Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Petal to the metal: Flower bus brings custom creations to Wilmington

Erin Ellsworth, owner of Petals To The People flower bus, makes a delivery for a monthly subscriber in Wilmington. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)

WILMINGTON —- After spending ten years working for a flower farm, Erin Ellsworth unintentionally picked up on how to put together an arrangement.

When she launched her first business and flower bus, Petals To The People, Ellsworth figured people would want to peer through the bus opening and pick out their own stems.

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But customer after customer, she was asked to arrange the stems how she pleased. Now, her no-recipe recipe makes up nearly her entire business model.

Flower-powered engine

Maneuvering the revamped, former activity bus around town feels familiar for Ellsworth. For a decade, she made appearances at area farmers markets for Castle Hayne Farms, loading and unloading bouquets from a delivery van she said is bigger than her flower bus.

Though she wasn’t selling her own creations at the markets, she gained insight into what worked, what sold, what didn’t.

After the birth of her first daughter, she took a break from work. “I missed just being out there with people and being with the flowers,” she said. With her husband Eli’s encouragement, Ellsworth bought the bus, painted it seafoam green, and carpeted it with astroturf.

Erin Ellsworth prepares to wrap an arrangement in the back of her flower bus. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)

She called up her old coworkers to ask if they would consider being her supplier. “I was actually a little nervous at first — what are they going to think?” she said. Castle Haynes Farms co-owner, Mark Hommes, was immediately receptive, Ellsworth said. “He said, ‘Of course you can. Buy as many as you want.'”

The bus launched in September. Shortly after, Ellsworth realized her personal arrangements would serve as the core of the business, and quickly implemented a subscription service. Every month (or bimonthly), Ellsworth will deliver a bouquet to doorsteps in town — though not always in the flower bus.

Her favorite, the peony, will make an appearance when it’s in season; this month, Ellsworth is busy sticking up for carnations (which apparently get a bad rap). She said she usually travels with a pair of shears to snip cattails while around town or rescue greenery from a fallen magnolia branch.

The flower bus is decked out with mid-century style stickers, magnets and decor. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)

‘Beespoke’ bouquets,

Every bouquet is unique but all have Ellsworth’s natural flare.

“That’s kind of the whole thing with my stuff. Nothing is ever the same. So that’s why they’re bespoke. Mine is what I like that’s in season, what looks pretty, what’s fresh. I don’t have a standard bouquet to choose from,” Ellsworth said.

“People are into that. And they trust me. So if you like my stuff, then you’re going to roll with that,” she said.

However, she will make some exceptions (e.g. one client doesn’t like roses, so roses won’t appear in any subscription bouquets; another is concerned about her cat, so Ellsworth knows to look out for what not to include).

The floor of the flower bus is carpeted in astroturf. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)

For clients interested, she’ll also include the locally-produced FeeBee’s Honey with the delivery. The subscription service starts out at $35 a month for the “Petal Pusher” package; the “Flower Power” package is $50 and the “Qween Bee” is $65.

There’s a $10 fee for crossing bridges (e.g. Heide Trask into Wrightsville, Cape Fear Memorial into Brunswick County, Snow’s Cut into Carolina Beach), which also applies to the traffic-congested Porter’s Neck area, Ellsworth said.

Besides the subscription service, Ellsworth still frequents area events in the flower bus and is available for one-time deliveries, small-to-midsize weddings, baby showers, and more.

“Flowers make people feel good. Nobody’s ever pissed off when they’re coming to buy flowers from you. Nobody’s in a bad mood because they’re waiting in line,” she said. “And if they are in a bad mood, you’re going to cheer them up with flowers.”

When clients are home for their delivery or are surprised by one, Ellsworth and her flowers are always greeted with a smile.

“It’s fulfilling. It feels good. It feels like you’re doing a little something for people. I may not be able to do much to change the world but at least I can make people’s day better,” she said.

Erin Ellsworth waves to a subscription client after making a delivery. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)

Keep up with Petals To The People flower bus on Facebook or Instagram.

Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee Still at

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