Karisa Pennell thought it would be fun to work in a flower shop, so she decided to pass her time prepping petals post-college before heading west to start her career. Little did she know that this part-time job would lead her down a path to a career she didn’t intend to plant, but grew like kudzu. It started with 10 tiny bouquets delivered to select shops to promote her freelance floral designs. A week later a phone call led to an opportunity, and today her business is blooming — right in the middle of a city-owned rose garden in NoDa. Meet Karisa Pennell, owner of Nectar and today’s FACE of Charlotte.
Did you set out to be a floral designer and own a flower shop?
No! I grew up in Lenoir, and I desperately wanted to be a ballerina. I trained in classical ballet for 13 years and eventually earned my Bachelor of Arts in dance from UNCC, where I studied modern dance, choreography and kinesiology. I was training in yoga with the intention of becoming a yoga therapist with a concentration on dancers. I worked part-time in a flower shop and liked it but never dreamed of having my own shop. The growth and expansion of Nectar has been very organic. We started small and have just naturally evolved over the course of 10 years.
Your flower shop is located in the McGill Rose Garden, a non-profit space run by Charlotte city employees and a board of directors. Describe how your relationship with the Garden began.
In 2007, I chose the name Nectar, got a license and printed business cards. I dropped off small arrangements to area businesses. About a week later, I got invited to sell flowers in, what was then, The McGill Garden Shoppe, an art gallery showcasing local artists. The gentleman, Garret Ladue, was leasing space at McGill and also worked at what used to be Georgetown Spa. He had received my flowers and card and thought fresh florals would fit perfectly within his gallery. So I rented counter space here until it grew enough to need more. Then I moved into what is now my office at McGill, which lasted a year. In 2010, I had the opportunity to become the sole renter of the space at McGill. I had already started to oversee weddings in the McGill Garden, but at this time we really started growing the packages and designing them to become a premier wedding venue in Charlotte.
Part of your business is focused on event management. How does the event side of your business work at McGill?
This evolved based on the nature of where we do business. We are the event and venue directors for any rental that takes place at McGill. We oversee 25-30 events here yearly and work closely with brides, grooms, planners and families to create magical garden events.
How does your location inspire you?
I’m greeted every morning by the beauty of the garden. The sun rises just over a curved path of rose beds, and it’s truly stunning. It makes me stop and reflect before my day unfolds. And if I miss that moment, I try to take frequent breaks to stop and smell the roses. More than that, it’s the resiliency of the garden that inspires me. No matter the winter weather, spring always comes and the garden continues to thrive. There’s a continuity to it that’s comforting and calming.
Tell us about your floral design workshops.
Our workshops are posted in two-month increments on our website. During the busy wedding season, we’ll skip a month or two. But our most popular class is Design 101, which is great for the novice designer who needs to learn the basics. We always offer a seasonal class (holiday wreaths in December, spring blooms in April, romantic tablescape in February, etc.). The classes are super casual and fun. We offer a welcoming environment and a no-judgement design zone. We offer group classes too, where the host can pick a theme. It’s a great girls’ night out event.
What is your favorite event to create flower designs for?
Weddings make up nearly half of our business – so I do love weddings. The bridal bouquet is my favorite element to design. But this year we’ve also focused heavily on creating artistic backdrops for wedding ceremonies. It allows me to think outside the box. I also really love the holidays and designing centerpieces for holiday parties.
Do your floral designs have a signature look?
Our signature look is loose, organic and textural with a splash of whimsy and an abundance of greenery.
Do you have a favorite flower?
I have always had a love for orchids. But I also have a tremendous love for small, dainty blooms like columbine, fritillaria, poppies and cosmos. I also love fern.
Who is Rhonda?
Rhonda is our truck! A few years ago, we bought an old Grumman Olson and converted it into a mobile flower truck. She’s available to rent for private events and social gatherings. She makes an adorable favor for weddings. Sometimes you’ll find her parked at Moxie Mercantile for a neighborhood market or festival.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Accept love and opportunity! I have a mantra that goes something like, “I will walk through open doors.” This has led me to be adventurous and fearless when I may have started to doubt a next step. I think many of us in a creative field have trouble finding and believing in our true worth because it’s hard to put a price tag on something as emotional as creations. But beyond a financial standpoint, if you don’t believe in your work, no one else will either. So graciously accept it and own it!
What’s next for Nectar?
We are fortunate to experience year-after-year growth. People are spending more money on events again and getting away from DIY weddings. To continue our growth, we just signed a lease on a new 2,600-square-foot space in Plaza Midwood to house our design and retail business. We are targeting August 1st for our grand opening, but we will keep our presence at McGill. Our spot in the rose garden will remain our storefront and event rental venue.
Name three lighthearted things you can’t live without.
Cheese, my Jeep Wrangler and the color green.
Thanks, as always, to the talented Piper Warlick of Piper Warlick Photography for today’s beautiful photos!
Read about more inspiring Charlotte women in our FACES archives!