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Moss River -- two words with special meaning

For Gabby Joseph it is about being natural and using what she grows herself. Photo by Margaret A. Ontl1 / 2
Gabby Joseph is comfortable in her basement studio. In the background is the leg lamp given to her by her mentor the late Anita Penman. Photo by Margaret A. Ontl2 / 2

For Gabby Joseph it was a transition that was bound to happen. She has started her own floral design business, Moss River Floral Studio. The Hudson High School graduate worked at Vine Street Florist, with Anita Penman for 25 years.

"I started when I was 16, as a delivery girl, after school and on Saturdays," said Joseph. "Then I started to greet the customers and eventually I learned how to put a rose in a vase."

"I worked for both Jim Stewart and Anita," continued Joseph. "Neither of them was formally trained. We all were sort of self-taught. I truly believe there has to be an underlying talent, then an artistic sense. Once you are given the fundamentals of design, with that you are able to be as creative as you want using the resources around you."

That includes using the elements of nature. Joseph always tries to include something natural in each piece of work she does.

Both Stewart and Penman were known for adding a bit nature to their work.

"I had such a history it became part of who I am. It is a natural thing for me to do," said Joseph. "I very rarely have a plan when I have an order. I don't have a preconceived thought in my mind. I let the flowers do the talking."

In 25 years in the floral industry, Joseph has witnessed the trends. When she first started, everything was a centerpiece. In the mid-90s it moved to vases and more of a garden look.

"Then Martha Stewart came into the picture. She changed how people saw flowers," said Joseph. "Today, the availability of flowers is now year-round but I try really hard not to use a tulip in August." Instead she tries to use flowers from local resources, such as the farmer's market and area growers.

"It is a great treasure to have that available to us," said Joseph, who acknowledges the economy plays a big part in the floral industry. "It is a luxury, not a necessity. It is an honor to be able to do this for customers. I'd like to keep doing this for a long, long time."

After, Penman's untimely death last fall, Joseph was drained.

"It was eight months ago," said Joseph. "I feel enough time has passed I can talk about it. Life has been an adjustment for me on so many levels."

To Joseph, it was obvious that Penman had not been feeling well for a year.

"I took her to the hospital on Sept. 25, 2011," said Joseph. "No one told her to get her affairs order." Just over a month later Penman died.

"Anita found out her prognosis on a Wednesday, I was told Friday and she was gone on Saturday. I was running the business and taking care of Anita. It was a very hectic and stressful time."

For Joseph, she lost a friend, mentor and employer all at once. Vine Street closed immediately.

"I've learned you have to take care of yourself and you just need to love every day," said Joseph, who became the executor of Penman's estate.

Late this spring, Joseph, was asked to create an arrangement for a friend. Gradually, Joseph realized it was time to start anew.

Using two of her favorite things, moss and the St. Croix River, she came up with the name for her business, Moss River Floral Studio.

"I provide all the same services as a retail store front would," said Joseph. "My focus will be weddings, funerals and seasonal outdoor containers."

She is also exploring the concept of developing standing orders, weekly, monthly and for special days such as birthdays. Joseph also works with permanent botanicals for clients who want a more long lasting floral creation.

"I am very accessible and provide delivery," said Joseph. "I am still a pen, paper and telephone type of gal."

"As a child we moved around a lot, settling back in Hudson when I was a teenager," said Joseph. "I am glad we came back and that I am able to raise my kids here. It is a blessing. This is a very special place."

Moss River Floral Studio is open by appointment Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. Call (715) 760-2233 or email at