When the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 2010, volcanic ash spewed into the atmosphere and caused a massive disruption in air travel across Europe. Flights were grounded for days, partially paralyzing the densely populated continent and disturbing global commerce. Among the European cargo held hostage by the volcano were fresh flowers bound for the United States, and that was posing a major problem for Anne Bowen Dabney ’05 at her florist shop Stems in downtown Charleston.
“How am I going to call a bride and tell her she’s not going to have flowers because there’s a volcano in Iceland erupting,” Dabney recalls thinking. “That doesn’t really go over very well.”
Dabney improvised and saved the day, and it’s not been the last time she’s been forced to do so. The floral business, she discovered, requires a talent for selecting and presenting flowers, of course, but also demands quick thinking and a knack for problem-solving.
“That’s one of the first things we learned: You can never really guarantee anything in this business,” says Dabney. “This job is 90 percent logistics, 5 percent flower arranging and 5 percent something else.”
Since graduating from the College with a studio art degree, Dabney worked at another florist shop in town before heading to London, where she trained under legendary florist Jane Packer. Returning to the United States, she purchased a low-slung building at the corner of Cannon and Coming streets, made some major renovations, and opened Stems in January 2010. Since then, Stems has become one of Charleston’s most popular event florists. This past spring Dabney, as well as fellow alum and Charleston florist Heather Barrie ’95 of Gathering Floral & Event Design, were named two of the “62 Top Floral Designers to Book For Your Wedding” by Martha Stewart Weddings.
During the fall and spring, Stems is booked with weddings, to the point that Dabney has become selective in choosing her clients, unwilling to overextend her business. Almost every weekend during those seasons Dabney’s 1965 vintage Metro Van will be puttering around town, dropping off arrangements. The eye-catching vehicle was a gift from Dabney’s brother.
“I’m pretty sure they pieced it together from leftover tractor parts,” Dabney says of the van, which was made by International Harvester, an agricultural products company.
“When it works it’s great,” she says. “People are constantly trying to buy it.”
Creating elaborate, floral masterpieces and adjusting plans on the fly are tough tasks to accomplish alone, so Dabney relies on the help and support of her husband, David Dabney ’99, as well as fellow Cougar alum employees Elise Griswold Nuckols ’07, Stefanya Drazba D’Allesandro ‘08, and Blakely Grindrod Little ’14 (who’s also a talented painter).
Recently Dabney and some business partners created Cannon Green, a restaurant and event space that opens to both Spring and Cannon streets. The restaurant’s interior is unique for the fact that it contains the preserved façade of an old Charleston single house that had been enveloped by a warehouse decades earlier.
This new venture allows Dabney to serve even more clients who are celebrating special events in Charleston. She says the opportunity to help make these events spectacular, and to do so in her own fashion, are what keep her inspired in her work.
“Getting to do something creative…” says Dabney. “There’s nothing better than that.”
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Listen to Anne Bowen Dabney describe her floral design business, Stems, and her restaurant, Cannon Green:
Watch Anne Bowen Dabney demonstrate the tricks to creating the perfect floral arrangement: