Ah, spring! This year more than most, people are appreciating its joys. The sunshine, the longer days, the fragrance of the air now that we’re able to take our masks off and stop and smell the roses. This year, you’ll be able to smell the roses and a thousand varieties of plants and flowers at the 2021 Philadelphia Flower Show. The flower show has some major changes happening this year, starting with its springtime debut, since it has historically happened in the cold and dark of winter. The show will also be outside for the first time in its nearly 200-year-long history, allowing the show to go bigger than ever, spreading over 15 acres of FDR Park. Look for the wow factor as designers take advantage of the space to build displays that are larger than ever before. This week’s Portrait, Kristin Horst started her company, “FLOWER SHOP!!!” in her small, one bedroom apartment after purchasing a scratch and dent mini-wine fridge, some thrifted vases, and a pair of clippers. Working steadily throughout the pandemic, they have expanded the store to a new location and have also raised and contributed around $2,000 to social justice movements and campaigns centered around Black joy such as Camp Teddy, Black Lives Matter Philly, Philly Bail Out, North Philly Peace Park, mutual aid for a black trans woman, and more. Horst will be participating in the 2021 Flower Show, bringing her unique style and voice to the show.
Tell me a little about yourself.
I’m from a small agricultural town in central PA, called Campbelltown. It was pretty quiet. Back in the 80’s and 90’s our home was surrounded by nothing but corn fields; now my parent’s house is a small ranch house surrounded by McMansions. As a young person, I had a lot of small town fun.
As a city folk, I find cornfields terrifying, they seem to be a component of too many horror films!
I loved them! But I moved away when I was 18 to go to art school in Chicago, so I’ve been a city person for about 20 years now. I’m comfortable in either setting.
I had my own scary moment on a horse in a cornfield, have you had any paranormal experiences?
I took journalism in high school and for the Halloween issue of the school newspaper, we researched local haunted stories. There was a story about a school bus full of kids that slid off the side of a mountain and they all plunged to their deaths, unfortunately. I don’t know who did it first or why, but afterwards, people would go to the site where they died, and as your car points downward on the slope, you’re supposed to put your car in neutral. The rumor is that your car will stay put or even go backwards. So I did it with a friend, it was research you know! And sure enough, we did sort of levitate there. The theory is that the dead kids push the cars backwards and if you put baby powder on your hood, you can see the handprints. [Laughing] This is the worst story! I can’t believe I’m telling you this!
I love it, I’m into ghost stories.
I should be. Our family business was memorial stones, so I was in cemeteries quite a bit growing up.
Were you always an artsy kid?
Yes. As a kid I focused on painting and drawing, but when I got to college I realized that I was more of a sculptural person. I also used to do a lot of wild crafting and nature based art. As a child, I could walk out the door and be by a pond, I’d make teepees in the woods and collect animal bones. I was very influenced by Native American culture and the Native Americans that actually lived in this area. I’d find arrowheads in the streams and do things like harvest my own clay from the streams. I still do that when I go home.
Do your parents still have your artwork around, and if so, what’s a favorite piece?
Yes they do! I guess a favorite would be a coil pot. It was a class assignment and it ended up being almost 3 feet tall. My mom loves it.
Aha! I know what a coil pot is because I just watched a season of “The Great Pottery Throw Down!” It’s a British competition show for pottery makers. Between that and “Blown Away” about glass blowers, I’m getting inspired to get creative.
I watched “Blown Away.” I also used to do glass blowing and it was cool to watch but I’d get too excited and was like, “Okay, let’s put this show on hold!”
It is nerve wracking when they’ve been working on a piece and then the glass shatters! Back to the fam, any siblings?
I do, I have one brother. He lives in Connecticut, and we’re very different. He builds his own computers and I’m like, give me some sticks to build something and I’m happy.
Where did you get the creative genes from?
Forever, I’d say it was obviously my mom. She has a small ceramic studio in her basement with a kiln, and in the 70’s she would make all her own outfits. She does a little of everything, she even designed the memorials that went in the cemeteries. I saw that and thought that there were no limits on what I could make because I saw my mom do it all. But later I realized that my dad was an influence too. He’s a welder and worked on cars. We lived near Hershey, PA and he ended up working in the Reese’s candy factory for decades. As a mechanic, he would come up with very creative solutions. It’s something that makes you look at things from a different angle. So my calculated, taking time to figure out a solution outside the box mindset comes from him, and the more colorful, spontaneous stuff comes from my mom.
So was there a lot of chocolate in the house growing up?
Absolutely! Any time I went to someone else’s house I was like, where’s the chocolate? Then I got over it and had had my fill, but recently something changed and now I want candy again! [Laughs]
Was it an adjustment moving from the cornfields of Campbelltown to the skyscrapers of Chicago?
The worst part is that I had NO sense of direction. In the country, directions to my house would be, ‘Go past the Pool sign, turn at the green pickup truck that’s been there for decades, make a right at the next road and we’re the last house on the left.’ In Chicago, there were 7 different train lines and the whole city was confusing. I spent most of the time just following people! There was a huge knowledge deficit there on my part. [Laughing] And Chicago’s on a grid, so for years people would be baffled that I still would get lost.
What was your experience there?
I’m a first generation college student. I got into a good school and I picked it because it was far away from my small town, but still close enough for my family to feel comfortable. I got accepted in UArts in Philly, but it wasn’t far enough away for me. I was kind of tormented in high school, so I wanted to get away. I think people saw me as a weirdo, artsy and possibly queer. I went to school for figure drawing and came out doing glass blowing. I loved merging materials and worlds, so I did a lot of collage work but I couldn’t pay rent with that so I tried a lot of different things and one of the last jobs I had was driving a flower delivery truck. I was hoping it would lead to becoming a florist, but because I’m so directionally challenged, they let me go! I was a little defeated after that. For my first BFA, I’d pulled out all the stops to get into a pretty prestigious school, but then I saw an ad for a tech school saying, “Hey, do you want to get off your couch and into a well paying job? Well, come to our school!” and that’s what I did. On my day off, I went down and enrolled and started school the next week. I got a degree in graphic design and left the art stuff behind for a while out of a need to thrive and survive. I did graphic design for 10 years before I got burned out and turned to flowers.
When did you move back to Philadelphia?
In 2010, I’d gotten a design contract where I could live anywhere. I had fond memories of getting in my car and driving an hour and 45 minutes to go to South Street when it was still artsy. I wanted to be in a place that was familiar, so I moved back to Philly and lived the dream of my 16 year old self, bopping around South Street and the city. Even though my favorite places like Zipperhead were gone, I was loving being in a place that felt like home.
And when did you start FLOWER SHOP!!!?
In January of 2020, just before the pandemic hit. I started an instagram account a few months before and people started finding me. It hatched in west Philly where I live now and has taken off. People were like, “This is so cute! Who are you!?!” because I was trying to be a little mysterious. It was fun, and a wonderful way to connect with the community. Even during the pandemic I had that new business owner energy and people were feeling down and lonely, in need of some cheer, so the timing actually worked out well. And fun fact, there was a clause in the pandemic guidelines that floral deliveries were still allowed even as they shut down almost everything else at the beginning. The catch 22 was that it was hard to find flowers! So I was sourcing them from places like Produce Junction (I have a pretty discerning eye so I was able to make some good choices), I was foraging for them, you name it. It was great to get out of the house and to bring a little sunshine into someone’s life. I got a lot of respect and a good reputation for showing up in the way I know how. And we’ve been going strong ever since.
I would imagine that your art background influences a lot of what you do.
Absolutely, I’ve worked in a lot of flower shops and one thing I don’t enjoy about the industry is the waste. I love thrifting and going to estate sales and finding vintage items to create the arrangements. Things that you will keep instead of just paper and cellophane that gets thrown away. I love shopping to be honest! It doesn’t have to cost that much money to make something awesome. We try to charge fairly for our labor and our flowers when people buy from us. We dye our own flowers using eco-friendly dyes, something that would cost a lot in most places but we keep the price low so that it’s accessible for folks. Someone called us “The People’s Florist,” which I love. We want everyone to be able to have flowers.
What’s the most difficult part of running a business?
Ha, for me, I’m anti-capitalist, so I have to figure out how to run a business and not sell myself short because I still need to pay the rent. That I have to take care of my employees while giving people a product that they can afford. It’s a balancing act.
And now we have the flower show coming up! How did you get involved?
Before the presidential elections, I got involved with a group called, “United by Blooms.” Since they were encouraging people to mail in their ballots, we each were assigned mail boxes to decorate and ABC did a segment on us. A little later they contacted the group to see if anyone would do an interview when PHS announced that they were going to do the flower show in June. They wanted a florist’s reaction and I said sure. Before I knew it I was on the air and a few weeks later I got a call from Trang Do from the flower show offering me space for an installation!
Have you attended before?
Oh yes, in between my transition from graphic designer to florist I was a huge plant nerd. I was obsessed with succulents, so when someone told me that there were award winning succulents at the flower show, I was like, “I am there!” At the show I was reminded of how much I loved flowers and wanted to get into that world, so I got apprentice jobs and slowly entered the field. The last time I went was just before the pandemic. I was in the hall having a beer and I’m a lightweight, so I was a little bit tipsy but I remember thinking, I don’t know how, but I’m going to be in it next time. Then I went shopping and bought succulents and my crystals and flowers. I figured it was probably my last chance to splurge before the pandemic. And now my thoughts came true because here I am!
So cool! So let’s get to your coming out experience.
I’d say it’s in two parts. I had a little friend group in the small town where I grew up. We were the artsy kids and of course, I later found that most of us were queer. Though we didn’t say queer back then, we were all “Bi.” I was pretty out in Chicago and was navigating the world as a queer person, but then for some reason as time went by and I realized how hard it would be to come out to my family who were very conservative, I started closeting myself. Especially when I entered the white collar world and needed to make money. I found myself growing my hair long and wearing dresses, and doing all these heteronormative things. I only came out again about 3 years ago, first to myself and then to a few friends. They were all surprised but welcoming and it was liberating but also tiring because people kept asking, “How did you stay in that long?” I was even accused of not being a part of the hardships of being out in the 90’s. And I was like, “It was really hard to be closeted too, to basically self-erase.” [Laughing] But I’m out now! It’s funny, when I used to go to South Street, I’d find the honor boxes with the PGN and take it home and hide it under my bed. And now I’m being featured in it!
Brava! Okay, rapid fire time. How many hats do you have?
Proverbial or literal?
Ah, good question! Well, since I know you wear multiple proverbial hats, let’s go literal.
One. It’s a floppy straw hat that I just bought at a thrift store the other day. It says “Do Not Disturb” on the brim so I had to have it.
What animal would you like to talk to?
I’d like to know what birds are thinking.
[Laughing] That’s the first time the answer was, I want to know bird brains. When was the last time someone gave you flowers?
Just last week! Someone brought me a medicinal herb plant on a date, but then we broke up that night. So, it was kind of sweet, but ended kind of awkward!
What was your favorite toy as a kid?
My little pony, pound puppies, anything that was cuddly and didn’t have a clear gender.
What are you doing in the flower show?
They commissioned us to do an 8’ x 8’ installation. I just bought $2,000 worth of flowers and I’m on Cloud 9. I bought an entire rainbow pallet of colors. I think it’s going to be the gayest exhibit there! But I didn’t want to just make something pretty, I wanted to bring up other voices with me so I’ve teamed up with Terrill Haigler who has the popular #yafavtrashman account. We’re incorporating a message about the disparate ways people live in this city. The well-to-do vs the forgotten and neglected neighborhoods. I can’t wait.
I’m always up to something…