Southern homes have a distinct style. A true Southern home is easy to spot by the gorgeous flowers you will find inside and out. We Southerners take a lot of pride in what we can grow in our yards, and we find comfort in bringing those blooms inside. Having fresh flowers in the house is one of life’s pleasures here in the South. Maybe it’s seasonal blossoms or branches welcoming you in the foyer, or a simple centerpiece arrangement of green leaves on the dining room table, or maybe it’s just a few stems in a water glass in the kitchen, but somewhere you will find flowers.
Southerners know what scientists have spent good time and money studying – that flowers lift our spirits, brighten our moods, and evoke a variety of emotions. Flowers and flower arrangements are living art that touch each of us in a personal way. They convey passion, offer sympathy, and celebrate the beauty of life itself.
Much has been written about what certain flowers symbolize and what the colors of flowers signify. The bottom line is that flowers bring us happiness by tapping into a part of our brain that fondly remembers the past, seeks peace in the present, and is hopeful for the future. Flowers are just plain good for whatever ails you and every home needs them.
One local floral designer shares her passion for flowers through a unique style that has folks buzzing across the South Mississippi Coast. Martha Whitney Butler is one of a kind. Born and raised in northern Alabama, she credits her mother with planting in her a love of all things beautiful. “My mother was an antiques dealer and her passion for beautiful furnishings opened up the world to me. We traveled across Europe buying antiques and I fell with love with color and design at an early age. Back in Alabama I found that passion nurtured in the woods surrounding our home. I would roam the woods looking for beautiful flowers and bring them back to my mother. I loved growing things too. There were always fresh flowers in our home. I feel like I grew up in an issue of Garden and Gun or Southern Living!”
After studying Folk Art in college, Butler wound up taking a job at the Alice Mosely Museum in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. But she found her true calling after taking some flower design classes and volunteering and then working at a local florist, where she was encouraged to develop her own style and to push the boundaries of traditional floral arrangements. “I was hesitant to call myself a floral designer for a long time because I had not been formally trained. But I realized my love of flowers was all I needed. My hands just knew what to do.” She sought out every training opportunity she could find and trained with some of the world’s best designers. “I went from saying, “I do flowers” to “I’m a floral designer.” But I will never stop learning,” she says. Butler is sharing her talents and creativity with her young daughter. “Clementine has been at the shop since she was a few weeks old. I love raising her in a hub of beauty and kindness among creative people. She’ll blossom into someone beautiful one day.”
In 2012, Butler opened a small flower and gift shop on Main Street in Bay St. Louis. The French Potager is a popular spot for residents and visitors to discover something new. Now a Certified Floral Designer by the American Institute of Floral Design, Butler describes her signature “fresh garden style” as a look that suggests you just cut flowers from the yard and brought them inside. That “look” has brought her national attention and a loyal customer following. “I just like making people happy and I treasure the relationships that develop when you are there for all the momentous occasions in people’s lives. From celebrating the birth of a child, to all of life’s milestones, to bringing peace and comfort in the last days of someone’s life, I want to be there for them. It’s all about what they need in those special moments.”
Butler relies on local flower growing businesses along the coast to support her floral design business. “With all the recent supply chain issues we have experienced in the last two years, our consumption of local flowers has doubled. I have developed relationships with farms that allow me to continue to meet the needs of my customers. My colleagues at La Terre Farm in Kiln, for instance, want to know what I need, and they will grow it for me. And I can offer to my customers their floral goods, like wreaths and seasonal items that I don’t have time to produce. It is a terrific way to support one another. They love flowers as much as I do and we both benefit.” That’s the beauty of small local businesses working together.
Bringing beauty into your home and into your life is Butler’s mission. “I don’t care if it’s a bunch of flowers from the grocery store or a fistful picked from beside the road, just put fresh flowers in your home! Flowers contribute to our well-being,” she adds. “When I open a home and garden magazine, I always notice the florals first. Flowers have a profound impact on us. The colors, fragrances, and aesthetics connect us to memories and bring us joy. I can’t think of anything better than that.” Neither can we.