Antonio Valente Flowers

"Boys don't play with flowers!" Those crushing words, uttered by an elementary school principal, devastated Antonio Valente, who was then in grade two. He had been asked by his teacher to draw a picture of his future career and when it became apparent that young Antonio wanted to be a florist, his dream was shut down with a mocking chuckle.

But dreams have a funny way of growing back, much like the flowers Antonio now harvests and arranges and sells from his home in Thornhill, Ontario, just north of Toronto.

On just a half acre of land, Antonio grows tulips, ranunculus, peonies, zinnias, scabiosa, foxglove, snapdragons, asters, roses, cosmos, larkspur, poppies, dahlias, phlox and ornamental cabbage - filling dozens of orders a week from florists around the greater Toronto area. All of the flowers are picked and packed by Antonio and delivered, in person, in his pickup truck.

I first discovered Antonio on Instagram, where he has thousands of followers from around the world. I only recently discovered that Antonio had been reading this blog for years and had affiliations with some florist friends of mine in Toronto! I was so curious to know more about him and his business and wanted very much to do a feature on him.

Florists adore Antonio's friendly nature, his passion for his flowers and his seasonal selection. "Antonio arrived at the shop with his pickup truck filled with pails of the most gorgeous summer blooms," writes the owner of Periwinkle Flowers, a Toronto-based flower shop. "The girls and I promptly fell in love with both Antonio and his beautiful flowers and we would wait in eager anticipation for every week's delivery."
It's the kind of testimonial Antonio doesn't take for granted, but he knows what makes his business special. He is one of the 'little guys' on the scene but his business has several factors that set him apart from the crowd. He grows primarily heirloom varieties or flowers that are pollinator-friendly: alluring features for florists who care about the quality of their flowers and where they come from. His farming operation happens on just a half acre of land and Antonio uses sustainable methods to plant, grow and harvest his plants.

Antonio was good enough to answer a few questions for Martha Moments about his business.

With just a half acre of property to farm, how do you decide what flowers to grow? Is it based on popularity and demand, or is the decision based on what you love to grow?

It’s a little bit of both. I absolutely need to grow what’s in demand and popular; at the end of the day my flowers need to sell. Having said that however, I don’t grow anything that is both popular AND available from larger scale growers or wholesale markets; I just can’t compete on pricing there. I also need to grow what I love. If a grower isn’t loving what they’re growing, they’re likely to neglect it during the height of the hectic growing season and that can lead to lost revenue. And on only half an acre, I can’t have that! Every square foot needs to be productive.

Are there any flowers you do not grow but would like to? 

I would love to grow high quality sweet peas, but the climate here in southern Ontario is very continental. It goes from being very cold to being very hot in a relatively short span of time. Sweet peas do best where there is a long, drawn out spring. The season here is just too short for a profitable sweet pea crop. I’ll save them for when I have a greenhouse or multiple acres of land.
Since we are a four-season climate in Ontario, what do you do to sustain your business during the fall and winter months? 

It’s a little known fact that I substitute teach during the winter months. Yup, once upon a time the plan was to become a teacher. I graduated from teacher’s college in 2009. The economy at the time was in a dismal state and landing a full time teaching job was nearly impossible. I was eventually hired as a substitute teacher, but warned that securing a permanent contract could be anywhere from 7 to 10 years down the road. Facing the reality of precarious employment as a substitute teacher, I had to be creative and find an additional means of paying the bills. It was either head back into landscaping, which I had done throughout university, or grow even more cut flowers, which I had already been doing for myself, and hope to sell them throughout the summer at local farmers’ markets.
If you could wave a magic wand and create your perfect flower business, what do you think it would look like and what would be your role?

I think my perfect flower business would be one where I could bring beautiful varieties of flowers to a larger audience and a more mainstream public, both in the form of cut flowers as well as inspire people to grow their own beautiful gardens. People are tired of white hydrangeas laden with chemicals! There’s a real need in the Canadian market for certain varieties of cut flowers. The floristry style today is very different than it was years ago. The look today is more garden-inspired, and reminiscent of 17th century Dutch still life paintings. I have designers contacting me all the time wishing to source my product, but I honestly cannot currently meet the demand. It’s overwhelming, but also very flattering. As for what my role would be? Ummm wait, you mean I could possibly have a single role one day?! I can’t even imagine what that would look like! Right now, that would be an absolute luxury!

Instagram has obviously helped leverage your visibility and profile, but is there a website in the works?

Yes! I need to get on that. EVERYONE around me has been on my back about it! You’ll all be happy to know that I did recently purchase a domain name, so I am one step closer. You know, each spring I actually use Kijiji to sell dahlia tubers! It’ll be nice to sell them from my own website one day. So, if there’s no website by next spring, look no further than Kijiji for some pretty awesome dahlia varieties!

Who have been some of your mentors and teachers in this enterprise?

My father and grandfather were excellent gardeners. Gardening must be in my blood as they had the most amazing gardens and I attribute much of my passion to them. I also grew up admiring many Canadian gardeners in the media like Mark Cullen and Marjorie Harris, and, of course, Martha Stewart!

I know you enjoy reading this blog and anything to do with Martha Stewart. What is it about Martha that inspires you?

Yes, I love your blog! It’s such a pleasure to read, by the way. I can remember when I first discovered Martha. She was this woman on tv doing all the things that I also loved to do. Being a young boy and having an appreciation for gardening and collecting antiques wasn’t very “cool,” but Martha continued to be such an inspiration and source of creativity. I think in many ways Martha did what I would like to continue to do with my flowers – bring a little bit of beauty to people’s everyday lives.

I know it's like asking a mom to choose a favourite child, but do you have a favourite flower?

Definitely dahlias! Evidently I have no problem choosing between children! They were the first flower I ever grew for the purpose of cutting, so they’ll always hold a special place in my heart. As for the flowers I have in my home, they’re always changing with the seasons. That’s the nice thing about choosing seasonal flowers; each flower variety gets its shot at the limelight.

Finally, what would you say to that principal who told you that boys don't play with flowers? 

I would just give him a locally- and organically-grown bouquet from Antonio Valente Flowers!

Until Antonio gets his website, please follow him on Instagram @antoniovalenteflowers


Martha Stewart Living Bath Collections at The Home Depot

Martha Stewart Living has launched three premium bath series, exclusively at the Home Depot, that include coordinated vanities and accessories. Three styles of vanities, medicine cabinets and storage units will come in various sizes and colours to suit your bathroom - each using brushed nickel hardware and stylistic details that make handsome additions to your bathroom decor. Best of all, each of the new fixtures comes with ideal storage solutions, which are perfect for those busy mornings when time is of the essence: "a place for everything, and everything in its place!" Below are examples of the various offerings. Visit The Martha Blog to learn more, or visit the Home Depot to see them in person!
The Parrish Bath Vanity and Mirror: clean lines and ample storage.
The Seal Harbor vanity is my personal favourite. It features a pure white quartz countertop and lovely trim details.
Each of these two collections features a free-standing storage unit that can be purchased separately for additional storage.
All of the vanities come pre-assembled with counter tops and hardware. Medicine cabinets are also sold.
All of the drawers feature dividers that can be customized to suit your storage needs.
The Parrish vanity comes in three different sizes and comes with a Carrera marble countertop. As you can see, there is ample storage space with organizational features that ensure everything has a place. The lower center drawer is tall enough to store bottles, jars and tubes, upright. The drawers under the sinks are false (to hide the plumbing) but the design is attractive.
Lots and lots of storage!
The Sutton Collection combines modern simplicity with tradition. The vanities come in three different hues; it is shown here in Rainwater, a very pleasing hue for a bathroom. It also comes with the Carrera marble countertop.
The Sutton Collection features bamboo finish interiors.


Martha & Snoop Get an Emmy Nomination!

Martha & Snoop's Potluck Dinner Party picked up an Emmy nomination yesterday in the "Host of a Reality/Reality-Competition Show" category. The first season, which aired on VH1, was a huge hit and the second season recently completed filming in Los Angeles. It will air this fall on VH1, October 16th. Guests this year will include Queen Latifah, Ru Paul Charles (also nominated this year in the same category as Martha for his show Ru Paul's Drag Race) Patti Labelle and Jamie Foxx, among numerous others. Congratulations, Martha and Snoop! You'll get the award... fo' shizzle!


The Gardens at Lily Pond Lane

I've wanted to blog about the gardens at Lily Pond Lane for some time now. They have always inspired me, mainly because of the somewhat restricted parcel of land upon which they were sown: just one acre, which is decidedly small considering Martha's other two properties, Cantitoe Corners and Skylands, are 153 acres and 65 acres, respectively. Martha worked wonders and made the grounds feel so much larger than they actually are. I love her use of form and texture and the ingenious way she created destinations and 'garden rooms' to keep the wanderer interested. The photographs below are all from The Martha Blog. Gathered over a period of time, the photos illustrate the beauty of the grounds during the spring and summer months, which is when Martha spends most of her time there.
A few years ago, Martha made the decision to remove the signature teal trim from the house's facade (shown above), something a lot of Martha's readers were disappointed by. She replaced it with a more subdued shade of taupe and had the entire facade re-shingled. She also removed many of the climbing rose bushes from the front of the home (also shown above) and transferred them to her estate in Bedford, New York.

The photos you see below are a mix of newer photos with older ones, hence the differences in paint colours on some of the trim. I've structured the "tour" to begin in the front and finish at the back. The photos have been placed in somewhat chronological order to maintain a kind of compass point. I hope you enjoy this look at the gardens of Lily Pond Lane! To read more about this house, click here.
Martha's summer residence on Lily Pond Lane in East Hampton, New York, was built in 1873 and sits on one acre of land. The new facade features a more neutral palette and the climbing roses were replaced with clematis vines.
This is the original master landscaping plan for Lily Pond Lane, completed in the early 1990s, shortly after Martha purchased the property. The landscape was not carried out completely as it is showcased here, however, and several design changes were made. Still, the plan shows the basic structural layout of the gardens on the property and is a good reference guide.
A view of the driveway looking towards the street. The design of the gate is an identical replication of the one she designed for Turkey HIll. The driveway is covered with a soft pea stone gravel and is lined on one side by shrubbery and wisteria.
A view of the house from the driveway gate.
Another view of the driveway, looking towards the house. You will notice in the landscaping plan above that the area of lawn shown in this photograph was originally designed as a formal cutting garden with several beds.
Another view of the same side lawn, originally slated to be a series of flower beds. Martha kept it as lawn to accommodate large summer parties. The front and side of the property are hedged with privet.
This is a view of the circular front lawn, looking towards the street from the porch. Martha designed and built the arbor when she purchased the property in 1990.
Another view of the house from the arbor.
Standing in the center of the circular lawn, looking towards the driveway.
Where the driveway meets the house, with access to the porch.
Further along the driveway, towards the entrance to the guest cottage and the pool.
The porch is a lovely place to relax. In the summer, Martha fills it with lush tropical plants. (The teal was replaced with a warm taupe.)
This small pathway leads from the driveway to the front steps of the porch (left) and the circular lawn (right).
The opposite side of the porch with steps leading to a network of pathways that lead through the shade gardens.
One of the paths in the shade garden. The use of dark Japanese maple trees is striking.
The same path, looking in the opposite direction towards the porch.
Another portion of the pathway. The network of small 'garden rooms' makes the property feel much bigger than it is.
Martha's use of shade plants is extremely painterly and poetic. The balance of texture, colour and shape is beautiful.
Hostas play a large part in the planting scheme at Lily Pond Lane.
Rhododendrons and hydrangeas also figure prominently in the design.
Hydrangeas along the garden path adjacent to the front lawn.
At the back of the house is the pool. Alexis Stewart's guest cottage is shown in the background.
A view of the pool from the guest cottage, looking in the opposite direction.
Another view of the guest house from the corner of the pool.
Looking towards the back of the house from the same vantage point.


Golden Age Botanicals

I met Kathryn Bondy about eight years ago when we were both working at Anthropologie. Kathryn was the display coordinator at our store and was responsible for making all those magnificent window displays and installations that every fan of Anthropologie falls in love with. She and I became friends and when she left the company several years ago she embarked on a new endeavor, one that I knew would be successful.
Kathryn, who is based in Toronto, started her own Etsy shop, Golden Age Botanicals, which proffers her beautiful paper creations: lifelike flowers and botanicals made entirely by hand and entirely out of paper. I asked Kathryn to tell us about the genesis of her business and what inspires her.

What made you want to start Golden Age Botanicals? 
It initially started as a partnership with a friend, but over time it became a project of my own. I needed a place to make work at the pace I wanted, paying attention to details that I had otherwise been told were a waste of time. I've been lucky to have some wonderful creative jobs in the past, but they also came with a breakneck pace I felt obligated to adopt in order to feel like I was doing my job effectively. You miss out on a lot when you move too fast!

Golden Age allows me to study and honour nature in a way that is meditative, where my instincts and curiosity guide me completely, and I can venerate the smallest of details that nature so nimbly produces. I wanted to share that love with others too. I'm also a florist, and my favourite thing is talking about flowers with other florists and flower appreciators: the way a rose fades as it ages, the tissue paper layers of a ranunculus, watching a poppy crack open from its bristly bud.   

What is the significance of the name? 
Golden Age Botanicals refers to the Dutch Golden Age, an era of still life and flower painting in Dutch history that focused on capturing in heightened realism the beauty and impermanence of nature. Initially the idea was to recreate these painted elements in paper, which is why I also create hand sculpted fruit, insects and animals. But now I think of it as a broader study of all the different ways we use flowers to speak for us, the language of nature and how we use it to speak for us and to each other. 
What inspires your work? 
Dutch Golden Age painters, especially Rachael Ruysch and Balthasar van der Ast, floral designers, botanical studies and scientific drawings and prints, Emily Dickinson (especially her herbarium) and Victorian flower language, and medicinal plant knowledge and history.

I'm also very inspired by flowers in general. Designing with flowers teaches me a lot about composition, lines, and colour, and how to let the natural shape of individual pieces direct a final form. That has taught me to always try working from a live model when creating a paper piece.

I try to spend some time in local greenhouses and neighbourhood gardens, and I spend a lot of time researching types of flowers and their place in history. Right now I'm reading a book about David Austin roses and the history of garden rose breeding, it's fascinating! 

Who do you consider to be your mentors in this craft? 
I rely on Instagram a lot to stay connected with paper flower artists. I am especially inspired by Tiffanie Turner, Jennifer Tran, Ann Wood and Lynn Dolan. Thuss & Farrell's book Paper to Petal was the first I had ever seen about paper flowers, beyond what I came across in vintage home crafting books. I also work closely with a few floral designers in Toronto that have taught me so much about how to work with flowers, and that feeds pretty directly into my paper work.
What would be a dream commission?
Probably creating something just for Saipua or a series of garden roses for David Austin (could I ever do them justice?) But I also especially love requests for special pieces to give as gifts, I would like to do more of that too! 


I was so smitten with Kathryn's work that I felt I needed to invest in a couple of pieces of my own. Below are photographs of two of Kathryn's works in my home. I love how they look and I know that I will cherish them for decades to come. Please visit Kathryn's Etsy shop to explore more of her work!
I knew I needed these hellebores the moment I saw them in her shop. It is one of my favourite flowers and the way Kathryn had situated them in that beautifully-tarnished cup with the moss was just too much to resist. It sits on my dining room hutch under a collection of wall-mounted plates and prints with similar botanical references. It looks perfect there!
The detail in Kathryn's work is utterly beautiful. Every surface is considered and done to perfection.
I loved the graphic nature of this mounted paper pear with blossoms. I had to have it. It's so striking and bold: very much like a Dutch painting. I have it hanging next to the wooden mirror over my dresser in my bedroom. Every time I wake up and get dressed I get to have a good look at it. It's become part of my daily routine!
Again, every single detail is considered.