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Downtown florist The Nature of Things: Where floral design imitates art

One in an occasional series on local small businesses in Riverside.

Dawn Adams, Mandy Dougherty, and shop dog Mabel at The Nature of Things.

Weddings, new babies, anniversaries, graduations, retirements, funerals. In 2020, Dawn Adams and her downtown Riverside floral shop, The Nature of Things, were a part of people’s lives, marking their passages and celebrations with roses and delphiniums, tulips and snapdragons.

And, then, in March of that year — Covid. “Everybody froze,” says Adams. And soon orders shifted from weddings, birthdays and anniversaries to expressions of sympathy for loved ones lost to the pandemic.

“We went from three or four funerals or sympathy arrangements a month to three or four a week,” says Adams. “The weddings were cancelled or postponed.”

And Covid took its own toll on her business. For a year, Adams put in applications for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) from the federal government, without success. But she’s grateful for other help she received, including a low-interest loan from the Inland Empire Small Business Development Center, and a grant from the United Way. “I’ve gone through some financial acrobatics,” she said.

High-impact centerpieces for a Mission Inn wedding.

But even with that help, Adams knew some things would need to change if the shop was going to survive. Something had to go, and for Adams, it was the occasional retail sales to people passing by the shop. She began to limit orders to deliveries at a minimum price point. And it’s stayed that way. “It’s more economical,” says Adams. “A lot less waste.”

And there was another Covid-related upside: her daughter Mandy Dougherty, 30, who’d lost her construction job when the pandemic hit, came to work with her at The Nature of Things (full disclosure: Adams used to be married to a member of my family). That was two years ago — Mandy has no plans to return to her former occupation, and Adams couldn’t be happier. “I’m really proud to teach my daughter this business,” she said.

Family business comes naturally for Adams, who got her start in the late 1990s selling bunches of fragrant sweet peas grown under the label “Cornucopia Farms” — her father Tim’s name for the family’s 1 ¾ acres in Riverside where they grew seasonal flowers and vegetables. At Cornucopia Farms nothing went to waste, with Adams’ two horses feasting on slightly past-their-prime vegetables, and the horses’ manure fertilizing the crops in turn.

Over her years as a floral designer, Adams has continued to hone her eye, often finding inspiration in classical art to create subtle palettes popular with brides on Instagram and Pinterest. “Right now, I’m loving Dutch still-life painting. I’m really going down a rabbit hole learning about that style, working a lot with peonies and lupines, with fruit. You start to feel like a true artist.”

And as daily life begins to return to something resembling normal, Adams sees her customers making up for lost time. “There’s a glut of weddings – everyone’s getting married who postponed before. Baby showers are everywhere, and elopements are huge.”

People order flowers for elopements? “Oh yes! They’re also called ‘micro-weddings.’ Bouquets for the brides and attendants, and boutonnieres. Even professional photographers.”

And there’s more welcome news. “Funerals are back to three or four a month.”