The pandemic plants the seeds for Terra Coastal, a flourishing new floral design business for customized Cape home décor.
Beth Johnson is a true flower lover. The gardens surrounding her home in Cotuit’s picturesque sea captain’s village fill in the springtime with peonies, daffodils, and Irises. All summer long, visitors to Cotuit’s historic Main Street delight in wide perennial borders lush with Hydrangea, daisies, and roses encircling the Johnson’s 18th century home, which was once the town’s post office. In every season, the house’s window boxes are filled with live colorful flowers, interesting foliage, and fresh evergreen plants artfully arranged.
Johnson, who has been an active member of the Osterville Garden Club for almost a decade and who has a degree in landscape architecture from Penn State, describes herself as a horticulturalist first, and a floral designer second. She admits to being a little uncomfortable in the floral design world, which can be a bit of a cutthroat environment, especially in the judged flower show arena. She says she is a hands-in-the-dirt gardener. Still, she can reel off the Latin names of plants with the best of the garden club’s horticultural pros. “I just love flowers,” says Johnson, noting that after a lifetime of designing her own gardens, she learned the basics of floral design in the garden club’s workshops and community activities relatively recently.
Still, working with flowers was just a hobby, something fun to do with friends and fellow volunteers at fundraisers for the Historical Society of Santuit and Cotuit, where she works as the organization’s long time president, to showcase this Cape town’s illustrious history. Her “real” job as a freelance graphic designer working for a handful of environmental and architectural clients kept her fulfilled and busy.
But as has happened to so many during the Covid pandemic, Johnson realized that while her regular job helped her husband pay the bills, she needed something new, something to bring vibrancy and excitement to her increasingly detached, Zoom work world. Even the garden club held its meetings on Zoom, eliminating a fun, educational, and stimulating monthly experience for more than 90 members from Barnstable towns.
“This is a pandemic story,” Johnson begins. “At the historical society, we are always looking for ways to fundraise, which was pretty difficult during 2020 when everything had to be done outside. Last fall, we were trying to create some items for our holiday boutique and a friend and I made some arrangements and wreaths with both live and silk flowers. And you know, we did pretty well . . . people really liked what we made. And I realized how much I loved creating these designs!”
The historical society’s gift shop, well known for unusual, carefully selected, high-quality gifts and Cape collectibles, also nurtured Johnson’s creative juices. After the holiday boutique, Johnson decided to try and sell some of the few leftover arrangements and wreaths in the shop. “We were really busy because no one wanted to go shopping with big crowds during the pandemic,” says Johnson, who notes that she loves history as much as she loves gardening.
“We had the best year we’ve ever had in the shop and the boutique arrangements sold just like that!” she says, snapping her fingers. When shop customers began to ask if they could have customized floral designs, Johnson took the plunge. “I suddenly realized that I CAN do this!” she says.
Ideas for a new business began to blossom as Johnson sat in her office, in the former post office part of her charming, meandering Cape home, churning out reports and precise, but not terribly creative graphics for her customers. “I kept thinking, ‘How can I make a business with flowers somehow?’” she says admitting that the prospect of working with live flowers, which require constant maintenance, expensive cumbersome refrigeration, and specialized mechanics was daunting. “I love flowers so much that I want to keep them around as long as I can,” she says. And so with roots in the concept of customized, faux floral designs for coastal homes, Cape Cod’s Terra Coastal Design was born.
Johnson’s graphic design background came in handy as she labored over her new company’s website and Instagram page, aided by her social media savvy daughter. She spent hours researching faux floral design online, evaluating wholesale suppliers, and putting together a business plan. Finally, in January 2021, she launched her company and began flooding social media with artistically photographed posts offering, “Just the right mix of seaside charm and modern farmhouse style, to brighten every corner of your home.”
Creating natural and realistic faux floral designs in a great array of unusual containers from Cotuit beach driftwood, vintage lanterns, to old-fashioned cheese crocs, tiny terra cotta pots, and farmhouse bowls and boxes, Johnson’s designs have an elegant, coastal aesthetic shaped by the designer’s love of a natural seaside color palette—subtle lavenders, ocean blues, and silvery grays. First-time customers are given a free consultation because as Terra Coastal’s attractive, easy to use website (terracoastaldesign.com) says, “Our style . . . is defined with you in mind.”
Every room in Johnson’s antique-filled house is filled with Terra Coastal beauty. An antique bench in the parlor sprouts “Teacup Takeaways,” one of the company’s bestsellers, featuring diminutive vintage canning jars and cheese crocs filled with faux lavender, Dusty Miller, and delicate foliage leaves you would swear were just picked. “These are all high quality botanicals,” says Johnson, reaching out to touch the leaves in a large “Hydrangea Basket” design featuring three huge white Hydrangea, lacey ferns, and ivy foliage. “Just touch this leaf,” she says. “It even feels real.”
Several of the designs in the Terra Coastal collection (available for purchase on the company’s website) feature shells or other coastal accents. “We want to honor our community and our environment as much as we can,” says Johnson, noting that a portion of the company’s annual proceeds will be given each year to the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, a nonprofit committed to protecting the Cape’s resources.
Johnson’s design studio is in her old office, a bright window-lined space that looks out over Cotuit’s shady streets. Every corner is filled with shelves bursting with gorgeous faux roses, Hydrangea, Dahlia, peonies, Sea Holly, lavender, Cosmos, poppies, ivy, ferns, Sedum, and more. A bookcase holds containers of every imaginable type: urns, baskets, clay pots, Ball jars, and vintage wooden shop boxes. “The whole container part of this business has been great fun, too,” says Johnson, noting that she and her sister spent hours perusing a county fair in upstate New York recently for some treasures. Her husband Dave—whose hobbies include woodworking—fashions some of the containers, such as a line of charming birdhouse door hangings.
To help spread the word about Terra Coastal, Johnson also displays her designs at The Art Coddage in Mashpee Commons, an art gallery and gift boutique featuring the work of Cape artisans. “It’s a great place where 10 artisans with all different talents display their work,” says Johnson. “I went in there one day and was amazed by all the beautiful things there.” Soon, Terra Coastal’s artistry decorated two vintage display doors at The Coddage.
When she is asked what her favorite flowers are—real, or faux—Johnson doesn’t hesitate. “I like the autumnal flowers best,” she says, noting that the soft gold, deep russet, and salmon-hued flowers were her colors of choice in her recent successful debut at the HyArts Shanties, a juried artist’s showcase on Hyannis harbor where Cape artists are given a shanty to display their works.
And even though the faux florals are the centerpiece of Terra Coastal, Johnson also designs seasonal planters and window boxes with live plant material for four-season beauty. “I do this for a handful of customers now, but I would love to expand that part of the business too,” says Johnson.
Somehow you know that this graphic designer, nonprofit president, garden club member, experienced horticulturalist—and yes, very talented floral designer—will grow Terra Coastal far beyond the walls of her former graphic design office on a quiet village street. And Cape Cod will be a more beautiful place where her permanent botanical artistry abides.
Centerville’s Susan Dewey, associate editor of Cape Cod GARDEN, is a Garden Club of America judge in floral design as well as a landscape designer for her son’s Cape Cod company, Dewey Gardens.