Mother to Patrick // Owner of Periwinkle Flowers

Written by Jessica Gedge // Photographed by Joelle Segal

If you ever want to be transported to a floral dreamland in the middle of the city, visit Jess at Periwinkle. We’ve known Jess since our days at ReBash, and she’s been a literal ray of sunshine ever since our first meeting. With her bright and positive attitude, being a florist is the absolute perfect fit. We covered some interesting topics during our discussion, like a partnership break-up, the ever-changing landscape of retail, and the strategies she uses to balance life as a business-owner. 

What did you do before you had your business?

Flowers have always been part of my life and when I was 19 years old I went to college to study floristry before working for various downtown floral studios. My whole family has the entrepreneurial bug so I guess it isn’t surprising that I decided to open my own business doing what I love, and that I didn’t wait very long to do it! I opened a shop (also called Periwinkle Flowers) with a business partner and had that company for 13 years before closing in 2013 when she left. I couldn’t leave flowers though, they have my heart for sure, so I opened up my current shop by myself, moved to a different part of the city and changed just about everything to make it exactly how I wanted.

Wow, a family of entrepreneurs!

Yes – both my brothers opened a cabinetry business together, my mom ran a daycare and my dad had a bookstore. My sister is an artist. From a young age I was encouraged to be creative and remember typing out my own gardening magazines!

What is your favourite part of your business and why?

Working with such gorgeous flowers is, of course, the best thing ever. You just can’t be sad when you are surrounded by such amazing beauty. But other than the obvious lovely flowers, I’m somewhat obsessed with the puzzle of retail. It truly fascinates me. I love having to constantly be thinking of new ways to get possible customers attention- dreaming up our monthly DIY bar activities or brainstorming collaborations with other businesses. We theme each season at the shop with new displays outside and in to keep people’s attention and show our creativity so I get to dream up things like a massive installation of colourful streamers under our shop awning that we did last summer, and then make it a reality with little to no budget and never enough time! So many florists either never go into retail or start that way but transition to being event studios, but I can’t imagine ever wanting to do that.

How do you carve out time for yourself?

If I’m honest, I wasn’t very good at doing this for the first few years, which I think is important to acknowledge. Very often it was just not possible to fit anything else into my schedule and I was somewhat overwhelmed with juggling parenthood with business life. One thing I do have is a really amazing group of women friends, and in the past five or so years I’ve worked hard at strengthening those relationships and making time with them more of a priority, even if that means just checking in with each other via a quick text. We are all busy and all have very full plates but I’m trying hard to not give in to the urge to say I’m too tired or too busy and instead meet up for a quick coffee or short breakfast date to connect. I always feel better. I also organize a monthly craft night with my amazing staff and a few friends here at the shop, and again want to acknowledge that I have to work hard not to blow it off times that I’m having a busy week or feeling too scheduled. Spending a couple of hours just chatting and doing something creative that isn’t work has brought such joy to my life and strengthened the friendships I have with these wonderful ladies. My work schedule isn’t very regular, sometimes I can go several weeks without a day off, but I try to take at least one day off a week when I can that my kid is home for too and we get out for a bike ride to the island or hike through the Don Valley Trail. Being out surrounded by trees is very calming.

Does the nature of your work, being bricks and mortar, plays a part in how you organize your time?

Definitely having a physical location helps – I don’t know how people who work from home do it, since it would be hard to split between regular home responsibilities and work since it’s all in one place. There are things I literally cannot do at home for Periwinkle (create arrangements, sell to customers) so I cherish the time I make at home. 

When you’re home, do you have a go-to dinner recipe that makes life easier?

Full disclosure here – I very rarely do the dinner cooking! I’m usually the last one in the door so my husband has dinner ready and waiting when I get in, which is incredibly, amazingly wonderful. He is a very good cook, certainly far better than I am. On the rare days I do make the dinner it’s usually one of my three standby recipes such as spicy sausage with lentil and kale soup (I’m good with the soups!). I do make a mean poached egg on toast for Sunday breakfast though.

How do you stay organized at work?

I’m a list addict! I carry my notebook everywhere and have finally managed to be disciplined at keeping everything in the one book – ideas, to do lists, project notes etc. I also use a paper planner to write down appointments. I do use Google docs and Google Keep to hold things that I want to be able to access from anywhere. Running a small team I still find challenging. My staff all work part-time with me so I try to be good about keeping them up to date on the constant flow of ideas and projects happening in my brain.  

What about at home?

At home we have a wall calendar in the kitchen that I try to keep updated with my work days and our personal appointments etc. so my husband and son can see if I’m available for family things or not. It’s a daily challenge to keep it all organized, I often feel that there must be a simpler way to streamline it all but I haven’t found a system that works perfectly for me yet. The reality of being the owner of this type of business and wearing all the hats is that I’m constantly interrupted, there’s never a full day working on one project. I sometimes find I feel scattered and a bit too reactive, and those are the times I have to carve out space in my day to write things down and make a plan.

Tell us about your team.

My team is amazing – they each have other jobs that they are involved in since their work here is part-time- which include photography, textile design and social work. So I have a great group of people that I admire and respect who each bring a unique perspective to the business and are bringing their amazing talents to the table each and every day.

People, especially in the creative industries, often talk about ‘Community over Competition’ – what are your thoughts on that?

I like to support local businesses and creatives and have close industry friends, so I do believe in community over competition. There’s room for all of us doing what we love to do. I’m a member of a local flower collective where it’s a great opportunity to exchange ideas and communicate with others in the industry, meet new people and keep current with trends. It’s a great movement for the floral industry and supports a lot of micro-growers. 

Can you describe what it was like having your son and starting your business? 

My son is 13 now, but when he was born I had a business partner so luckily I was able to take 6 months “off” to be with him and we hired a freelancer designer to cover for me at the shop if needed. I still did paperwork and the bookkeeping at home and went into the shop with him once a week as well as covering weekends when my business partner wanted to be off and when we had events. My husband also took 9 months of parental leave that saw my son through to one year old which was amazing to have. From there we couldn’t find any daycare spaces close enough to us so my husband worked a night shift and I worked days, and we took opposite days off. It was hard. In the mornings I’d wake up super early to take my son outside and tire him out then put him down for a nap while my husband finished getting some sleep so I could head to work. At the end of the day I’d come home and meet my husband at the door as he handed our baby off to me on his way out. We didn’t get to spend much time together as a couple or as a family. We did that for 4 years until my son went to all day kindergarten at which point my husband switched to a shift that starts super early. I am home with Patrick in the morning before school and Tony is there for him after school, and I arrive home for a late supper. We don’t have any relatives in the city for emergency babysitting which has made it hard to juggle sick days. Basically, if my son can’t be at school he’s with me at work. We really relish our family time together after not having it for so long, so we’ve never even left Patrick with a babysitter for an evening out, we just all go out together! Now that he’s older it’s so much easier, but ever since he was a baby he’s been hanging out at the shop with me for weekends if my husband is working or summer “vacation” (we call it Camp Periwinkle).

Periwinkle started off as a partnership. What was that experience like?

To be honest it felt like a bad divorce getting out of the partnership. I was left in the old shop space and it just didn’t fit who I was at that point. I realized I didn’t have to stay there and when the opportunity arose to move, it reinvigorated how I thought about the business and it occurred to me I could rethink everything about the business and make decisions on my own. The possibilities really opened up, I didn’t have as much trepidation as I did before. 

Those first few years sound really challenging. What have you found to be the biggest struggles since then?

For a long time I really struggled with guilt. I felt like I was never able to give my best to both the business and my child, so often I felt I was only managing to do a mediocre job at both. The first 6 years were the hardest. Patrick still has to come with me to the flower market sometimes, or set up an event with me, which is great because I’m getting to hang out with him (he’s really good company!) but I struggled for years with feeling unprofessional because I’d have my 5 year old sitting in the corner of the hall while I was setting the tables up for a wedding. Funny thing is, no one ever commented negatively on it, in fact everyone has always been lovely and gracious about it and offered him food & drink while he waited. So I think that I was creating a problem where it didn’t exist. Truth is, being a working parent is hard, adding in the fact that you are working for yourself just makes it harder in some ways and easier in others. It took me a while to realize that being a good mother isn’t about whether I’m there at the end of the school day or not, nor is it about giving him the idyllic childhood I had. We’re writing our own story and I’m doing just fine.

What is your daily uniform?

In my head I wear floral dresses with pretty sandals, but in reality it’s handmade cotton tops with my jeans and converse sneakers. My day-to-day is diverse, sometimes I’m sitting in a client meeting in the morning but then loading up the truck with heavy arrangements, or hauling branches into an event setup so I need to be able to get a bit dirty or wet without worrying. I’m also on my feet a lot of the time so the sneakers are a necessity.

Being so visual, do you have any Instagram accounts that you’re loving?

Instagram has been eye-opening for me. We all fall into the curation trap but it’s been so game-changing for my business since everything we do is visual. I’m so inspired by seeing people’s ideas and concepts and sharing what we’re doing also. But it’s important to be aware that everything we see is controlled and a version of what the author wants us to see, and not to get sucked into the idea of perfection.

On the business side I adore @electricdaisyflowerfarm, a U.K. based small flower farm and florist. The feed is inspiring and the florist behind it is incredibly talented. This is a second career for her at a later point in her life and she doesn’t have formal training so I love that she does things in different ways because she didn’t learn the standard method, it helps keep me thinking out of the box. And frankly it’s good to see a florist closer to my age having some instafame. On my personal account I’m obsessed with @aestheticsofjoy which is a colour-filled feed focusing on how we actually find joy through everyday moments in life.

Do you have any books you’d recommend?

Business-wise, the two books by Fiona Humberstone Brand Brilliance and How to Style Your Brand – on finding brand clarity have been amazingly helpful in the past couple of years as I’ve honed in on what I want my business to truly feel like. It was enormously helpful as we worked through a rebrand for the shop, which we’re in the middle of launching now. I’ve also just finished How to Own the Room by Viv Groskop. I listen to her podcast and have found that and the book very helpful in getting to grips with being more authoritative in meetings with clients as well as feeling more assertive and speaking up when meeting with some business committees I’m part of.

Has parenting changed the way you run your business, or vice versa?

Yes, absolutely! Being a mom means that I have someone relying on me to show up outside of the business. Before Patrick I would go in early, stay late and happily work everyday. Now I am far more organized and far more disciplined about scheduling days off, vacation time and will schedule extra staff in rather than stay late myself to get projects done. I’ve not had to turn down any business yet but have had to ask clients to make changes to expectations – for example the shop doesn’t open before 10am because I’m the parent at home getting my kid up and ready for school. If someone needs a breakfast event delivered it can’t often happen at 6am so I negotiate delivery the day before. I do think it is important that my son sees his mother having priorities and a life outside of being a mother, and that he understands that being an adult with a business and a parent is a balance and that sometimes you have to make concessions to one or the other without that meaning you value either less. I am very aware of making sure Patrick gets to see the fails as well as the wins. I don’t think we do kids any favours in hiding the realities of the world from them, they need to see that you can try something, not be able to make it work and then see you still be ok. And I have to say, my kiddo is actually really good to talk to about the business now! He’s only 13 but for the past couple of years I’ll chat him about ideas I have or issues I’m facing while we’re out riding our bikes or hiking together and he has really great ideas, things that wouldn’t occur to me. I guess because he’s young so limitations that I see, he doesn’t. I know that sounds a little crazy, but he’s a smart guy and has helped me come up with some very creative solutions to things.

We learned so much from Jess and, like many of our chats with inspiring founders, could have spent so much more time with her. What especially struck a chord with us was her positive attitude and the balance she has developed between being creative and business-savvy. For more about Jess (and to check out her brand new signage and branding!) visit her website and Instagram.