We interviewed horticulturist/nurseryman Flora to find out more about her creative process and her company Flora Grubb Gardens, which she has run for the last 20 years.
How did Flora Grubb come to be?
Plants have been a primary focus of my life since childhood. I never could have imagined what Flora Grubb Gardens would become. It is beyond my wildest dreams.
I am self taught. I worked with some really generous people who ran small businesses who taught me some things. I got a truck and started landscaping independently in Austin, Texas where I was raised. I moved to the Bay Area during the boom in 1999. I moved here because the plants were mind blowing and I loved the climate. I worked on the internet for long enough to learn how to use a computer, which I’ve always been really grateful for. I worked for software companies and I studied the local plants and gardens. I spent tons of time at the botanical gardens and when I felt I knew enough, I started landscaping again. It seems really cheeky in retrospect, to just start landscaping with so little experience, but that is what I did. I met my business partner when I created a garden for him. We bought a small nursery in the Mission District of San Francisco. We fixed it up a bit and just started operating it. Neither of us had any relevant experience. Neither of us had ever worked at a nursery or in any store actually. So we were not attached to any of the conventions of how to operate a Garden Store. People loved what we were doing and it just kept growing.
As a creative, what’s your favorite part of running your business?
After 20 years, my favorite part is the collaborative reinvention. I love working with my crew and seeing how the business can evolve while supporting the creativity of all of the individuals involved.
How would you describe your creative process, and what part of your process makes you the happiest?
Our store is built to be like a garden, but more like a dream of a garden. A wonderland. After twenty years, I never get tired of endlessly rearranging the pieces to make it beautiful again. It is my favorite part of the work. Inspiring our customers with combinations of textures and colors never gets old for me.
What is a part of your work that you never would have expected to enjoy as much as you do?
I would not have guessed that at 50 I'd still love to spend every day on my feet on the sales floor. It is still fun and invigorating.
What place that you have traveled to has altered your business the most?
It is always a visit to someone's private garden that gets me thinking differently about what I am doing.
What’s one mistake you’ve made in the past 20 years that you would take back, and what would you do differently?
It took me a long time to get comfortable with giving very direct and specific instruction. I caused a lot of pain for myself and others by being unable or unwilling to communicate directly, especially when I needed to say difficult things. I wish I had pushed myself way harder way earlier in my career to communicate directly.
What is one thing you must do everyday to stay sane?
Hold the people I meet in love, and never take my work too seriously.
Which Mi Cocina product is your favorite, and why?
The Apron you made for me! A good apron is so freeing. Your pockets are full of everything you need, you don’t have to worry about getting dirty. Taking it off at the end of the day is a nice ritual, and putting it on means the fun is beginning…
Exclusive drop available in LA and SF Flora Grubb Locations. Only while supplies last!
What is your favorite meal you’ve ever cooked for someone you love?
All of my best meals are salads. I make wonderful salads. They are like gardens.
What are you most proud of about yourself right now?
My willingness to adapt to change.
What is something you want to learn how to do?
Place and focus my attention wherever I’d like to, for as long as I’d like to.
What is your go-to movie when you need a mood boost?
I’d never watch a movie to boost my mood. I’d always go outside.
What is your favorite month of the year? What flower would you assign to that month and why?
I love September, which is often the warmest month in the San Francisco Bay area. The Hops are in bloom. I love their green flowers.
What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned since starting your business?
Gratitude must be primary, and the drive to improve must be secondary. My drive to make something that continues to be really good comes from being chronically dissatisfied with the way things currently are. I always see what needs to be improved upon, every little and big thing. There was a time that this just made me pretty unhappy. That critical eye and dissatisfaction permeated my experience, so that walking into my own store felt like being trapped in an endless to-do list. Instead I had to learn to find pleasure in the beauty of what I’ve created even as I am always driving to make it better. My primary focus must be on how beautiful it is and how happy it makes people, while still focusing on what needs to happen next. I had to learn not to think of the to-do list as a list of problems. Instead it is just a list of things to be done. It is a subtle difference in attitude that has a huge impact on my well-being.
Listen to Flora's favorite tunes here!