by Chris Myers
On an unseasonably warm Sunday afternoon, sun streams through the open blinds of Duling Hall. A team of family and friends bustles around, helping Katie Jo Collins and Ron Chane set up for their wedding reception later in the day. Among them, walking a steady cadence between containers of flowers and foliage and a table filled with three foot tall mirrored planters is Jessie Partridge.
This is her art.
When the first guests arrive that evening, the space will have been transformed from a beige auditorium into an elegant ballroom illuminated with candles and strings of lights. Her arrangements sit high on the tables, creating a canopy above the heads of guests, consisting of oversized tropical foliage with accents of blood red roses, puffs of green hydrangeas, plumes of purple flowers and berries with the finishing touch of peacock feathers.
Partridge is the owner and operator of Maidenhair Floral, but don’t call her a florist. “Florists have shops,” she says. She works from home. Floral designer and event planner are her preferred monikers.
A nurse by trade, she practiced for ten years until taking on the full-time position as a mother. Creativity has always been a part of her life. While working toward a nursing degree at Mississippi College, her schedule was always planned around ceramics classes. One day, though, she received a call from a friend of a friend – a lady in the Delta, who needed a couple of assistants for her floral design and event business. Seeing it as an opportunity to spend some time with a friend at USM, Partridge gladly accepted.
For those readers who didn’t grow up just north of Jackson, the art of event planning in the Delta is roughly equivalent to the martial art of the samurai in Japan. They are true masters of their trade who have trained and practiced practically since birth. It turns out that Jessie had a knack for it. She continued to help throughout college. Several times a year, she would help friends and acquaintances with events, mostly weddings. “Raising kids – it’s a job that’s never done. There’s no finished product,” she says. “Event planning is something I can really work hard on. It is creative, and then there’s this finished product.”
So, it was nice to have those occasional projects. With all of the Partridge family in school now, she has started to take on more projects throughout the year. Maidenhair Floral (so named for her favorite plant, the maidenhair fern) is all Jessie. She will hire people to help with bigger events, but the vision is all hers. Her shop is home, and on occasion if the space is needed, she’ll commandeer her husband Jerrod’s art studio out back.
The most fulfilling part is helping a couple (often friends) realize their vision for a wedding and translating that into something that matches their personalities. The process usually begins with a consultation months prior to the event. Claiming to be terrible at drawing, she doesn’t sketch her ideas but instead develops a palette using a combination of flowers purchased through traditional markets, plants found at local nurseries and clippings from their home garden. Arrangements are never complete until she’s able to see them in the space, and up until that last minute, she’ll add bits and pieces until everything is as she had imagined it.
When pressed to describe her style, Jessie hesitates. Her work is composition. She creates sculptures of her clients’ personalities using foliage and flowers instead of clay. But as guests begin to stream in to any event where her flowers are displayed, her work is just as much a masterpiece.
See additional samples of Partridge’s work here: