A nurturing touch: Burns brings love of live plants, nature to downtown
Published 12:05 am Sunday, March 20, 2016
NATCHEZ — Everything began with a nun’s plant.
John Grady Burns was an elementary student at Cathedral School, and one of the nuns who taught there was going home for the summer. She asked for a student to take care of a plant, and a dutiful Burns volunteered.
“When I got home, my mother wanted to know what I was doing with that plant,” he said. “At the end of the summer, I had kept it alive and I didn’t want to take it back, but she said, ‘It’s not yours to keep.’ She took a cut off it and rooted it for me, and I gave the plant back.”
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That was Burns’ first experience with horticulture.
The Natchez native would eventually leave his hometown, graduating Mississippi State University with a bachelor of science in retail floral management.
As a designer, he has been invited to design floral arrangements for the White House, Blair House — the Presidential guesthouse — and a number of ambassadors and other foreign and U.S. dignitaries.
He went on to publish three coffee table books, “Personally yours,” which documented special events; “Evergreen,” which looked at seasonal decorations; and “Collections,” which looked at the collections of different objects by a number of people.
He spent 30 years in Atlanta as a floral designer, and taught for 16 years at Kennesaw State University.
Now, he’s returned to Natchez and opened Nest, a plant design store at 505 Franklin St. The shop has an emphasis on live plants rather than cut bouquets, intending, he said, to bring something to the table that Natchez doesn’t already have.
“I always thought plants would be my life, but for years every door that opened was flowers,” Burns said.
While flower designs have a special place, something about live plants appeals to Burns.
“With a live plant, you are giving it life, taking care of it,” he said. “It is fun to watch them grow, to see them bloom and have the satisfaction of knowing you kept it alive.”
In the shop, Burns is selling plants and containers, which he said “range from formal to informal, expensive to inexpensive.
“I want to be able to offer a little of something to everybody,” he said.
As part of that offering, Burns said he checks with vendors at market to make sure nobody in Natchez is selling what he wants to put on his shelves when it comes to gifts and home decor.
“This town is so small, there is enough product out there that we can all sell something that someone else doesn’t have,” Burns said.
In some corners of the shop, plants stream down from hanging containers, while in others, flowers strive upward, injecting a pop of bright color into a room that feels like an upscale greenhouse. The sound of water running through fountains fills the background.
“The plants we offer are seasonal blooming as well as green plants, and smaller things for the home,” he said. “If you have got a container and bring it in, we can find a plant to fit it.
“We had several people bring in soup tureens that they set on the table for when guests come in for Pilgrimage, and we were able to get them plants and arrange them in a way they were very happy.”
The second customers walk in, they’re greeted by the sound of birds — two canaries and six parakeets — in cages across the room, and throughout the shop are different kinds of decorative and functional nests and eggs. Burns has always collected bird nests, he said, and it makes for a good theme for the shop.
“People come in, they hear the water and hear the birds, and it is a soothing place to come into,” he said. “That is what I want, because nature is what I like to surround myself with.”
In the long term, Burns said he would like to teach classes on floral composition.
“I would like to expose people to composition for those who are interested,” he said. “I’ve always liked teaching, because it’s a nurturing thing, and by nature, I am a nurturer.”
Burns also offers event planning.
Nest can be found on Facebook at on.fb.me/1XAS6sR, and can be reached by phone at 601-446-3011.
The shop is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday.