Originally published in Flower magazine’s January-February 2014 issue.
Tucked away in rural Virginia, on a property overflowing with perennials, Holly Chapple and her husband, Evan, own and operate Holly Heider Chapple Flowers Ltd., a home-based firm that designs up to 170 weddings a year. As the mother of seven children, Holly is used to having her hands full. She attracted quite a following after starting her blog, The Full Bouquet, which led to her newest venture: Chapel Designers, a network of floral and event designers who meet annually at conference workshops in New York and California.
Flower: So, Holly, first things first. Where did your love of flowers and gardens begin? HOLLY CHAPPLE: My parents had a garden center, and I grew up in that world. But my first memory of flowers is being in the garden with my grandmother. She wintered in Florida and in the summer would come home to Virginia, where she had a house on my parents’ property. We had a little pony cart that I would ride up to her house, and she was always gardening. I really think the love of flowers is a seed or a root that, once it gets nourished, just grows.
Can you tell us about your own property in Virginia? After we had our second child, Evan and I ended up on a little 2-acre plot in Loudoun County, in the village of Lucketts. It’s loaded with peonies and lilac, spirea and viburnum—it’s just rich in flowers. We have peaches, nectarines, persimmons, and an abundance of textures and beautiful things that I can use in my designs. In peony season, we’re using every peony, and we almost take the viburnum bushes to the ground. Our flowers are a small fraction of what we use, but they’re really the most important part of the design.
How did you get started in floral design? My parents were responsible for the event décor at the Washington International Horse Show. At high-end horse shows, everything is designed almost like a garden. After years of providing bushes, trees, shrubs, and all the chrysanthemums for the show, they were approached about doing the arrangements, too. My father told them that they weren’t a flower shop but that their daughter could do them. Well, I had never professionally arranged anything. So he took me to Florida Avenue, where the wholesalers were in D.C. That was my very first job, and it was huge—a week of making large arrangements for the ends of the jump posts and for the sponsors.
A few years later, when Evan and I bought our property, we started growing rows and rows of flowers. I would take little bouquets to farmers markets, and people liked them. They started asking me to do weddings, and I just jumped in and said yes.
That’s quite an undertaking for your first job, but it doesn’t surprise us, knowing that you created Chapel Designers all on your own. How did that come about? Just like everything else, it was a happy accident. Four years ago, some designers and I were talking on Twitter, and I said, “Who wants to meet me in New York City?” All of the sudden I had about 15 people who wanted to go, so I found myself planning a little mini conference. I named it Chapel Designers—a play on my name so that I had some ownership but wasn’t about me. We had 30 people the second year, and 73 last year.
It’s clear that social media opened up many doors for you. Can you tell us a little about your blog, The Full Bouquet? When I named my blog The Full Bouquet, I didn’t mean fullness in size, but the fullness of all of the things happening in my life—my seven children, my home, my garden, the inspiring people I meet. It creates this one big beautiful arrangement. I never dreamed flowers could take me this far.
We bet you never dreamed flowers could take you all the way to Russia, where you taught workshops this past November. How did that happen? Olga and Yuriy, two Full Bouquet readers in Russia, had just started their business, Flowerbazar Studio, when they wrote me one day and said they wanted to visit, which I thought was ridiculous. So they went to Chicago, New York City, Key West, New Orleans, and then to my house in Lucketts. The next year, they signed up to come to New York with the Chapel Designers. Well, in David Beahm’s warehouse there, another Chapel Designer who speaks Russian translated while Olga and Yuriy stood up in front of everyone and said that they’ve been following my work. Before coming to my house, they had never done any weddings, and the next year they did 30. I couldn’t believe it! They said their biggest wish was for Evan and me to come to Russia—so we went. We taught workshops in Moscow and St. Petersburg. A few of the designers said they started their floral design business because of reading my blog. I find it very hard to believe that I can impact others like this, but I am thrilled it’s happening.
Do you have any floral design heroes of your own? There are so many people who have influenced me, but I would have to say Françoise Weeks in Portland, Oregon. Our design styles are very different, but she’s incredibly talented. Two years ago I went to Holland and Belgium with Laura Iarocci from Faith Flowers. It was her annual Spring European Flower Tour, and we studied with some of the finest designers in Europe, such as Rob Plattel, Haruko Noda, and Gudrun Cottenier.
What’s next for you? I see Chapel Designers growing and getting better. We’re partnering with Florabundance to host another Chapel Designers workshop in Santa Barbara in January, and our NYC conference is in March. In June I’m going with Françoise to Australia to teach at Michelle Van Eimeren’s studio in Sydney. In the fall it’s looking like a trip to the U.K. or Dubai is possible. How did this ever happen to a mom of seven kids from Lucketts, Virginia?
By Abby Waller | Photography by Genevieve Leiper