A Conversation With the Women of Bowerbird Flowers & Apothecary

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By Renee Ambroso / Photography by John Michael Simpson

This mother-daughter duo has been working together for over 5 years, supplying Chapel Hill and beyond with flowers, herbal teas and more.

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Diane and Lily Joyal in their workspace at Bowerbird Flowers & Apothecary. Photo by John Michael Simpson

Diane Joyal began her floral business in 2014 after working at UNC Children’s. Her daughter Lily joined in 2016, and shortly after that the pair opened a storefront in Chapel Hill. In May 2020, the Joyals opened a second location inside the Durham Food Hall, featuring an apothecary bar. 

What’s your background?

Diane “I’m an artist. I went to art school, and I wanted to be an illustrator. When I became a single parent … I decided to move [to Carrboro]. I was looking for some stability and a place where I could raise my kids. I worked in social research initially, which I enjoyed a great deal, and then I moved into medical research. We weren’t administering clinical trials, it was all observational research. So, people sharing their feelings, people talking about their experiences. I love people.”

How does that translate into floral design?

Diane “In a much more joyful way. Obviously, at the cancer hospital, you’re seeing people during the darkest of days for them. I loved the people who I worked with, but it was just too draining after a while and I wanted to do something that brought more joy to myself and to the world. What better thing than to bring flowers to someone’s door?”

Is Lily named after the flower?

Diane “Yes. I had no idea I would be doing this, but I named her Lily, just like the flower.”

What do you aim to provide for your customers?

Diane “This store in Chapel Hill is essentially our floral studio. During the pandemic, obviously we’ve had to shift, [but] we were also shifting in general. We are still doing lots of weddings and events, but we also do daily deliveries and pickups. We also have a whole other side of our business that is the apothecary and botanical bar in our Durham location where we [offer] herbal drinks that are nonalcoholic, spritzers and elixirs, and a whole tea brand as well.”

How did you choose the name ‘Bowerbird’?

Diane “I’d seen a special on National Geographic, and I’ve always found [that bird] very intriguing. They love the color blue. They make this place to have a family – it’s created to attract a mate, which is kind of like the appeal with flowers too. I also wanted to offer home goods and to make you feel at home. It was always in the back of my mind that the home element would come in.”

What’s your favorite thing about owning your own business?

Diane “I’ve always loved working for myself. I think I have an entrepreneurial spirit. I think it’s also slightly addictive. I’m pretty independent, and I’m creative, so I like being able to express those things. I always wanted to build a community. I felt that we could do more in terms of the apothecary and daily florals and plants, and we definitely had the chance to do that in the last year. We’ve really built that into the business. And we’ve managed to build lifelong friendships and relationships, because the people who are farming here value the same things that we value.”

Lily “It’s really satisfying to see something grow when you’ve worked so hard. I feel like it has a really huge payoff, and it shows in those relationships that we built. I have a degree in painting, and when I graduated college, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I started [working at Bowerbird] and realized it was such an amazing creative outlet and a way to financially support myself as an artist. It’s a really creative job. I love being able to do [weddings as] being a part of someone’s wedding day is a pretty big honor.”

You both have a creative side and love art. How do you incorporate that into your floral designs?

Lily “It definitely shows in our color selection. My mom does all the buying for flowers, and she does an amazing job of creating gradients and color palettes for clients. For weddings, we’ll do arbors or [flowers] hanging from the ceiling or have a tree on the wall. They’re almost like giant sculptures that are temporary. We probably spend three hours on-site building something, and it’s only going to last for a day, but it’s very fun to do.”

Diane “Lily has a lot of input now in the flowers I’m buying. That’s the fun part, getting to pick and a color palette [to] design a wedding.”

Where do you source flowers and other products from?

Diane “I try to get everything locally when the season’s in high gear. [We source from] Sassafras [Fork Farm], Spring Forth Farm, Fireside Farm and Happy as a Coneflower Farm, and we work with Piedmont Wholesale Flowers when we can and a lot of the farmers there. Clear Black Flowers and Orlaya Flora [are two more]. We start local, then we go out regionally, and then we go out to American grown. As far as the herbs go, we deal with Maple Spring Gardens. We also get all of our lavender from Lavender Oaks Farm. I think [herbs] are overlooked and underutilized as a dried crop. I’m trying to learn a little bit about sourcing spices because I think it’s kinda got the same challenges. This is a new world for us, and we’re trying to navigate our way.”

What’s something people might not know about floral design?

Diane “We really need to educate the public about why flowers cost what they cost. I look at that as one of my missions in life. Flowers should not cost what they cost 30 years ago. [Flowers are these] amazing products, [one] that is perishable and somehow gets to us from South America sometimes in two days. It’s one thing to go to a store and pick up a bouquet of something for $8.99. It’s a completely different thing to come in here and buy a specialty bloom from us that may cost $5 a stem.”

Lily “[Think about] all the hands that have touched [a flower] before it gets to the consumer’s hand – the farmer, who’s figured out the best way to grow roses. And then the harvester who knows a way to cut it the right way. It’s so important that everyone is paid the way that they should be paid throughout that process. And if that means spending $5 on [each of] your roses, that’s what needs to be done.”

Diane “That really has been an uphill battle at times. I understand that not everyone has a ton of expendable income to blow on flowers, but should you choose to come in and treat yourself to something like this, it’s well worth it. Our blooms last longer, you’re impacting not just our lives, but the lives of the people who we buy these things from. When things did fall apart last year, to get on the phone with [a farmer] out in California and have him say, ‘There’s no one here, we’re throwing product in the dumpster by the truckload’ was heartbreaking. I can’t emphasize it enough. We know these people.”

What’s it like working together?

Lily “It’s taken some growth, but I thoroughly enjoy it. My mom and I have developed such a great friendship.”

Diane “We’ve learned a lot. I’m honored that she works here. It means so much to me, that we’re together every day. And we really don’t get sick of each other too often. We figured out our strengths, and we do actually end up meshing together pretty well. I’m more big picture, she’s more detail oriented.”

Your second location at the Durham Food Hall opened in May. What has it been like navigating the opening during the pandemic?

Diane “Stressful. I think the owner of the food hall did a phenomenal job. All of the customers who come in have been so respectful. Initially the [owners] approached us about helping them with their store and wanted me to consult as far as stocking it for them. And then I said, ‘Well, what about that extra space?’ [The apothecary] meshes so beautifully with the food hall. The botanical bar had always been a thing in the back of my mind. I think visually it offers a lot to the space – it’s open and has beautiful light fixtures and colors. When people can sit and hang out there, it’s going to be amazing.”

What’s next?

Diane “Eventually, I want to see three silos of support for the business. We have weddings and events, we have the retail part, and then we have the apothecary. Our tea line is going to go wholesale. I think the big idea is getting the tea out into the world. I think ultimately having a location that encompasses everything that we do, like a really beautiful space where someone could come in and look at a book and pick up some gifts and sit down and have a cup of tea with a friend.”

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Chapel Hill Mag Intern

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