On a beautiful Saturday afternoon a group of girls gathered over flowers, foliage and food at a winter wreath making workshop hosted by Jessica Hunter, founder of A Fine Medley, and Katie Benfey, photographer and calligrapher. We arrived at In Fine Feather's studio to find vases full of freshly foraged abundance: twigs, winter greens, pods, grasses and berries. The afternoon was spent arranging, sipping mulled wine and snacking on a savoury spread of cheese and charcuterie boards. And everyone went home with a unique and thoughtfully arranged wreath from the abundance of the season. I was so delighted to chat with Jessica after the workshop to learn about her journey to becoming a florist, her love of foraging and the inspiration she finds in her friends.
What did you do prior to starting A Fine Medley?
I actually went to school for International Development and Non-Profit Management, after which I began working for an incredible organization called SKETCH: an arts initiative that creates opportunities for young people living homeless, street-involved or marginalized in Toronto. I loved the mission and all the people I worked with but I couldn’t shake the insatiable desire to work with my hands while being close to nature. I would find myself collecting plants on my lunch break, picking up fresh flowers from my local florist on my way home and walking through the park regularly to gain inspiration. The best thing we can do for our world and community is to be ourselves and to be happy. Out of this place will come genuine acts of kindness and our communities will flourish because of it.
What drew you to become a florist?
It wasn’t a specific moment in time that I decided to become a florist. In a way it just happened. I grew up with my dad tending to his vegetable garden and my mom alongside him growing flowers. It’s one place I spent a lot of time with them and felt the most love. It happened while picking fresh lilacs in my mom’s garden and putting them proudly on the table. Then, again, picking strawberries in a patch by my nana’s house in Newfoundland as girl, and again when I planted my first garden at an apartment I rented in Roncesvalles village. One day last summer, as I was overlooking the Pacific Ocean, I knew I wanted a change. Later, I took a walk with my husband through Portland’s Rose Garden. I could have spent a lifetime there. It’s all a blur, like an impressionist painting, with Monet’s chant resounding in my heart, “I must have flowers, always, and always.”
How important was the support of other local creatives and independent artisans in encouraging you to go this new route you were pursuing?
It was quite significant. First of all my neighbour Katie Benfey has been an integral piece in helping A Fine Medley come into being. She is an amazing photographer and I just love working with her. Another artist friend of mine, Jen Budd, offered to create the branding for me, and it perfectly reflects my personality. She’s a gem. My husband Sim is always working on creative projects and he has been such a motivator for me. He’s the best partner in the world and one of the most innovative humans I’ve ever encountered. My friend Hannah, who just launched her hand thrown pottery line, Speck + Stone, has collaborated with me on a few projects this year and just her encouragement in this endeavour has meant so much. Really the list goes on and on.
A few of the blogs I follow and people that I’m inspired by are: Saipua by Sarah Ryhanen, Floret Flower Farm by Erin Benzakein, Emily Thompson Flowers Journal, Amy Merrick’s blog, Alison Westlake’s Coriander Girl blog (she has been a huge cheerleader for me and used to be my local florist) and Constance Spry’s teachings. She’s incredible. I also love the Dutch Masters’ old still life paintings. The colours and light used are otherworldly; they have undoubtedly shaped my work.
How would you describe your floral designs or floral arranging style?
My floral designs reflect the way they would grow in the garden and are quite unconventional in that I use: flowers, foliage, fruit, vegetables, herbs, twigs and branches. They are naturally wild, yet artfully composed. So there’s intention with each piece, but I don’t force the flower to go somewhere it doesn’t want to. I look for unique curves and sculptural grace as I create. To keep with the rhythm of the earth I farm some materials on my little urban plot. The most stunning and fragrant arrangements come from our backyards. You just can’t replicate that in mass production. When possible, I aim to source my materials locally, forage regularly and design from the abundance of the season.
I've enjoyed following your thoughtful Instagram photos that reflect your love for foraging and sourcing local, seasonal flowers. Can you share what inspires you about this process?
Well, I’m in the business of beauty. Flowers are magical! They are like a time machine as their fragrance has the ability to transport you to places of childhood that we can usually only revisit in our dreams. I also like to think they can take us to sweeter places in our future by studying their fleeting beauty. What inspires me is that our earth is so generous to us. She gives of herself, over and over again each season, faithfully. I want to respect her and preserve her. Foraging and supporting local or sustainably grown flowers not only makes for a more fragrant, unique and fresh arrangement, but it also ensures that your flowers are ethically grown. At A Fine Medley I'm committed to doing as much as possible to help our earth retain the bounty it gives. To do this, I use a variety of potted shrubs, plants, trees and flora rather than all cut flowers in my design and I forage when possible. This way the remainder of a plant can be kept in its natural habitat or replanted to continue its growth.
What made you move to Hamilton?
I grew up in the rural landscape of southern Ontario but longed for the vibrancy of the city. As soon as I was old enough I packed my bags and moved to Toronto. I was drawn to city life for the eclectic food, museums, art galleries, little boutiques, and the culture. I didn’t think I’d miss my small town upbringing, but I did. My husband and I decided to move to Hamilton because it’s a city unto itself - it has all the perks of city living, but we can get to the country in a matter of minutes. We also moved because we wanted to own a home and Hamilton was affordable for us as a couple just starting out. Affordable living makes such a difference when you are an artist. Some of the most thriving and creative cities have been birthed out of modest environments.
What are you loving most about your new hometown and neighbourhood?
People are so friendly in Hamilton, there’s time and space for collaboration. I also noticed that there’s a real movement of sustainability, where people want to know where their goods are coming from and are very supportive of local artisans. Hamilton has welcomed me with open arms and I am so thankful for it.
When you aren't making beautiful floral creations, what do you love doing?
I guess it depends on the season. Warm months I’m at the beach or in my garden. Autumn and winters I’m on nature hikes or snowboarding with my hubby. Generally you can find me with my nose in a book, cooking, walking through parks, writing, baking with friends, drinking coffee at a local café by day or enjoying a class of vino with friends at night, working in my garden, kissing my husband, or cuddling on the couch with my two kittens: Hobbes and Rosemary. Oh and let’s not forget Pinterest! It’s just the most beautiful online filing system.
You are currently working out of your lovely home. What is next for A Fine Medley?
Yes, I currently run this little babe out of my back sunroom. Like anything, it has its pros and cons. Next for A Fine Medley is an offsite studio space with a storefront attached. I want to be able to sell daily blooms to people, work on both large and small-scale events and host more workshops like the one we just hosted at In Fine Feather Studio. It’s so great to collaborate and I’m grateful for this season I’ve had to work out of my home, but it’s time for an actual space that I don’t have to pack and unpack every time I work on an event. I’m just looking for the right fit and I know that in the best time it will come. Patience is the key!