SWANTON — Flowers by Debbie in Swanton looks akin to a fairy forest on the inside and smells of roses, lilies and lavender.
On any given day, customers can find sunny-faced owner Jenny Bessette at the back counter, trimming stems and tying sparkling ribbons around vases holding her custom bouquets. Some are St. Patrick’s Day-themed with green carnations while others have peach-colored gerbera daisies.
On Wednesday, Bessette sat down with the Messenger to talk about her businesses, her family and how she found her calling. Raised in a culinary and catering family, Bessette said she always knew she wanted to someday have a wedding venue, host events and even arrange flowers. Flowers, she found, were her language.
“Flowers help connect people,” Bessette said. “Whether it’s a wedding or a funeral, a gesture or simply a show of affection, flowers say some of the things that we can’t say. They can bring people together.”
Q: How did you get started as a wedding venue?
A: Bessette’s family owns The Abbey, which has a restaurant, venue and catering company in Sheldon. Bessette grew up working weddings and events with her family and eventually moved into managerial roles. By age 20, she said, she knew that she, too, wanted to own a venue.
“When I was 15, my parents hired me a driver,” she said. “I’ve always been really involved in the events my family ran, and I ran some too. This is what I was meant to do.”
Bessette owns Jenny’s Barn at her property in Franklin. The venue has a broad view of the mountains and an arbor, and indoor options inside of the enormous white barn perfect for an accidentally-rainy day.
“Weddings are just so much fun, and it’s such a big day,” Bessette said while arranging flowers last week. “And there’s so much to plan … it’s an adrenaline rush when you pull it all together and manage to make everyone happy. It’s a lot of work, but I love it.”
Flowers are typically part of a wedding plan, but Bessette said she also would buy her own flowers for other types of events, despite the fact that no one would be purchasing the bouquets from her. While she was satisfied with her wedding venue business, Bessette began scheming about how she could do her favorite part of wedding planning full-time.
Then, she met Debbie LaVoie.
Q: How did you come across Flowers by Debbie?
A: Debbie LaVoie opened Flowers by Debbie 40 years ago when she was 19 years old. Several years ago, her daughter married and had the ceremony at Bessette’s barn.
“I had such a blast working with the bride and her family, we had a wonderful time,” Bessette said. “
While weddings typically have flowers arranged by the bridal party, other events like catered outings, parties and banquets often don’t come with decorations, and Bessette said she always looked forward to mixing and matching themed bouquets. Her husband encouraged her to talk to LaVoie about her business, and the conversation went better than she had hoped.
LaVoie asked Bessette if she wanted to buy Flowers by Debbie, and two years ago Bessette finally closed on her own little flower shop, right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Bessette now owns Flowers by Debbie, but the two still work together alongside three other people at the shop. One of her mottos is “never say no,” and she prides herself in her ability to adapt to the wants and needs of each particular customer.
“Flowers cover every category,” Bessette said. “They’re romantic, they help you when you’re down … I love to customize arrangements and make people feel great.”
Customizations also include a can of chicken noodle soup as part of a “get well” bouquet.
Q: Why flowers?
A: “No matter what type of event, whether it’s a kid’s birthday party or anniversary, I always make sure there are some flowers,” Bessette said. “Flowers make everything better.”
Bessette said she found herself always making arrangements regardless of the event, so operating a flower shop came naturally to her. Helping brides organize wedding arrangement details is a treat for her, and making sure the flowers tie the color scheme and fashion in with the event is something she specializes in.
“I have a wedding this fall for an Irish family,” she said. “Orange tones with an emerald-green ribbon. It’s going to be gorgeous.”
Q: How did COVID-19 affect your business?
A: “We have between 15 and 20 deliveries just today, which is pretty awesome,” Bessette said. “We usually have several funerals, we do some restrooms at the Maplefields and we have wedding season just around the corner. We are always hopping.”
With the onset of COVID-19, Bessette said rather than orders decreasing because of mandated closure or guidelines, her delivery list grew. In lieu of hugs, dinner dates, birthday parties and other in-person gatherings, customers ordered bouquets of flowers from florists like Bessette to send to their friends and family. Flowers provided a beautiful and uplifting connection during days when social distancing kept many apart. Holidays were busier than normal, and Bessette had to make some adjustments to their store organization to make shopping more feasible.
“For Mother’s Day, I moved the whole store outside,” Bessette said. “We sold every single thing we had that week.”
Q: What is your favorite flower?
A: “It used to be red roses because they’re just so classic and romantic,” Bessette said. “But I love filler flowers like wax flowers and baby’s breath. Accents. Details. My favorite thing about a wedding is the details.”