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Daily Inspiration: Meet Toni Sicola

Today we’d like to introduce you to Toni Sicola.

Toni, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
In a million years, I never would have guessed that I’d end up working in the wedding industry, much less ecstatic about what I get to do every day to earn a living. I came to wedding florals by chance through a passion for and love of growing and arranging succulents.

When I lived in Alameda, CA, my husband and I landscaped our entire front and back yard with succulents. We collected every variety we could get our hands on, turning into borderline plant hoarders with an unstoppable need to collect, tend to, and propagate our plants.

When I’d had enough of the corporate world, I began brainstorming what my next steps would be, and I had about five ideas to run with. One of the five ideas was to build a succulent business by selling succulent crafts, hosting workshops, working with restaurants and wineries on living decor, and getting into home staging with live plants. Then a friend asked me to do her wedding out of the blue. It planted the seed of possibility that took me much further than the other ideas I’d had for using my plants in my business. (Although I still offer workshops and do decor in hotels and other business establishments.)

Once I started posting my wedding designs on Instagram, the rest was history. The wedding side of things took off from there, and I’ve been a busy bee ever since. That was 2017.

When the pandemic hit in the middle of our month-long vacation to Moab in March of 2020, we decided to stick around and brave the first bit of the plague in a small town where it felt safer. After extending our stay in Moab to almost three months, we decided to move here for good in the fall of 2020, and I basically had to start my business over in a brand new place (and market).

The wedding industry and community of creatives in this small town and the surrounding areas have been beyond welcoming to me and my little biz. I’ve now tapped into and feel part of the network of incredible talent here, from planners to flower farmers, to photographers, to cake makers, to venue owners, and I’m so grateful to be a part of this community.

I’ve also added ceremony music to my wedding offerings for couples who are getting married here in Moab and want a simple, un-plugged song to walk down the aisle to. I’ve been singing all my life and performed professionally as a singer-songwriter for a short stint in my twenties. I even recorded a few albums, one of which is on Spotify. It feels great to get back to that all these years later and to be able to offer that service to my couples.

I can’t wait to see what’s next for Succulents for Hire—there might even be a name change as I branch out more and more into the cut flower world. One of the incredible flower farmers in town, Farmyard Moab, is helping me map out some flower beds of my own so I can try my hand at growing a few flowers this spring. Crossing my fingers it will be a total success!

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
During the pandemic, micro-weddings and elopements boomed, and I began shipping my work all over the country—one of the many perks of using succulents is that they survive in the mail. Much smaller orders and the logistics of shipping during a global pandemic proved challenging, but when we picked up our lives and moved to Moab, UT, I faced a whole new set of challenges.

In addition to leaving my endless supply of succulents in my yard and the bounty of the San Francisco flower mart behind, I also had to contend with the extreme weather conditions in Moab—not ideal for growing succulents (to say the least).

We packed up the entire Subaru (and most of our camper van) with the plants we wanted to bring with us, and I kept them in the garage under grow lights for the winter—with limited success (who knew plants would mold in the desert winter??). What survived the winter thrived in the spring, but then the summer hit, cooking an ungodly number of plants in the blistering high desert heat. (There were tears.)

The learning curve has been STEEP, and we had lots of casualties in the first year. But despite the loss of at least 50 mama plants, I think we have a handle on it now, and the plants are doing great here in Moab. We built a greenhouse where the succulents are happy three out of four seasons (TBD about next summer), and I still return to my favorite wholesaler in California to restock as I continue to build up the supply of mama plants in my new greenhouse.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
The bulk of my business is succulent-based wedding floral, born out of my love for succulents and a desire to make weddings, in general, less wasteful. The beauty of featuring succulents (besides their innate beauty) is that they’re not dead when you cut them to decorate—they’re just waiting to be replanted after the party. The fastest way to propagate succulents is to transplant cuttings, so your wedding flowers are just a garden of cuttings waiting to happen. I like to call them “love gardens,” even though I know that’s super cheesy.

I have no formal floral training, so when I started out, I was literally watching YouTube videos on how to create a floral wire stem on a succulent so that I could use it in a bouquet. In my first bouquet experiment, I used succulents, roses, and baby’s breath. Now I virtually never use either of those cut flowers in my work.

My personal aesthetic is organic and natural with lots of color. I’ve learned through trial and error what mechanics I need to use to hold up the weight of the succulents while still creating light and flowy designs. I love to use locally-grown cut flowers from the flower farms in town as well as air plants, sola flowers, and foraged ingredients like desert grasses and wildflowers. I also order from a select group of wholesalers when I need specific ingredients like proteas and popular greens that won’t grow in the desert.

A huge piece of my offering is my selection of fresh-cut ingredients, which I choose because they can hold up all day. Whether I’m doing a wedding here in the desert of Moab or back in the Golden State, I want my designs to last all day long, no matter how hot it gets. I specialize in full-service weddings, including personal flowers, wearable living jewelry and hair combs, “pocket garden” boutonnieres, eclectic tablescapes and centerpieces, as well as ceremony decor (aisle, arch, altarpieces, etc.)

I’d say one of the attributes that set me and my business apart is my ability to fuse creativity with professionalism. I won’t say that it’s a rare combination, but the number of couples who’ve pointed it out to me tells me that I’m doing that part right. I’m responsive, reliable, and clear in all of my client communications, and if something doesn’t work or go the way I expected it to, I pivot immediately so that it never happens again. This approach has given me near-perfect ratings across all my review platforms. I plan to extend that level of professionalism to my musical offerings as I slowly build that side of my business.

Creatively, I’m most proud of how I’ve expanded what’s possible with succulents in all manner of floral design. The plants themselves can get heavy, especially if you want a big statement succulent included. And it can be easy to fall back on certain shapes and design choices again and again without testing the boundaries of what I can do with the right mechanics. Lately, I’ve been going bigger, wider, and wilder with my designs, using heavy-duty floral wire and a different variety of plants to push the limits of what’s possible with succulents.

Some brides say, “I want you to do your thing, just go for it. While others say, I want these colors and these plants in this shape,” with a full Pinterest board for inspiration. I actually love both kinds of brides. It’s fun to get creative within specific limits, and it’s fun to run wild without them. I feel so lucky to get to do what I do. If I’ve created movement and flow, and you never see a piece of floral wire or tape, then I’ve done my job.

Do you have any memories from childhood that you can share with us?
Wow, that’s a tough question. I had a pretty great childhood. Houston, Texas is a hot, muggy place, but we escaped to the beach a lot when we were kids, and my sister and I got to go to summer camp in the Texas hill country for nine summers in a row.

Pinpointing one memory from summer camp would be hard, but I’d say that those days were my favorite memories from childhood. I was there for two weeks every summer from age 10 to 18, and I still have friendships from that time that I plan to have forever. It was the first place I climbed a rock and repelled back down — two of my favorite activities to do today and a major reason we moved to the adult playground of Moab, UT. It was the first place I went kayaking, skinny-dipping, and shot a gun (not all at the same time).

It was the locale of my first intense crush and the first place I sang the National Anthem in front of a crowd. The evening round-up of camp songs every night after dinner inspired me to learn guitar, which led to a stint of performing as a singer/songwriter with three albums under my belt in my twenties. And I’m stoked to start using those talents again for small weddings here in Moab.

Most importantly, camp was the one place in Texas where I felt like I actually wanted to be outside all the time. My experience there became the foundation for my love of nature, conservation, and the great outdoors, which has shaped my life (and my business) beyond what I could possibly put into words.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Marcela Limon @lemonshoots, Casandrah Jensen @CasandrahJensenPhotography, Angela Hays @angelahaysphotography, Ryan Lundbohm @the_bearded_kite, Danielle Evans @bloomphotographyca, and Adam Suguitan @adamspointofview

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1 Comment

  1. Rosemary Listi

    January 11, 2022 at 9:10 pm

    Wonderful to hear about your busy life and business. Congratulations and much success in all your endeavors

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