Centralia Woman Has Given Away Over 175 Bouquets This Summer

By Isabel Vander Stoep / isabel@chronline.com

Nothing quite matches the joy of giving or getting bouquets.

But growing flowers from seeds and arranging them in attractive bundles is an art form mastered by few.

Beth Sweeney, of Centralia, was interested in the work of one such master, a flower farmer from Mount Vernon named Erin Benzakein who wrote a book titled “Cut Flower Garden.” Sweeney read it during the winter of 2019-20 and decided to grow hundreds of flowers from seeds before transplanting them outside in the spring.

Soon, the pandemic began.

Sweeney, with an abundance of flowers, was determined to make the world around her a little brighter and more beautiful. Taking inspiration from shared community library boxes, she and her husband created an outdoor stand of completely free bouquets.

“Oh my gosh, people were so sweet about it. They would leave notes and cards and food and homemade soap. I just heard the nicest stories about what it meant to them,” Sweeney said. “So, I did that last summer, I think I gave away about 160-ish. This summer I must have given away more than that, like 175. I lose count.”

A designer, Sweeney and her husband Justin have experience in renovating and selling homes, which is where she honed her landscaping skills. The couple’s original intention when buying their home on Oak Street in Centralia was to flip it, but they fell in love with the pace of the city and ended up staying. Through her flowers, she’s been able to meet her neighbors even in the time of social distancing.

She also used to work for a nonprofit tool-lending library. Unlike those kinds of programs, there is no required offering for her bouquets. It’s nice when people leave jars or other gifts, but the greatest joy is seeing the smiles on her neighbors faces, she said.

“You could argue that (tending to) annual flowers isn’t exactly being in the forest but still, that inspires a lot of creativity in me. But then there is something about just sitting in the backyard and putting colors together, and textures,” Sweeney said about building the bouquets. “I have a cousin who’s a wedding florist and has been for many years. So, I used to help her.”

The best method, Sweeney said, is to start with the greenery or foliage usually considered to be the background of the arrangement. Then, add the flowers.

Sweeney’s favorite flowers are dahlias, for their variety. She also loves zinnias because “they are just a workhorse. You can cut them and they keep coming back like nobody’s business.”

Her garden is all organic, and the flowers have only ever been sprayed with a compost tea, because she doesn’t want to send anyone home with pesticides.

Flowers will be on the stand for about two more weeks, or while they are still in bloom.

“Don’t be scared to share what you have, is what I would want to put out there. If you have something that you love and you love doing, chances are somebody else is going to be really excited about it, too,” Sweeney said. “It’s just such a really meaningful way to connect with people.”