Erin Weston of Weston Farms grew up appreciating the land, as her late father, Noel Weston, was the horticulturist for the city of Raleigh. After college she headed off to New York but felt the pull of her family farm leading her back to North Carolina. In 2002, she moved and started cultivating magnolia trees, scouring the globe for the best specimens, with help from her father.
She started humbly, selling wreaths made from foliage cut her grandmother’s magnolia tree at local farmers markets. Today Weston Farms grows 10,000 magnolia trees and ships nationwide, and Erin creates installations at art museums, trade shows, and more. But until recently, the farm-fresh foliage was sold without the beloved but fleeting magnolia bloom.
“The ephemeral nature of real magnolia blooms prompted us to seek out an alternative floral to pair with the farm’s fresh foliage, which dries beautifully and lasts for years,” says Erin.
Collaboration in Bloom
In her quest for a faux magnolia bloom worthy of the Weston Farms name, Erin found an ideal partner in Ed Glenn of New Growth Designs. Ed considers himself a copyist of nature and has roots in the fresh flower industry. In the 1990s, he was working in his family-owned, second-generation flower shop in Greenville, North Carolina. He and his wife, Jef, had made a name for themselves as floral designers, creating signature projects that led to decorating events at the White House and various State dinners. However, due to shipping delays, weather, and other unavoidable challenges common in the fresh flower industry, Ed began looking for high-quality alternatives to fresh and the couple founded New Growth Designs.
In May 2019, when the magnolias began flowering at Weston Farms, Erin and Ed began collaborating to create a botanically accurate faux southern magnolia bloom, examining every detail to replicate nature in its peak beauty. Using nature’s design as the model is no easy task. The bloom season is short, and the blooms last only a few hours.
“I see Ed’s role as that of an artist in a quest for capturing nature in that moment of glory when it is the most beautiful,” says Erin. “I’d never considered faux magnolia blooms in our magnolia designs to accompany our long-lasting leaves at Weston Farms because I just couldn’t find anything to match what bloomed on our trees. Most botanical replicas of magnolia are full of inaccuracies and flights of the imagination.”
Erin collected, dissected, and photographed hundreds of flowers at the farm and sent them to Ed at his workshop in China. There, with the artisans he’s worked with for more than 30 years, they began creating an archival copy of the Weston Farms bloom. Workers made samples by hand and sent them back to North Carolina for feedback; each round became a step closer to capturing this ephemeral flower.
“The result of hundreds of hours of work, circling the globe, and scouring the fields have resulted in what we believe to be the best magnolia blossom in the market,” says Erin. As a student of art history, she notes that “many blooms of magnolia captured in art actually do not look real. We have tried to go back to nature and study the bloom.”
Each faux bloom comes with a clip that makes it easy to attach to any fresh foliage, wreath, or garland. This component is a legacy of Erin’s father, who insisted on the clip before he passed away. “He was right,” she says. “It is so practical and makes using the bloom so easy. He would be happy to know we followed his lead. When faux meets fresh it all comes to life.”
By Alice Welsh Doyle