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*note, this interview was done when Joe Smith was the owner of Ilex. He has since passed away and the shop has changed ownership and now resides on 8th Ave. Ilex’s information can now be found here: Ilex for Flowers.

Occupation / Type of Work: Floral Designer, Event Planner, and Visionary Extraordinaire


Joe, can you give us a brief description of your background as it relates to your career?

I’m from the small town of  Sheffiield, AL and always wanted to be a floral designer.  My father was horrified and promptly sent me to military school.  My parents did not agree on this tactic at all.  I wanted to go to Michigan State because of their fine horticulture school and finally did.  There I met a Professor Don Dunbar who influenced me greatly.  Upon graduation, I was hired as creative director for the Dole Company, at the time the largest flower grower in the world.  The job required a tremendous amount of travel and after the death of my son, I called it quits.  I needed a job and my wife gently prodded me by stating. “I didn’t marry for lunch”.  I was a founding owner of the Tulip Tree and opened Ilex for Flowers in 2000.

An early mentor in your career?

Certainly Professor Dunbar.  But when I was 8 or 9 years old, I would ride my bike to the barbershop located inside the Sheffield Hotel.  In addition to the hotel,  there was a florist shop owned by Sam Carter.  He was my earliest mentor.

Ilex is one of the loveliest shops in Nashville; what makes the store unique?

Unquestionably, the employees.  We are like family and each bring something different to the table.  Most have been here forever, but most important, they know what is pretty.

What is the greatest trend you see in your business?

I love that we are getting more young customers and they are sophisticated and know what they want.  Most brides today are older and working professionals, they come to the table with a sense of style and savvy that’s refreshing.  Also, I see more event planners involved in weddings and parties.  Their job is to see that the customer’s vision is realized.

From my understanding, you have been chosen to oversee the Swan Ball design this year. Tell us some of your thoughts about this project in light of a tough economy?

The chairwomen this year are incredibly talented and realistic about the challenges they face.  They see and have seen what has happened to other events that thought they may be bullet proof  to the economy.  With that being said, I love that they are recreating a sense of “volunteerism” and plan to use the talent and resources of Nashville in the spirit of Roberta Lochte.  We are blessed with incredibly talented and creative people–there is such a sense of camaraderie among all of us.  We help each other.  The Swan Ball is going to be lovely this year.

What or who gives you inspiration?

Always my customers. My family keeps me grounded as if to remind me to ” get off your high horse and get over yourself”!

What is the most common mistake people make when adding flowers or accessories to their homes?

Not hiring a decorator when they need one.  Trying too hard.  Making things too fancy and overdone when a gorgeous vase of fabulous roses or 30 stems of lilies would do.  They add too much and over do it.  Nothing is more beautiful than the simplicity of focus and color.

Give us one of your favorite personal extravagances that just makes you happy?

Taking a cruise where no one can reach you.  It’s a little bit of heaven to open your stateroom door to sunshine and the sea, put on your khaki shorts, stroll on deck and eat fantastic food.

Can you tell us a funny story perhaps something ludicrous that has happened to you in your career?

Two stories come to mind both funny in retrospect.  A client created a magical party, outside, with urns and votives.  The top of the  urns were covered with plywood and candles were placed on top.  The client didn’t like the look of the glass votives and instead asked for simple tea lights to be placed directly on the WOOD.  Not a good idea.  No counseling on my part would change his mind.  The plywood did catch on fire and the urns were heaved in the garden to put the fire out.

On another occasion, I was planning a wedding and suggested to the Mother of the bride that we consider a rain plan.  She decided that it wasn’t going to rain.  Well, it was a gorgeous August day until about 5PM and it started raining torrential rains.  Well, we’ve never seen that chuppah since.
(Reader’s note:  A chuppah  is a canopy used in Jewish wedding ceremonies)

Name the three things you simple can not live without? (Exclude family and friends!)

  • Going to Michelle at Clark & Company.  She always knows what is going on.
  • On my 60th birthday, I bought a black Cadillac.  I LOVE driving it to’s BIG and SILLY.
  • After church, I go to the grocery store and plan a meal for about 2-3 couples.. it is marvelous way to spend Sunday evening.  By the way, I am the chef.



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