The Pretty Garden
Stepping into Joli Jardin is like stepping into a fairytale. The velvet couches, tall mirrors, and red brick walls bring a bit of Parisian flair to Market Street – the name Joli Jardin is even French for “pretty garden” – but it’s the flowers that conjure otherworldliness. There is a variety of colors and textures: tulips and zinnias and roses in blush-toned pastels and vibrant rainbow hues. But these aren’t plants from a faraway land. They’re grown locally, at Joli Jardin’s flower farm on Signal Mountain.
By Lindsey June // Photography by Emily Pérez Long
The farm was the first step in Joli Jardin’s origin story. Becca Coleman started the operation after moving to Chattanooga with her family in 2015. “I had a deep love for flowers and gardens growing up, and still do to this day,” she says. “I wanted to have a career working outside closely with nature.” She switched gears from web design and photography to gardening, which led to opening her own flower farm on a 23-acre plot on Signal Mountain, where she now lives with her husband and three children. Soon after opening, Erin Leonard joined the team and is now a co-owner who also lives on the land.
The team spent their first two years in operation growing and selling to local florists. In the third year, they started selling directly to the public via flower trucks, where they hit more than 100 pop-ups. But as they prepared for their second pop-up season, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. “We had more than 10,000 tulips in the greenhouse in addition to ranunculus, anemones, and other blooms,” says Coleman. “Mother Nature was going to happen whether the pandemic was here or not.”
Thankfully, a friendly neighbor reached out to the team and offered them a roadside spot to open a farm stand. The stand was a huge hit, and from there, they opened their brick-and-mortar shop on Market Street. They modeled the elegant shop – which shares its space with Venya Portrait – after flower shops in Europe and Japan, where customers shop by the stem and create custom bouquets. The shop also provides floral arrangements for local events, weddings, and installations.
The cyclical nature of Joli Jardin – from farm to shop to consumer – makes it a unique space in the Chattanooga area. It isn’t just a business for Coleman and Leonard; it’s their homestead and livelihood. They are a team of eight, with four of them living on the farm, all of them wearing different hats to keep the business flourishing. “I feel incredibly lucky to live on the farm,” says Leonard. “Sometimes I wake up and wonder if the novelty will ever wear off because it feels quite magical to be out here. But it hasn’t yet.”
This is not to say things are always easy. Weather is a major factor and presents an unpredictable challenge for workflow. “Even when we’re doing everything right, plants die, flowers break, supplies can be really expensive, and, frankly, it’s very dirty and sometimes unsightly work,” Coleman explains, adding that there is more dirt, sweat, bugs, humidity, soreness, sunburns, and blisters than people realize.
But there’s immense satisfaction that comes with working and growing outdoors and following that trajectory to the shop, where the fantasy comes to life. They harvest almost every day, so the flowers are always very fresh. They also buy from other local farms to keep the shop fully stocked.
Additionally, their storefront is a way to educate the community about the importance of sustainability. “We are a biodiverse farm that grows organically,” says Coleman of how Joli Jardin participates in the sustainability movement. “We aren’t always the cheapest option for flowers, but we pay our workers above minimum wage, and we make sure we are taking care of the land.”
That care doesn’t slow down as the holiday season approaches. “People always think winter is our slowest time, but during winter we are seeding thousands of new plants, planning, transplanting, amending the soil, and getting the farm ready for spring planting,” says Coleman. “It’s very busy, just a lot less harvesting.” They also make seasonal wreaths and other holiday decorations during the winter months.
“I’m really looking forward to our first major winter holiday season,” says Leonard. “We’ll be doing things our way, at our pace, in our favorite place.”
Things will calm down a bit in January, but Valentine’s Day brings a new surge of madness to the shop – not that Coleman and Leonard mind. They enjoy staying busy and servicing their community.
“Working with the flowers and helping to make our space what it is has been such an amazing outlet for my creative energy,” says Leonard. “And all of that has facilitated some incredibly rewarding and fulfilling relationships: with our team, our clients, and other business owners around Chattanooga.”