Whether she is arranging a bouquet of locally-grown flowers or driving around the city to donate her blooms to local charities, a love of community is woven through everything Kate Punnett does. The self-proclaimed social artist has been growing organic vegetables and helping transform urban spaces into food and flower gardens for over 20 years, but four years ago, she was inspired to explore a new medium for her artistic expression. She began growing, arranging, and selling flowers from her front yard.
“I was really interested in forestry and working with flowers,” says Punnett. “I just couldn’t really afford to do it in any other way. I thought, I’m going to go for it and grow flowers.” She started selling her blossoms to friends and family and set up little flower stands across the city. She even appeared as a guest vendor at the first edition of the Ottawa Flower Market, a monthly outdoor cut-flower market dedicated to local flowers and foliage.
The city loved it. “People were really resonating with the idea of me growing tons of flowers in my front yard and buying flowers from me super locally,” Punnett says. Encouraged by this warm reception, one year ago, She decided to dive headfirst into her passion, and founded City Love Flowers, a boutique floral design studio and urban garden. Through her business, she began arranging and delivering flowers from her gardens and from local growers.
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But with the pandemic looming over the city, she felt the need to engage in more community-oriented projects: “I really felt like I needed to imbue my business with all the community work I did before,” she explains. “I started this Elderflower Project where I accepted donations and then I turned them into flowers. I dropped them off at the Ottawa West Community Support, and they put them into food baskets for isolated seniors.” This project inspired Purnett to use her work as an artist and in her garden to connect with her community by re-launching City Love Flowers as a social enterprise.
Through the winter months, she began developing a unique structure for her business that would enable her to use flowers as a community development tool. Punnett is launching this new model for City Love Flowers today, on Earth Day 2021. While she has many projects in the works with various local charities, including the Parkdale Food Centre, the initiative that is closest to her heart is her Flower Fund. This social giveback program will work with rotating charities in the area to donate flowers to people in need of the positivity, restorative effects, and beauty of fresh-cut flowers.
“As cool as it is for people to buy flowers from me […] what I’m really excited about is that people will be donating to the Flower Fund,” Punnett says eagerly. “This is my way of creating change. The role of the social artist is to find something inside of a group of people or individuals that ignites a feeling of responding to something. It’s really using art to awaken a feeling that they want to make a change.”
In a time marked by fear and isolation, Punnett hopes that the Flower Fund will allow more members of her community to experience the feeling of nostalgia, comfort, and healing that comes with a fresh, ephemeral bouquet of local flowers. “It’s really urgent, I think. Beauty and this feeling of being taken care of, this expression of giving, is so urgent right now.”
Tune into @cityloveflowers’ Instagram stories at 6pm ET today, April 22, 2021, to hear more about how the boutique floral design studio and urban garden intends to make a big impact in Ottawa by spreading the love of flowers.