular. Peonies are a big hit. How do they hold up? Carefully. Vintage romantic, and Hollywood glam looks are popular. Barn chic is still kind of hot. I've seen enough mason jars to last a lifetime, but they are still going strong."

What about theme weddings? "We had a Halloween wedding with lots of reds and oranges and blacks. At the head table, centerpieces were black branches, candelabras and spider webs, for a moody kind of look. We kept flowers and decor simple. Guests were encouraged to dress in costume."

"I like the baseball weddings," said Cheryl. "Renee makes bouquets that look like baseballs with white carnations in a bouquet holder. For the red threading, she uses miniature red spray roses."

Do you have a favorite flower? "I never met a flower I didn't like," said Cheryl, "but I've always loved daisies."

"It's so hard," said Renee. "Every time we make a bouquet, I say I like this one more than the last. It's like asking which one of my children I love most."

Best flowers for a budget? Daisies or a monochromatic baby's breath bouquet. Garden roses, calla lilies, orchids and peonies are on the higher end.

For information, call 618 406-2537 or go to reneesbokays.com

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