So much can bloom from adversity: Hope, art, community, purpose.
Local florist Amanda Perretta harvests all these delights and more in her dream job at Heart and Soil. The Newburgh-based floral design company where she works is famous for its locally grown, organic, sustainable arrangements, and naturalistic style.
The designs, Perretta said, “look like they just emerged from nature.“
Today she journeys throughout the Hudson Valley and beyond, bringing beauty to weddings and other events. But just a couple of years ago Perretta was in a completely different situation. After she spent over a decade as a professional hair stylist, the lockdown completely shut her industry down.
“The pandemic really gave me that opportunity to see clearly and have extra time to focus on other things that interest me,” she said. “I’ve always had a passion for floral design and a high respect for flowers, but I only ever thought that I could do hair.”
What happened next was a case study in how to pursue a passion to the fullest.
The path to floral design
Perretta started with research and experimentation at home. This soon led her to seek educators and mentors in the field.
“I did take a lot of classes with florists from all over,” she explained. “That was another benefit of being home a lot. A lot of the florists weren’t able to do certain things, so they took the opportunity to sell some classes online over Zoom. I learned a lot from famous florists who worked for high-end companies. That was a really great opportunity, because I don’t think I would have been able to do that while working at a hair salon.”
Despite receiving a crash course in floral design from top pros, the path toward a total career change was not an easy one for her to traverse. “I wrote a new résumé and reached out to florists high and low,” she said. “I kept hearing, ‘We’re not looking for help right now because of the pandemic.’”
Her lucky break finally occurred when she connected with Heart & Soil owner Kelsey Ter Meer. Of course, it was more than luck. She was ready.
“It was super-hard to find a connection with anyone else because they already formed their own connections,” she said. “It’s hard getting into a new career with such little experience. It’s hard to find that opportunity. I reached out to Kelsey, and we instantly clicked. I liked what she was all about, and her passion and drive to keep flowers sustainable.”
Sensitivity to seasonality
Having found a true mentor who shared her respect for all things natural, sustainable and organic, Perretta triumphantly completed her career change. “I did learn a lot on the job with my boss because she’s an amazing designer,” she said. “I’ve seen so much respect for each flower.”
Top-notch on-the-job training was crucial, because she soon had to spring into frenetic floral activity. Phasing out of lockdowns meant a tidal wave of weddings was about to wash over the floral design world. Again, she was ready, which was good because Heart & Soil became flooded with clients interested in their trendsetting organic designs.
“This year is the largest year for the wedding industry since 1984. Almost every weekend is one to three weddings,” she said.
All that hard work happens in some of the most beautiful places in the Hudson Valley and surroundi
ng area. Perretta pointed to the scenic grandeur of the area as a source of inspiration. She said being surrounded by nature “has given me a new appreciation” of the beauty of our area.
All of Heart & Soil’s flowers are sourced in our area. She travels all over the Catskills to acquire exquisite vegetation from the region’s best growers.
“We try to only use seasonal flowers that we can get during the time of the wedding,” she said. “All the growers are so passionate about what they do. It’s insane to see the countless hours of hard work that they’re putting into their farm. They’ll send out newsletters to us with their availability. Some will show the description of the flower and explain why they decided to grow it. It’s really cool to see the sense of care and thoughtfulness they put behind it.”
All that care and attention on the part of others changes one’s perspective and gives one a new sense of admiration towards the world of flowers, Perretta said.
Communication is key
Heart & Soil’s dedication to sustainability and respect for nature extends beyond their close relationships with eco-conscious growers. They do all they can to minimize waste in packaging and presenting their arrangements. “You don’t have to use floral foam and all these plastic containers,” she said.
The dedication for doing the right thing for nature extends throughout the entire life cycle of the flowers and foliage they use. When the party’s over, their team begins to return remaining greenery to the earth from whence it came. “When it comes to the day after or night of a breakdown, we try to recycle and reduce waste,” she said. “We are adamant about composting.”
Heart & Soil customizes each wedding package for the couple, offering the full spread of flowers you’d expect, but often in an unexpected and fresh way.
“We do the personals, which are bridal bouquets, boutineers and bridesmaids’ bouquets,” she said. “We do installation. Anything from an organic meadow going down the aisle to a ceiling install that looks like it’s literally growing out of the wall. We also do a lot of bar arrangements, statement arrangements, centerpieces. It all depends on what design client wants and what’s in the budget.”
Perretta stressed that communication is the key to getting the most out of any wedding service provider, and especially florists, who have to deal with both the art and the science of getting fresh-cut flowers from local suppliers to your ceremony.
“Whatever the client wants,” she explained, “we try to achieve it realistically. We’re super into new and funky things. We do have a certain style, but we do customize it to the client.”
What’s some advice she’d give to soon-to-be married couples currently considering how to festoon their celebration with unforgettable arrangements?
“We do a lot of check-in calls and try to touch base with them throughout the whole process,” she responded. “It’s nice to have constant communication. Picture-sharing between both client and florist is super important. It helps get everybody on the same page.”
While she does get to have fun with flowers, the truth of the matter is that wedding arrangements are hard work. There’s tons of preparation, many miles of travel, and a lot of time spent in the elements. And that’s to say nothing of the physical toll. “You kind of have to have some strength, because you’re lifting heavy objects,” she explained.
A meaningful connection
At the end of the weekend, as the flowers compost to feed the next growing cycle, Perretta sleeps well. Yes, she may be a bit exhausted from hauling flowers to multiple weddings. She’s content with putting in the hard work to make her dream job happen, and doing it in a way that reflects her dedication to preserving the beauty of nature.
“Being sustainable is super-beneficial to the land, the economy, and our society,” she said. “It’s really eye-opening for people to see the hard work and passion that goes into making the world better.”
One hopes Perretta’s story inspires others to not just do right by nature, but to do right by themselves and others. Aren’t we all trying to develop a meaningful connection with what we love? Isn’t that what jobs – and weddings – are supposed to be about?