By Donna Cornelius
There’s no such thing as a typical day for Erin Weston.
As the owner of Weston Farms in Garner, North Carolina, she might spend the morning tending to a broken water line and then dress up for a gala that night.
“I’m comfortable in boots or heels,” Weston said.
At her farm near Raleigh, she grows magnolia trees and uses their leaves to make her signature wreaths, garlands and fresh arrangements. She’ll be sharing her artistry and know-how at this year’s Antiques at The Gardens with her Gold Finch Longleaf Bouquet Workshop at 2 p.m. Oct. 6.
“It’s one of our most popular bouquets,” Weston said.
She said workshop participants don’t have to have any special skills to leave happy – and with a beautiful bouquet in hand.
“You don’t have to be creative,” she said. “This will be so easy, and you should be able to use your bouquet as long as you like.”
Until 16 years ago, Weston was on a different path. After majoring in art history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she worked in publishing in Philadelphia and then New York. In 2002, she was about to take a job as a writer for a TV series when the show was abruptly canceled. She decided to switch gears – and careers – and returned to North Carolina to turn some family property into a farm. Although horticulture wasn’t exactly her field, she had a knowledgeable source to help her.
“My dad was the horticulturist for the city of Raleigh,” Weston said.
A holiday job she had as a teenager may have been a harbinger of things to come.
“When I was in the seventh grade, I had a job selling fully decorated Christmas trees at a Christmas shop,” she said. “This was the first generation of the decorated faux trees, and they were expensive even then – about $1,500. I was 13 years old, and I had the highest volume of sales.”
Weston said that when she came home to start her new venture, her mother wasn’t too enthusiastic.
“When I said ‘I’m going to be a farmer,’ she wouldn’t speak to me for a month,’” Weston said, laughing.
Weston’s decision to specialize in magnolias started for a practical reason.
“When I first started, I realized it was going to be May before I had plants to sell, and it was November,” she said. “My father told me to gather limbs off my grandmother’s magnolia tree and sell them to garden centers. This was a tree my grandmother had planted when the house was built.”
Weston said she quickly got bored with that project.
“My dad had a great collection of plants, and I started incorporating ingredients into arrangements,” she said. “I started creating things on my terms. I love to allow nature to speak for itself.”
No Wreaths! Well, Maybe Just a Few
She resisted wreath-making for a while.
“I’d spent time as a young person around wreaths with bows and plastic things on them,” she said. “But people wanted wreaths, and I had bills to pay.”
Her wreaths, in fact, were her first sign that her company was going to succeed.
“I brought five wreaths to the local farmers market and had no idea how to price them,” Weston said. “I’d just gotten my car insurance bill, so I divided it by five. I sold out in 35 minutes.
“After that, I bought two wreath machines and hired two young men who played baseball to help me. The three of us made wreaths of all different sizes and styles.”
She still keeps her wreaths simple, elegant – and bow-less.
“We tell people we don’t grow bows,” she said.
When Weston started her farm, there were no magnolia trees on the family property. Her father, Noel Weston, found the best trees from all over the world and led the horticultural initiatives at Weston Farms.
“Magnolias chose me,” she said. “We were planting what works. My father kept putting more magnolias in the ground, and now we have more than 10,000 trees.”
Her visit to Birmingham for the Antiques at The Gardens show won’t be her first trip to the Magic City. Mary Catherine Folmar, owner of Cotton & Quill, brought her here two years ago for a trunk show at the Mountain Brook textile design company and a luncheon at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.
“I had no idea there are mountains in Alabama,” Weston said. “I loved Birmingham. I’d live there.”
Although local sales gave her business its initial boost, today most of her orders are shipped. Her products stay fresh for several weeks and then age gracefully, allowing them to be used for years to come.
She does special events and custom orders, too.
“We’ve done 30-foot installations at the North Carolina Museum of Art and wall backdrops at the High Point Market,” Weston said.
Her work has been featured in Southern Living and Garden & Gun magazines and on HGTV and PBS.
And she finally convinced her mother that she made one heck of a farmer.
“One day, the woman in my office was sick, and my mother covered the phones,” Weston said. That day, her mom fielded one call from the office of David Rockefeller, at the time the patriarch of the famous banking family. Another call was from actor Daniel Craig’s staff.
“So my mom got to talk with James Bond and Rockefeller,” Weston said. “At the end of the day, she said, ‘Erin, I’m proud of you.’ I told her I was just glad she’d instilled such high standards in me.”
For more information, visit westonfarms.com or follow the company on social media.