By Laticia Headings | Photos courtesy Nature Composed
“From a young child, I was very much interested and attracted by the natural world more than anything,” says Jenn Pineau, the owner of Middleburg’s Nature Composed. Those early impressions of the world, colored by nature, have dictated her entire career.
In high school, she worked at a fruit and vegetable stand, and while in college at Virginia Commonwealth University she got her first job as a florist-in-training at Strange’s, a conventional FTD/Teleflora florist and garden center. Later, she was hired as the greenhouse manager at Kluge Estate in Charlottesville (now Trump Winery), where she managed a tropical conservatory, two production houses growing herbs and topiaries, two greenhouses full of oranges and orchids, and served as the estate florist.
Pineau moved to the San Francisco Bay area in 2006 and was introduced to Max Gill, the florist for the Michelin-starred restaurant Chez Panisse, once touted as the best restaurant in the country. This eye-opening experience exposed her to garden-based design and allowed her to work in the garden the same amount of time that she was creating floral designs. She later landed a contract with Quince, another celebrated Michelin-rated eatery in San Francisco, doing their flower arrangements, which paid enough to cover her monthly bills.
The florist moved back to Virginia in 2008 and started building relationships with local farmers and gardeners and started her business. She also earned a Permaculture design certificate from George Mason University.
Permaculture is a set of design principles that centers on whole systems thinking, observing the patterns and features in natural ecosystems and emulating them. “It’s the idea of always putting down on top of the soil, not tilling, and understanding that…plants need to be in community with other plants. You need a good fungal network and a good soil biota. It takes into consideration the underground ecosystem.”
Using permaculture practices, it can take an entire year to really understand the mechanics of how a new parcel of land will grow. Because it’s a much more low-impact way of gardening that takes incredible patience, permaculture isn’t widely practiced in mass agriculture settings.
Nature Composed was born out of the culmination of Pineau’s professional milestones and personal passion for regenerative and sustainable gardening and farming. In 2017, she purchased the Pendleton Street house, where the business is located, from revered local gardener Sally Bolton, who had a bustling business called The Corner Garden for 26 years. Pineau says she wants to continue the legacy of the building and pays homage to Bolton on the sign outside, which reads: Nature Composed, A Corner Garden Shop.
A steadfast interest in the rhythms of nature runs in her blood. Her great grandfather, Larry Lemmon, was a landscape architect and gardener who had a thriving earthworm business in the 1940s. During his career, he was the Planning Director of Washington D.C.’s Parks and Recreation Department for well over a decade and worked with the Forestry Department to map out the West Virginia Mountains.
Lemmon also wrote a memoir that told of his start in the nature world, which included a season with the Frank Lloyd Wright Fellowship. When walking through the desert together, the famous architect shared some pearls of wisdom. In his book, Lemmon writes about Wright, “He did not look into the works of other men for inspiration but instead, nature was his teacher. He told me that nature alone was the best and most reliable mentor for me to follow.” Taking a page straight from her great grandfather’s memoir, nature is also the guiding principle in Pineau’s approach.
“We respect the natural world as an actual living, breathing, communicating organism that we can learn from. In our business, we try to mimic nature’s way.”
For instance, the shop is closed to the public in January to allow the plants, flowers and trees to rest. Pineau comments about all living things, “You can’t continuously grow without going inside for rest and reflection.”
The same principle applies to her garden in Rochelle, Va. Pineau lives in the small village close to Charlottesville on 1.6 acres of land where she grows flowers, vegetables and fruit trees that follow the footprint of a forest garden. When in season, the flowers in bloom make their way into the Middleburg shop where Pineau and her team create garden-based floral designs for weddings, corporate events and other special occasions.
Nature Composed is a “custom tailored florist,” says Pineau, and “the business is really based off allowing nature to guide the design.” Their slant on sustainability is an attractive feature for clients because the shop is free of foam, the green spongy substance used for flower arranging. Only a small percentage of florists in the country are foam free. “When you’re committed, you find natural and smarter ways around it,” she says.
The designer is also committed to creating a more expansive garden shop experience as she continues to sprout new ideas for her business, which includes holding more workshops. “We’re continuing to build out and use the spaces to the best of their ability,” she says.
Some days, Pineau gets a little extra help in the shop from her daughter Eloise, 8, and son Luca, 5. “It’s fun to bring my kids here, the village aspect is my favorite part of it,” says the mother of two. “There are so many nice people who support our business.”
A quote by Thomas Berry is scribed on the chalkboard at Nature Composed: “There is presently no other way for humans to educate themselves for either their survival or fulfillment than through the instruction available through the natural world.” Every day in her business and life, Pineau celebrates that! ML
This article first appeared in the March issue of Middleburg Life.