By Justine Parkinson | Photo Provided
Issue: July 2022
If you have planned a wedding in the past few years, you may be familiar with Leah McDaniel’s
work. To say Leah is home grown in every sense of the word is an understatement. Born and
raised in West Chazy, Leah’s family owned and operated the Black Sheep Barn and Gardens
which supplied the organic flower and garden needs of the North Country for over three decades.
Growing in a new direction can be a challenge for any second-generation business, but McDaniel has taken it in stride. Having grown up in the business, she wasn’t sure she wanted to be a part of it at first. Her formal education leaned more toward art history and design, but she retained a love of flowers. It was when Pam Miller, Leah’s mother, initiated her retirement seven years ago that the future started to take shape for the mother daughter duo. The event was marked by changing the business’ name to Black Sheep Gardens (BSG). “It paid homage to where we came from, but gave people an indication that we were a little different now,” McDaniel shared.
The blossoming duo concentrated on event design in the North Country and Northern Vermont. BSG continued to grow as McDaniel focused on events — specifically weddings — while Miller was content to support her daughter’s budding enterprise. In 2019 McDaniel became the sole proprietor and things began to expand in a new direction.
McDaniel has developed quite a following on social media — award winning, in fact. Her artistic arrangements have crowned some of the most beautiful celebrations in the area and some of the most competitive lists in the business — The Knot.com, Wedding Wire.com and the Wedding Chick.com to name just a few.
In April 2020 Florist Review, a respected industry publication, named Black Sheep Gardens as “Best Weddings”. “I have the best clients and I am always happy to hear how they enjoy my work, but being named ‘Best Weddings’ meant so much because it came from my peers. That affirmation was incredible,” McDaniel emphasized.
When life and business came to an abrupt halt due to the pandemic, McDaniel took the time to study via virtual tutorials and webinars. She honed her craft, creating beautiful arrangements with the monthly delivery of prize flowers she received for a year as a Florist Review award winner. “While it was certainly not ideal, it could not have worked out better,” she enthused. “I had the time to explore different designs and mechanics. Those beautiful, coveted blossoms were being delivered regularly and I was able to take risks and then take photos to build my portfolio.”
For Black Sheep Gardens, the pandemic was more a cocoon than a pause. As a result, McDaniel decided to focus exclusively on weddings and, with that, has come a new name — Black Swan Floral Design, founded and grown in the North Country. Currently most of McDaniel’s weddings are in the Lake Placid area. Clients have often attended events and seen her work or they are given her contact information from venues she has worked with. She triages the requests with an online questionnaire, recognizing there is good work done by reputable local florists and she is happy for their mutual success.
Flowers are not necessarily an artist’s medium, but to call McDaniel anything else would be inauthentic. She is always on the lookout for fresh ideas and creative ways to showcase the beauty of flowers and nature. She has studied under various world-renowned designers such as Passionflower Sue, Hitomi Gilliam, Ariella Chezar, Holly Chapple and soon she will visit Belgium to learn from Fleuropean and Hart Floral. Incorporated in her professional growth is an awareness of her foot print and a commitment to work with as much sustainable product as possible.
Pictures of McDaniel’s work demonstrate that what she creates is a whole other level of beauty. She acknowledges that it is not everyone’s vision and the work she offers is not right for everyone’s celebration, priorities or budget. But if it is yours, you will need to wait until 2023 when her calendar begins to open up.
Leah McDaniels is gracious in conversation, grateful for the upbringing she had that exposed her to all the blooms that color her thoughts and her portfolio. “Flowers are beautiful, but perishable and timing for events can be a challenge, getting everything ready and staying ready and beautiful,”
she commented on the challenges of her profession.
She sources whatever she can from local suppliers and has a handful of freelance designers she will reach out to if she needs help for an installation or an event. “I usually work with my clients for well over a year. It all comes down to that day. They put a lot of trust in me and it is vital that I protect that.”
For McDaniel every stem is intentional, every piece deliberate, every petal has a purpose. With every wedding comes the incredible excitement to begin a new journey with an amazing couple. Celebrating love, by creating a story with flowers is a dream come true. She considers herself one of the lucky ones to find and love her best friend, start a family and have a career that feeds her soul.
Black Swan Floral Design
Plattsburgh, NY 12901