The Stalk Market

‘Flowers for the soul’ is what Kris Engstrom calls a visit to her shop

by Heleigh Bostwick

full_bloom_leadKris Engstrom has been selling flowers in Shelburne since the early 1980s, first as one of four partners at Village Flowers, and later, as sole proprietor of In Full Bloom in the village. Stella Luna Magnolia was a stray who one day showed up pregnant at Engstrom’s back door.

The vision that I always had for the flower shop was to set it up as if it was someone’s home,” says Kris Engstrom. “It creates an intimate setting that’s very user-friendly, and it’s much easier for clients to visualize how to decorate with flowers if the shop is set up like a living room or dining room.”

A quick look around Engstrom’s Shelburne flower shop, In Full Bloom, confirms that she’s succeeded in doing just that.

“Every day the shop gets created differently,” Engstrom says. “The shop out front is a mixture of whatever is in season, and I literally create a display every day that has fresh flowers. When you walk in the door you get to experience the scent — you can see, smell, and touch the freshness.”

Flowers have figured in Engstrom’s life for a long time. A native of Michigan, she graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in horticulture in 1972. She found a job managing a flower shop at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California after moving there with her then-husband, who was in the service.

They moved to Vermont in 1976 with their daughter, Erika, who was just a baby. The marriage ended two years later, and Engstrom, who was living in Richmond at the time, decided she liked it here and stayed.

She met and married Norm Johnson in 1978, and moved to his home in Shelburne. Their daughter, Britta, who manages In Full Bloom with her, was born in 1980.

Engstrom says she always wanted something different from the typical flower shop with flowers in coolers and buckets. “A flower in a cooler has no scent,” she explains, adding that she wanted people to experience her shop and make it a place “where people come in just to see what we have and to hang out.”

Toni Monsey of Charlotte is one of those people. “I’ve known Kris since 1995 when I first set foot in her shop,” she recalls. “Something about the feeling in the shop just drew me in and I kept going back.”

In Full Bloom has been at its current location since 1992, but the story of how the shop came to be starts 10 years earlier when Engstrom was part of a four-person partnership that owned and ran Village Flowers in Shelburne.

Due to creative differences, the partnership was eventually dissolved, and Engstrom started another flower shop three years later. “I realized that there was no longer a flower shop in Shelburne so I leased a space in Tenneybrook Square.”

She always considered it a temporary location, she says. “I was always looking for a place I could buy.” After four years of looking she finally found it — a double lot with a dilapidated house created from two homes joined together on one foundation, across from the Shelburne Museum on U.S. 7.

The houses had been moved from the museum property, and the groundskeeper there had used the lot for the leftovers from his landscaping projects.

“It’s an incredible location,” says Engstrom enthusiastically, as she recounts the story of how she came to own it. “The gas station next door was going to buy the property from the museum, which owned it at the time. They wanted to turn it into a parking lot, but the museum didn’t like that idea so they sold it to me.” That was nearly 20 years ago.

For Engstrom it was the perfect place for her new business. “I really wanted to be in the village and on Route 7 because I felt it was the most advantageous location for the business based on my previous experience,” she says.

The grounds surrounding the flower shop are planted with trees, flowers, and shrubs, all of which she uses in her arrangements, and are just as enchanting as the wood-shingled cape that houses the shop.

She quickly reels off the names of some of the flowers she grows. “I have hydrangeas; peonies; roses, for their blossoms and rose hips; ninebark; four varieties of lilacs; 12 different kinds of hostas; star magnolia; six kinds of iris; herbs for cutting; feverfew; and veronica.” As if that’s not enough, Engstrom mentions that she grows lily of the valley in the spring, and autumn clematis, both of which are perfect for the very personalized wedding arrangements she creates.

“I love going out into the yard to gather flowers or foliage to make an arrangement. I like different leaf patterns and use both the foliage and blossoms. There’s nothing more gratifying than using something you’ve grown.”

When she’s not using her own flora, Engstrom makes a point of sourcing her flowers from organic or socially responsible growers whenever she can. “Ten years ago I used to react to the pesticide powder [used] on roses on my skin. It’s one of the hazards we face from handling the flowers.”

Engstrom, who also lives on the premises, remembers the struggle she went through to, first, get financing to buy the property, and later, to fix it up. “The property required a total renovation,” she says. “I started with the furnace, electrical, hot water, and heating systems. It was all so old, but I was able to move in by Christmas Eve of that year.” Slowly she restored the houses, dividing the interior into sections and then working on the exterior, and finally the grounds.

The most recent renovation took place just last year with the addition of a new workspace with three benches and a new cooler. “It’s been an investment and I’ve had to be smart about it. I couldn’t afford to make a lot of mistakes,” she says.

In the meantime, Britta was growing up. She graduated in 2001 from the New England School of Art and Design at Suffolk University in Boston with a bachelor of fine arts in graphic design. She stayed in Boston for a while hoping to find work, but in the end, moved back to Shelburne.

The timing was perfect. “I was getting ready to retire but couldn’t find anyone willing to commit to the business like me. When Britta came back home, I hired her to work with me.” That was in the fall of 2002.

“Living in Boston gave Britta a real sense of city style and what people find interesting and fresh,” says Engstrom. “It’s a good fit, and we shift responsibilities depending on what’s best for the business.”

In Full Bloom is a small operation, but with a number of part-time employees. “We don’t usually have a lack of people who want to work,” says Engstrom. “They usually find us; show up when we need them. We have a whole family who come in with four kids, and all except the dad help out.”

Britta’s father, Norm Johnson, is semi-retired and helps with deliveries. He’s also the official handyman, often trading his time for flowers.

“We sell flowers, but I think we sell them in a different way,” Engstrom says. “We pride ourselves on doing things that are more imaginative, artistic, and more cutting-edge.

“We like to do it differently than anyone else, daring to do something that’s pushing the envelope. We take chances; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”

Engstrom describes her work as “turning feelings into flowers. There’s a lot of intimacy involved in what we do,” she says. “If someone orders flowers for themselves or someone else, we want the person ordering it to know that we know what they want and love, such as the colors or kinds of flowers.”

In Full Bloom doesn’t just sell flowers and deliver arrangements for weddings, art gallery openings, funerals, and corporate clients such as Says Engstrom, “In the beginning we worked together with smaller decorators and businesses. They did the fabrics and draperies and we did the flowers. We also go into people’s homes and decorate them with flowers.”

She’s referring to clients like Monsey, whose home is seasonally decorated with live flower arrangements created by the shop. “Kris does beautiful work,” says Monsey. “She’s filled my life and my house with flowers and beauty.”

Not surprisingly, Engstrom’s spare time is spent with nature: kayaking, hiking, “getting outside and being with the Earth,” she says.

The child of practicing artists and craftspeople, she keeps her fingers in art by attending exhibits and painting. “I love live theater. I used to paint the scenery for the Shelburne Players.” She also supports numerous community projects and is president of the Charlotte-Shelburne Rotary Club.

Business has never been better, says Engstrom, who believes without a doubt that her flower shop is a viable business for the future.

“Flowers are a necessary part of people’s existence,” she says. “People need the energy of the flowers and green plants in their lives. The more separated we are from the Earth, if we can bring flowers into that space, it reminds us of that connection in a way nothing else can.”

She observes that sometimes people come into the shop just to feel good, especially in winter, and take something home that has color and fragrance. She calls this providing “flowers for the soul.”

“She’s a great spirit and it comes through in her work, says V.J. Comai, a certified arborist and owner of South Forty Nursery in Charlotte who designs and builds the strategically placed cedar twig furniture and arbors that adorn the grounds of In Full Bloom.

“I love to stop by her shop,” says Comai. “It’s ever changing and you never know what you’ll find there.” •