Michigan floral designer Susan McLeary had no intention of being a florist back when she was a college student and moonlighting as a waitress. It was her jewelry-making habit, making baubles to sell at a local boutique and to give to friends, that inadvertently lead to arranging blooms, actually. "I was making wedding jewelry for one such friend, and one night, a few months before her wedding, she told me she hadn't hired a florist and needed my help," McLeary recalls. "I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but said yes without hesitation. The experience was definitely messy, stressful, and exhausting, and also wildly exhilarating!" That accidental foray into flora wasn't a fleeting gig: "When I had those flowers in my hands, I knew I'd found my medium; my life's passion. It just felt right," McLeary says. After doing the arrangements for a few pals' weddings (and friends-of-friends' nuptials), McLeary eventually became a full-blown event florist and launched Passionflower. And, just as her entrée into the floral-design industry had been a happy mistake of sorts, so was McLeary's wearable jewelry: Two years ago, McLeary took a floral-jewelry class while at a floral-design conference in California. A photographer at the conference wanted to shoot McLeary's living (but very low-maintenance!) baubles. But she had to fly back to Michigan the next day, so the items needed to travel hundreds of miles.
"When I got home, I had to figure out how to make beautiful floral jewelry that would survive the trip across the country," McLeary says. The pieces, strewn with succulents, pods, and foliage, indeed weathered the trip, "and looked gorgeous," she says. The seed was planted (pun intended), and McLeary went on to create jewelry items solely out of succulents, which she's been selling on Etsy, with pieces priced at $19 to $288. The verdant accessories, which are sent all over the country via two-day shipping, require "no maintenance at all," McLeary says. Given Michigan's frigid temps, "I pack the pieces with 18-hour charcoal hand-warmer packets in addition to my standard packing material" on the chilliest days of the year, she says. McLeary has also dabbled in whimsical, fresh creations like shoulder pads and hats (pictured below), and has begun to teach floral jewelry-making techniques to others at her studio.
Though they're intended as special-occasion wear, McLeary says she's tested the lush baubles extensively and "they look perfect for about one week, and still stay pretty for two or even three weeks," sans water or soil, so long as you wear with care. Just don't take them on a beach vacation. "Store out of direct sun, or else the plants will start to grow," McLeary warns. The pieces come with instructions on how to peel the succulents off their jewelry settings and plant them. Consider these a non-basic upgrade on that tired floral crown, though we wouldn't suggest whipping these out at a (raucous, sun-drenched) occasion like Coachella...