By Lauren Dowdle | Photos by Blair Ramsey
Flowers can represent love, joy, friendship and dozens of other emotions and special moments in life. For Carolyn Chen, owner of Wild Things, flowers are how she expresses her creativity.
Growing up outside of Chicago, Illinois, Carolyn remembers being exposed to a wide variety of experiences—especially ones that involved nature. “My mom was a huge gardener,” she says. “We were always outside doing fun, creative family activities.”
As a teenager, Carolyn’s mother had worked at a flower shop during the summer, so Carolyn decided to do the same. While her summer job mainly consisted of sweeping, taking out the trash and processing flowers, Carolyn says she remembers having the chance to help with a tulip arrangement and also design one for her family. Another memory that sticks out from her time at the shop included a bit of a rose mix-up.
“When roses come in bundles, there are short and tall roses. You’re supposed to separate them by short and tall when you cut them and then put the tall ones in the back of the vase and the short ones in the front,” Carolyn explains. “But I cut them all at the same time, taking off more length from the longer stems so they were all the same size.”
Even though that blunder led to a temporarily upset boss—and a bit of a laugh now—Carolyn says the job was a good experience for her.
She also had a job at a flower store in college and was better able to hone her skills by figuring out how to cut flowers, put them in vases and become more comfortable working with them. “It came naturally to me,” she says.
Those experiences helped cultivate her passion for flowers, but floral designs weren’t her only interest. She also loved animals. Carolyn attended Auburn University’s pre-vet program but soon realized the major didn’t provide her with a way to express her creativity.
So, she switched to graphic design and went on to work for an ad agency. Yet, the rules that come with designing for specific brands were also confining. That led Carolyn to quit her corporate job, become a freelance graphic designer and move to Birmingham to be closer to her sister.
Even as a designer, her love for flowers never went away. While shopping for florals around the city, she says she only found traditional arrangements each time. “No one was doing anything trendy or exotic to push the envelope,” Carolyn says.
And, she wanted to change that. In 2018, she opened Wild Things to provide Homewood and beyond with an innovative shop that would expand the boundaries with different floral designs. Carolyn developed her own arranging style and taught her employees how to follow it, as well. Finding team members who were creative—as opposed to ones with floral experience—was the goal.
“If they have a strict, floral training background, it can be hard to break them of that,” she explains. “We’re more freeform with garden-style arrangements. Our philosophy when we’re training here is to let them be creative.”
That relaxed vibe carries over throughout the shop, making Wild Things an inviting spot to visit. “The atmosphere is super casual but also eclectic and fun,” Carolyn says. “You’ll probably see one of my three dogs walking around the shop at any time.”
Whether planning an event or simply looking for a way to brighten someone’s day, customers can find the perfect flowers for any occasion at Wild Things. The shop creates a variety of floral arrangements, from neutral and earthy tones to ones with warm and romantic color palettes. They also have wrapped bouquets, dance flowers, centerpieces, wreaths and more.
Carolyn says she especially loves unarranged tulips in a vase, and peonies and garden roses are always popular flowers. Most customers come with ideas or inspiration boards for the types of arrangements they’re looking for, she says, while others leave the design up to Carolyn and her team.
For anyone wanting to wow with flowers at their next event, Carolyn encourages them to think outside of the box. “It’s fun to be timeless and all white, but that’s something we see all of the time,” she says.
Another tip she shares is for people to pick their moment with floral arrangements, instead of washing out the space by covering everything with flowers. That could mean focusing on a chandelier, archway, stage front or other focal point with the flowers—which is also more budget-friendly than using them extensively everywhere.
“Pick the floral moment where you want to wow people, and let everything else trickle down and mimic that,” Carolyn says.
In addition to fresh florals, Wild Things also carries a variety of gifts and unique items like candles poured in Birmingham with dried flowers sprinkled on top, coffee table books, puzzles, picture frames, planters, spa items and more.
Even though the store has a wide range of eclectic items, Carolyn—like other small business owners—says she worried sales would decline when the pandemic hit. But it was just the opposite. During those often-isolating times, people wanted to send flowers to their loved ones to brighten their days.
One thing that has changed since the pandemic is that they have stopped hosting public workshops, although they might bring them back later this year or next. In the meantime, Wild Things still offers space for private events, and they hold off-site workshops for corporate events, like a holiday-wreath making class.
Constantly surrounded by floral scents, colorful muses and a vibrant team, Carolyn’s passion for flowers has only grown throughout the years. “I love coming to work every day,” she says. “We have an awesome group of women who are supportive of each other.”
Flowers help bring nature indoors with the fresh scents and bright colors, and these arrangements can also help people celebrate special occasions and provide perspective into what truly matters.
“For me, they’re kind of like subtle reminders of life’s precious moments,” Carolyn says. “Flowers have a life cycle just like we do, so it’s like seeing a sped-up mirror image of that. It’s a reminder to live every day to the fullest and tell the people I love that I love them.”
Not only can residents in Homewood enjoy these stunning flowers, but those in the Lone Star State will also be able to experience the unique floral arrangements. Carolyn recently moved to Austin where she’s opening another Wild Things location. “It’s been fun to grow this business,” she says.
Wild Things is located at 2815B 18th St. South in Homewood. The shop is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit wildthingsbhm.com.