Noticing Neighbors Verdant
Up on the corner of 18th & Baltimore, there is a lush green oasis for lovers of plants and beautiful flowers. Verdant is a specialty shop with curated plants, flowers, and ceramics. Walking in the door, it feels like the world slows down a bit. Bright window light, lush green on the shelves everywhere, and a staff that checks in to make the experience accessible—no matter your track record with house plants. To learn more about the inspired shop, I had the chance to talk with Rachel. She is the Lead Floral Designer at Verdant who brings the bouquets to life.
Hayley: I will tell you, during this whole year Verdant has been such a bright spot for me. Am I saying it right? Rachel:
You can say it however you want. I think it's actually a French word, and it means “lush greenery.” So it's totally cool however you want to say it!
Hayley: Love it. Can you share a little about the shop?
Rachel: Let me back up a little bit, so I can give you some context of how I joined the team. So I moved to Kansas City in the fall of 2019, after living in Chicago for about 12 years.
I have a background in art, floral design and graphic design. I was ready for a change, and by the time we left Chicago, we were ready to move somewhere and start a garden. We were looking to build a home that we really love.
My husband's from central Kansas and we kind of just realized how endearing Kansas City is. There is this culture that was pretty evident, like things are growing, and people are thriving here. Hayley: So you liked the lifestyle. Rachel: Yeah, the lifestyle felt like what I was looking for. A little closer to home in the sense of it has a slower pace and an urban vibe.
But I need to tell you how I met Chentell, the owner. After being in Kansas City a few months, my husband and I were dining at Fox and Pearl for an anniversary dinner. I noticed the plate on the table. I was like, Wow, this is beautiful. It must be handmade. So I looked underneath it and there was a little Convivial Production stamp. And I thought, OK, lock that away, because I had no idea who Convivial was at that point.
I Googled it later and was floored. Turns out it is a ceramics studio that was a five minute drive from where we were living! So I went to one of the studio tours and introduced myself to Chentell, the owner of the ceramics shop. I learned she was going to open this Verdant botanical gift shop, and shared I would love to help in any way possible. So we connected and figured out how to make this thing real! I helped Chentell launch Verdant’s website first with all the branding, and then I worked with a family member of her’s who is a botanical illustrator on the greeting card line.
All the signage you see in there was something we collaborated on. And once we opened finally in September, I transitioned into the floral design and shopkeeper position. Hayley: Wow! Rachel: So I was moving into Kansas City, holding it openly and I met someone where everything aligns: our aesthetic aligns, our values align, and just the way I had the time to give when she needed help.
This September, it will be a year since we started working together. It's been an incredible year of opening a shop and carrying things that are meaningful for people, but accessible.
Hayley: I totally see that. The plant and bouquet space can be intimidating if people gatekeep the information. But you all are not like that. I never leave the store without having talked to someone at length, and learning something new. Rachel: It warms my heart to hear you say that, because that's a huge value for Chentell. So I jumped in there with the flowers and I really love it. I love working with my hands. Like getting off the computer is something that just really translates—I think when you're an artist, you're probably an artist through and through. So for me, it’s a very easy and enjoyable process to build these designer bouquets. A lot of it is taking the flowers and letting them do their thing. That's the long and short of it.
It looks like such a fun process. How do you get started?
Rachel: There are so many variables informing what we buy, and we're working hard to source more material from local growers because we're going through a lot of material every week. Usually every week I'm going into the wholesaler or talking with growers and asking, “What do you have for me?” Then I build the color palette around what our growers have. We like to keep it within our signature look. Hayley: How would you describe the look? Rachel: I would describe it as more of a nuanced tonal story. It's not super contrasting, but we like the idea that if you have a normal flower like a rose, something that sets it apart is either its color, its shape or its fragrance.
So even carnations, you can find red and blue and weird colors all over the place. But we want to find the tones that are neutral and maybe unexpected. It’s been really fun to establish that.
What goes into your decision to buy?
Rachel: We're always thinking about seasonality. We're thinking about what's available, and we're thinking about texture and fragrance and how we can bridge a couple of colors into one story. So we try not to overwhelm you, but sometimes it's unexpected! So that's fun for me. It's part of the magic. I can go in and see what is speaking to me.
Is that an every day magic?
Rachel: Oh yeah, just the other day there was this really lovely mandarin orange color. Then I ran into some butterfly ranunculus in three different colors: a cream, a bronze, and a burgundy. So I thought, OK, I know that these are complementary of each other. It’s so much about being in the moment. I'm a visual and tactile person, so being able to physically pick up the flowers and put them next to each other and see how they're interacting is very fun for me. Hayley:
Do you get led from one choice to the next, or do you have an idea beforehand of what shape you want? Rachel: It's a great question. Yeah, it is different each time, but there are some common choices. I love to have a focal flower for sure. That’s always the facing flower for me. So when you're looking at it you know: oh, that's the star, she's just facing and she's beautiful and she's just going to inform everything else.
So with our designers, we like to start with the foundation of greenery to give us our shape. Then we know to look for stems that have gesture. For example, I mentioned the butterfly ranunculus, they have this really lovely, playful shape to them. We want to let that be on display, too. I'm constantly looking for some kind of flower each week that shows off in that way. Sometimes it's grass because it has this really lovely bend. Those are the things we kind of look for. Your focal facing flower, greenery as your foundation, some texture and some gestural pieces. Once you know the foundations of it, it becomes second nature for you.
Hayley: Do you explain it to the customer, too?
Rachel: We like to talk about it at the counter. We will point out the features: this bunny tail is so feathery and textural, and this grevillea has a really shimmery color palette. Part of what Chentell and I love about Verdant, too, is the storytelling aspect of empowering our customers to understand what it’s called, why we love it and why we chose it. That way you can appreciate it even more. Hayley:
There's a craft to that, and then I would think there's also an intention behind it because you know it's going out and you know what it means for people. Do you ever feel that when you're making it?
Rachel: Oh, you just gave me chills hearing you say that. It's like you've heard me talk about this before or something. For me, I really love the aspect of how Verdant delights people.
Chentell originally told me how she wanted Verdant to be a space that is for delighting in something, or for gifting that delight to someone else. I just love the word delight. It's like we’re bringing joy.
Hayley: You’re glowing when you talk about this, by the way. It’s so evident how much you believe in what you do. Rachel: Completely! It's savoring, it's appreciating, it's having a reverence for what you love. And I mean, nature always resets me anyway. It's just a way of grounding. And who doesn't love a plant or a flower, you know? Hayley: Absolutely. Rachel: Some of the things that we've seen in the past year through the pandemic are people coming in because they're grieving, or they're looking to cheer people up. And I don't take that lightly. I think when someone comes and says, I just lost my grandmother or I put my dog down—it’s just been this time where everything feels like one more thing.
I'm so glad that we can brighten someone's day. It’s not just about the pieces that are a real investment, although I love those bigger pieces too. But we really try to provide things that are accessible for everyone. So if you come in and you're ready to buy the big planter, awesome. But if you're coming in, and just need one or two stems then we have that, too.
I feel that intention coming into the shop, and I need to tell you the one experience I had that made the shop next level for me. Rachel: Aw, tell me! Hayley: So, yeah, you're right. There's a lot going on in the world. I have a best friend that was displaced last year due to the power outage in Texas, and it had a domino effect of unfortunate events happen in her life. She and her husband had to start over and were really unsure of what they were doing for a bit. And I was just like: I can't go down there, I can't do anything. But I came into Verdant and saw the letter writing station. Rachel: Yes!
Hayley: Those cards are gorgeous. And I was just like, you know, that's something I can do. I can send a really beautiful card to where they’re staying during this transition. It said Darling or Queen on it, something like that—
Rachel: Love it! Yes.
Hayley: So I sat at one of the letter writing stations and wrote it right then and there. I put a message, a quick poem in it, and also bought lavender seeds. I asked for Jen's advice on picking a seed that means something, and she taught me about lavender. She said it promotes peace and healing, so I was able to put that inside the card.
Rachel: Yes, good choice. Hayley:
Once I got to the register I was told, “Hey! We will mail it for you.” It was just beautiful. I have never experienced that anywhere else. Rachel: We definitely love our Letter Writing Program. I think Chentelle is really great at identifying pain points for people and bringing something new to it. In her personal life she’s a letter writer, and she has a wonderful script, too. So it just made sense that she wanted to make cards and design them in house. Hayley: They’re very unique.
Rachel: She wanted them to be nostalgic and timeless and classic, and like hearken back to the botanical illustration of encyclopedias. It's so familiar to everyone, and yet new at the same time. It was important for her to provide all kinds of cards, so we actually pulled our whole team last year and asked what kinds of sentiments were missing. Like, I can't find this card or I want this card.
There was a lot of surveying and it was quite a process, but so satisfying to step back and know they were going to serve a purpose for people.
Hayley: I love the messaging. Who came up with the idea of sending it at the shop?
Rachel: Chantelle saw that. She wanted us to have stamps and pens at the ready for people. It’s important to tell people about it, because it’s unexpected. There's a letter box outside, and once you tell them they can find one of our sitting spots to write, it's like an experience.
I often think about how we are greeting people when they walk in the door. And are they getting to experience the physical warmth of not just being welcomed, but also feeling comfortable enough to sit down on a bench and write something! Hayley: Yes. Rachel: It’s something that, you know, is just rare. There's not a lot of space in the shop, but I think just giving people permission to take time, even if you want to just sit down and journal, be our guest.
Hayley: So, I have a broad question. You can answer this however feels right to you. How have you seen goodness in the people that come into the shop?
Rachel: Oh, that's a great question. I'm just so inspired by people's thoughtfulness and gift giving. And that includes the way we treat ourselves. I love seeing people come back for our floral program where you buy 10 and you get one free, and they’re on their fifth or sixth stamp and they’ll tell me: “I’m doing it! I’m keeping up and treating myself each week!” And they are so proud.
I love seeing that, like the kindness towards yourself.
Rachel: And I get it, because sometimes I’m guilty of letting that care slip too. But you’ve got to take care of your own creative soul, and your soul needs that soothing. Hayley: So true. Rachel: It's actually been kind of fun to see our team get in on it. They’re like: “I'm treating myself and getting this limited edition ceramic! Or this plant that just came in!” People on our team are in love with plants, and are passionate about learning about them.
And is it work? Yes, it's hard work. Like, we care so much. We're learning how to do it right. To be efficient, to scale healthily, to make sure that you guys are getting the most value as our customers. We're vigilant about that. So it is hard work, but overall, our team is full of people who genuinely have creative, warm, tender souls and really care about how we treat one another.
Hayley: You are in such a neat position to oversee that.
Rachel: I kind of see myself as a guide. When you come into the shop, I'm just guiding you to care for yourself. Or to choose something you can really feel great about when you gift it and feel confident. Because I want to explain the care instructions in a way that empowers you.
I focus on how the person feels walking out of here, too. How can I help this person walk out feeling triumphant? How can we share some moments so they are cared for? It’s ongoing work, and I like helping people feel like the hero in their day.