Kelsey is a florist and gardener based in Richmond, VA. After working in NYC's floral district and in farms along the east coast, she recently returned to Richmond and opened up a flower shop and studio, Old Time Feeling. Kelsey is currently saving and planning for a rehabilitative public garden that she hopes to build in Northside, where her studio is located. We got to stop by the shop and snap some photos of her hard at work (from a safe social distance!) and learn a little more about her story. Check out our interview with her below!
Where are you from? Where are you now and how did you end up there?
I am from a teeny-tiny town in southwestern Kentucky called Hazel, minutes away from the Tennessee border. I grew up there and in a neighboring small town called Murray until I was 23. I’m currently in Richmond, VA. I came here for the first time after college and lived here for nearly 6 years before moving to New York City. I ended up back in Richmond after meeting another former Richmonder out in Shenandoah Valley at the end of 2019. We were both working on farms and it was the end of the season — crunch time to figure out the next thing. Luckily, we’d both previously worked in restaurants in Richmond — the good kind, the familial kind — so a new-old job, new and old friends, and all the effortless ease of Richmond lured me back again in December.
"I think flowers and horticulture became a way for me to use both sides of my brain, as well as my hands and body, to create something outside of myself that can live on long after I’m gone."
What first got you interested in flowers and horticulture?
Everyone in my family for generations (as far back as we know) has been farmers. I grew up working on the farm, mostly with tobacco, and really resented it as a kid. Still, I felt a deep connection with nature that I didn’t fully understand until I got older. I didn’t want to be a farmer or study agriculture in college, much to the chagrin of my parents. My parents went along with my English degree only because I promised I’d be a teacher when I finished school, but it turns out I can’t sit still long enough to read and write full-time. I tried my hand at selling vintage clothing and furniture — I even had a vintage store in Kentucky — which was fun and physical in a way that I liked, but the fashion and lifestyle industries frustrated me to no end and left me feeling anxious. Around this time, I started getting into gardening as a way to relax and as a therapeutic outlet. I went from working at a well-known clothing retailer to an organic farm before moving to Richmond, a city that charmed me in large part because of its gardens and southern microclimate. I started gardening, working in a restaurant, and got a fairly consistent gig freelancing for a wedding florist. I finally found some peace in my life. I think flowers and horticulture became a way for me to use both sides of my brain, as well as my hands and body, to create something outside of myself that can live on long after I’m gone — in the way that art does, perhaps. So it wasn’t just the intoxicating beauty of nature that brought me into horticulture work, but a much grander struggle as I tried to find and understand “my thing” or “my path.”
Has farming/gardening/tending flowers taught you any valuable life lessons?
Tons! Patience, grace, forgiveness, the fleeting nature of life, the value and pride that come with hard work that you can see, smell, taste, and enjoy.
I know you have worked in flower shops, flower farms, as well as event and private styling. Tell us a little about your varied experience within the industry and how that brought you to where you are today.
I got my official start in the industry working for a wedding florist in Richmond — Rhea of Photosynthesis. I learned a ton from her, and I am forever grateful for that, but I also learned that I don’t care much for the wedding industry as a whole. I moved to NYC to work for a really talented designer and businesswoman, Taylor of Fox Fodder Farm, where I assisted in their Chinatown shop. This was my first time working in a flower shop though I’d been professionally working with flowers for over 5 years. Trying to mimic someone else’s design style was really difficult and frustrating for me, and I ended up getting recruited to manage and run a flower shop and small garden at a luxury retail store. In that year, I eventually conquered the quite intimidating flower district, which was challenging but extremely rewarding. What I realized throughout this time was that working towards other peoples’ visions, especially people who knew nothing about plants or flowers, did not leave me in a very good mood. I ended up quitting the job and going to England (a.k.a. garden Mecca) for a month at the beginning of 2019, where I had the great privilege of spending time getting to know various gardeners at Oxford University and visiting a few of the country’s most prestigious estate gardens. I knew then that what I really wanted to be was a gardener. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay in NYC, so I bounced around for a couple months before taking an internship on a huge flower farm and wedding venue in the Shenandoah Valley. I spent six months on the farm, confirming for myself that I also didn’t want to be a flower farmer, but wanted to continue gardening and designing. After applying to and getting rejected by A LOT of public garden jobs and programs in NYC and England, I ended up back in Richmond in December 2019 — luckily in a Northside house with plenty of room to grow. Then Corona hit! It pushed my dreams and passions into high gear and I’ve been running on that energy since then.
"I started the flower shop with the intention and ultimate goal of creating a public garden — ideally in this neighborhood — that is educational, vocational, and therapeutic."
Is there a job or period you are most proud of?
I think I’m most proud of where I’m now, mostly because I’m finally giving my work and my dreams the attention and care they deserve.
Tell us about the new studio/shop and how you see it evolving. It’s on Brookland Park Ave, with majority Black owned businesses. What are you doing to engage and integrate with the community?
When I moved to the Brookland Park area, just a couple of blocks from what I had no idea would become Old Time Feeling, I didn’t know a lot about the neighborhood. But I quickly noticed that it had been gentrified a great deal since I’d been in Richmond a few years before. The rampant gentrification was a big part of my hesitation to rent a space in this neighborhood as a white person, but I also knew that my neighbors — whether born and raised here or not — were interested in flowers and plants. I’ve found that this is truly a neighborhood of gardeners and growers, so I hope that I’m a necessary and useful tool to the community as I’m able to provide plants, soil, compost, etc. to those who need it. I’ve been so fortunate to get to know a lot of my neighbors and hear their stories. It's taught me a lot about what it means to be a neighbor and good person — and I know I have a lot to learn.
In terms of the evolution of the business, I started it with the intention and ultimate goal of creating a public garden — ideally in this neighborhood — that is educational, vocational, and therapeutic. This goal was inspired by my friend and future business partner, Becca, who is a horticultural therapist that’s been working with incarcerated people at Rikers Island for over 4 years. Our 5-year plan is to develop and build a public horticultural and rehabilitative garden for the community in Brookland Park and the surrounding areas. I hope to be able to continue to connect with people through the work I do, and eventually give back in the form of the public garden. I truly believe that horticulture holds healing power for everyone.