Floral Designs by Justine is a dream come true for CAHNR alumna Justine Leeper. Leeper’s Bethlehem floral shop grew out of a passion that began for her at age 14 and continued in her major and minor. Her abilities are still growing. Here is what she said in an interview.
What was your major in the College? When did you graduate? With what degree? I got a BS in 2014. I majored in horticulture and minored in agribusiness management.
What class was most useful to you? I think the business management and marketing classes are helpful for what I am doing now in my own floral design business. The plant ID course is useful in my garden center job.
Tell us some of your fond memories of UConn. I remember the professors, especially Jim Palmieri, who was the advisor for the Horticulture Club. I was president of the club during my junior and senior years. We participated in the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show in Hartford. It was a lot of work to force plants to bloom out of season and set up the 20-foot display, but the club won awards for it.
In addition, I enjoyed meeting so many people in CAHNR. Because it was a smaller college, it gave us the opportunity to take some classes with people who had other majors in CAHNR.
Please describe your current job. I own Floral Designs by Justine. This is my third full year of doing everything from start to finish down to the finest details. I meet with clients, prepare estimates, order flowers, grow flowers, make the floral designs and deliver the orders. If requested, I pin the boutonniere on the groom.
I design for big events, which might require 20 to 25 centerpieces. I also do holiday arrangements. However, I especially like brides and weddings and have 30 weddings booked right now. I do all of this out of the space in my garage.
In addition, I am a longtime employee of a garden center called The Garden in Woodbury. I work in the houseplant greenhouses, create visual designs for the gift store and do some buying.
Are you doing what you imagined you would be doing at this point in your life? I went to Nonnewaug High School to study animal science. All that time, my real goal was to have a floral shop. Now I have it! I am happy. I am not making millions, but I am debt-free.
Do you have any advice for current students that will help them in the future? 1) Do what you love. My parents encouraged me to do this. I am glad I followed my heart.
2) If you want to own your own business, go for it. I know there are risks, but I urge you not to be scared. You can grow yourself with the business and be your own boss.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you? I like to make designs that are funky, fun and out of the ordinary. For example, I do the arrangements for a restaurant. One time, I incorporated kale in it. I have a 700 square-foot cut flower garden that I use in my work. Plus, I trade flowers and foliage with my neighbors.
The Pantone color of the year is “greenery,” which I love because it encourages the use of textures and foliage. This fits with the trend in the bridal floral industry to have bouquets that are wild and go with the flow of the flower instead of being tight and round.
I have grown in my design experience and am expanding what I can do. Every year I get better. Note: To see how she has grown, see the undergraduate profile we did of her in 2014.
By Patsy Evans