Suzanne O’Brien, Floral Designer, On Having Her Dream Career, and Showing Her Kids They Can Too

I appreciate that my kids see me living my dream. I didn’t settle for the average 9 – 5. I’m living my dream. I made it happen, and so can they.

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Suzanne is a specialist in event floral design with over 18 years in the floral design industry. She started her company, Garden Of Weedon Designs to bring the highest level of quality, care, knowledge, and boutique floral designs for any special event. Suzanne graduated in environmental horticulture from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and returned to floral design once she made her move to the Sacramento area. There is nothing Suzanne enjoys more than designing with flowers and she is passionate about the education of floral design. She is currently a floral design instructor at American River College.

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Tell us a little bit about your history. How did you end up in floral design?

I have always loved flowers and plants since childhood. My parents spent a lot of time working in the yard. Our family time was centered around our backyard pool and so the yard and garden was high priority. We had many flowering plants that I would cut and make arrangements with at an early age. I loved spending time in garden nurseries and aspired to have a career based around plants. I didn’t actually plan to make a career designing with flowers but here I am! I began with a job in college and tried to work in other areas of Horticulture after earning my degree in Environmental Horticulture from Cal Poly but all roads led back to flowers.

What attracted you to working with flowers?

I’ve always been attracted to flowers and naturally enjoyed arranging them at a young age. I had a small garden in my parents yard my first year in college and I loved my blooming roses and blooming annuals. I worked on an iris farm in college and loved being around the smell and beautiful flowers. I also grew flowers in college to sell and just loved being around those fresh flowers from growing to harvest. I would say my passion was first and was followed by the need to have a job. I kind of stumbled into my first floral job and it developed from there.

What’s your favorite flower?

Choosing one favorite flower is tough! I think listing my least favorite would be easier because I love so many. I love the soft romantic flowers Ranunculus, Peony, and English Garden Roses as much as the wild and almost weedy textures of Eryngium (thistle) , proteas, pompas grass and I absolutely love blending the two styles together. I’m a sucker for succulents!

Do you have a signature style when it comes to your designs? What’s your process for creating your beautiful arrangements and where do you look for inspiration?

For myself I love romantic blooms with a mix of rustic textures. I have a hard time explaining my signature style. My style definitely changes with the times and with trends. If I look back 5-10 years my work is so different from what I’m designing today. I definitely see elements that are similar but the styles and trends change over time. 90 % of my work revolves around my clients floral aspirations for their wedding day so I take into account what style is important to them and then do my magic to design and come through with the concept for them. 10% of my business is FRIDAY FLOWERS and that has been interesting to see how my designs have changed in just one year of regular work. The style is similar but can be so different as a composition based on the materials being used and how they work together. I can say with great confidence in my 9 years of business I have never replicated any piece for any of my wedding clients and that’s very important to me.

What would you say is the biggest challenge you’ve had to deal with in your business?

The biggest challenge in my business due to the fact that it focuses on event design is the schedule. First of all every year is different. I may have more Spring and Fall Weddings one year and another year all Summer and Fall. There is no way to predict and I may plan a schedule around my family and then have to change it if an event comes up 3-6 months out from that family schedule that’s planned. Also, whether I’m designing a $2000 event or a $6000 event the design portion fits in a 4 day window. The job must be completed! We don’t have the luxury of getting extensions on projects. Lol 😂

We imagine that there are times of the year where you are more busy than other times (wedding season?). How do you deal with the the demands of the high season and the lulls of when things are slow?

I feel pretty good about the balance of my business. Wedding season can be year round. I used to have a “wedding season” but the past couple of years have changed. I have had weddings spread through all seasons of the year. I feel like it’s Murphy’s Law that so much happens at once. Maybe I have a large wedding, it’s the holidays , and I’m preparing to begin a new semester at ARC. I push through and thoroughly enjoy the slow quiet times. I spend time meeting with new clients and work on my business goals I’ve set for the year. I also take the time to clean my house, regroup, and take me time.

To date, what has been your career highlight?

Career highlights look different ways to me. Every event that is successfully completed. Every time I work with a new team of vendors and we are so happy about it and share our work and cheer each other on is a success. The spring after the Golden 1 Center opened I designed and set the florals for an event at the Golden 1 Center that celebrated and honored the developer for that project. I felt ecstatic about that! The design wasn’t complex but the event itself was an honor to provide flowers for. Also, I recently decided to pay for advertising after 9 years of being in business. Up until recently I made referrals and my website my method for getting business up until this year. I chose one magazine that I know reaches the max amount of couples preparing their weddings in the Sacramento area, Real Weddings Magazine. The Styled shoot was very successful and the bouquet was chosen for 1 of 4 Planning guide covers. That was another recent highlight. Maybe just getting to live my dream of owning my own floral business is an amazing highlight of my career.

What does your work day look like? How do you plan your schedule around family time?

My work week looks different every week. I try to work my business schedule around my kids mostly but that can’t always happen. I also work/design from home so I get the joy of seeing them often even when I’m busy. Mondays are usually a day to refocus and clean up. Tuesdays and Wednesdays I teach Floral and Horticultural classes at American River College so my whole day is dedicated to that job but let’s be real, sometimes I have to pick up event flowers on Wednesday and then head to ARC. This week I had a day to get lots of chores done and brainstorm for a floral job I have at the beginning of next week and I drove to the San Francisco Flower Market to purchase flowers for my project and Friday Flowers. Friday was a flower shopping and design day. I designed and delivered Friday Flowers (as I do every week) and then my kids were home and had their friends over so that’s the real work life balance. Saturday I’m designing for a floral project I have and Sunday I have consults for weddings and lesson planning for my ARC classes. That is this week summed up quickly. Next week will look totally different. Family time every week means once the kids are home I’m helping with homework and dinner. We congregate in the kitchen during this so we are all together. The kids are busy too, so sometimes it’s one night where we are all on the couch watching a movie or we recently all went up for a ski day together. Sometimes wedding season is so busy I have had to send them on a vacay with their grandparents though. If I know they are having fun then I’m able to work and focus. Our time balances itself out overall.

Do your children know a lot about floral design? What parts of your career do you feel are worth teaching them, even if they don’t want to go into the same field?

My kids are 10 and 7 and both appreciate flowers. My son being the youngest knows it’s my work and thinks it looks fun and pretty. He told me the other day a friend said “that’s a pretty good job to have”. My daughter helps by removing rose petals for aisle flowers, she’s practicing her boutonnière skills, floral crown skills, and bouquet holding skills. In a few years she might really enjoy helping me more once she gets a little more work ethic in her. Floral work must be done efficiently to meet timelines so I generally don’t get them involved yet. I think seeing the work ethic is valuable. Owning a business and then working with perishable product is nothing to screw around with. It’s beautiful, hard work, that’s rewarding but it is my passion. If they put the work ethic into the things they want to do, then they are going to be successful. I also appreciate that my kids see me living my dream. I didn’t settle for the average 9-5. I’m living my dream. I made it happen, and so can they. Whatever the dream looks like to them.

I think the first rule of work life balance is to learn to say no to the things that won’t improve your life or give you quality when you are in busy season. Three things are my priority. My family, my job at ARC, and my business. During the school year I must balance the three of these carefully. For example, my kids’ school is always looking for help and volunteers. I commit to Garden Docent and a few field trips during the year. That’s it. My extra time is with them and their things they do after school and time for me. I like to run and walk with my dog. It keeps me mentally sane and feeling my best. During the summer when there is no school for myself or my kids I take advantage of all the free days. Even though I’m busy with my business it feels so freeing! We have lots of pool time and dance around my flower schedule.

Do you have suggestions for moms either in creative professions or floral design specifically? Any good advice that you’ve received or words that motivate you?

My best advice is to run your business how it works best for you. Try not to compare yourself with another person doing the same thing. We all have different situations and as long as you are moving forward and succeeding in your own way that’s what is important. It’s also important to get to know others in your industry to share knowledge. And always be kind..as you are moving forward, someone is just beginning.
We all know keeping a clean clutter free home is challenging with kids. My family goes through phases where we are so busy we get pretty cluttered up. I try to take a day every week to declutter no matter what is happening around me. If you have one space that’s easy to keep clean on a regular basis make that your go to for some fresh blooms. Flowers are proven to make a person feel happier and I truly believe flowers make a home look more beautiful and fresh.

Finally, do any secrets or tips for us at home on how we can do simple things with flora to enhance our home decor?

Tell yourself you deserve these qualities of life and act upon it! We spend money on so many things. A few dollars on fresh flowers is so worth it. I created Friday Flowers for this reason. Affordable designs without a delivery fee if delivered in my area. Most of my orders are going in my local delivery area. We just started offering hand wrap bouquets without a vase for those who would like to enjoy weekly blooms for themselves. These are $25 and delivered to your door. Arranged flowers are $50. Pretty much as convenient or more convenient as any other grab and go flowers at a local grocery. I also focus on as much local product as possible to support other local moms and friends in my flower community.