Hillsborough, as many know, is home to an eclectic bunch, each with a unique story of where they came from and how they ended up in this small town.
For Casey Collins, a local botanical designer and landscape architect, she found herself in Canada, Scotland, and England before landing and settling here in town.
Her business name, Casey Collins Creative, sums up exactly what she aims to be: an artist working with flowers and plants who creates vibrant landscapes and floral arrangements.
“There’s something really endlessly fascinating to me about plants, I just find flowers so incredibly beautiful and I think they bring people happiness,” Collins said. “I love their role in a larger ecological context and landscape – I think people can get so much out of their natural environment and creating spaces where people enjoy being outdoors and they have something incredible to look at and experience, that’s a really exciting thing.”
The Journey: Scotland and Back
Collins gained her Master’s degree in landscape architecture from The University of Edinburgh in Scotland, but that wasn’t the beginning or end of her travels.
Born in Canada, her family moved to Chicago when she was 10, and then to Chapel Hill a few years later, where Collins attended Chapel Hill High School. After graduation, she moved back up to Canada to attend McGill University in Montreal, gaining a degree in English Cultural Studies.
Though she worked for almost four years in communications and entertainment in Toronto after graduation, she felt it wasn’t a job she saw herself doing forever – and it just so happened that on her walks home from her office, there was a fascinating flower shop that Collins couldn’t ever simply pass by.
“I would always walk past these shops where these Chinese women sold beautiful bulk flowers,” she said. “I started going in there and then eventually, every Friday, I would get huge amounts of flowers and take them home and arrange them and experiment with them. I think that was really what started me in on flowers and then from there, plants.”
Collins grew up around her mother and grandmother’s gardening, something she said was always in the background, creating fond memories.
But this love of flowers was now different – it was creative, hands-on, and Collins knew it was more than just a hobby as her love continued to grow: she had found what she could see herself doing in the long run.
So, she applied to Master’s programs and ended up in the rolling hills of Scotland, where she learned her craft in a place steeped in historic landscape design.
“Exploring the landscape of Scotland and learning about landscape design in Scotland was really a one-of-a-kind experience,” Collins said. “It’s ancient history that you can see, all those layers of past civilizations really, it creates an appreciation. Everyone there has deeply rooted appreciation for their natural environment.”
Collins’ Master’s thesis was on rural art and design tourism in landscape, where she found herself working on her project on a small remote Scottish island called Rum, where, without the usual influx of summer visitors, she was among only 40 residents of the island in the wintertime.
Researching on the island, she received help from the countryside ranger, who showed her places she may not have otherwise seen.
After meeting, dating, and curing long distance aches through letter writing, this ranger eventually became her husband a little over a year ago.
After she graduated, Collins moved and lived in Cambridge for the next three years, visiting America – specifically small-town Hillsborough, a town her parents had moved to – during the holidays and other visits.
In January, her and her husband moved to Hillsborough and in July decided that this town was the next step in their adventure, and moved into a house, confirming that they’re here to stay – at least until the next adventure comes along.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Collins said. “A lot of different places: adventure! That is sort of the goal of my life I would say.”
Finding Roots: making a home here
Collins’ arrangements and landscapes are modern and clean, precise in design and display.
Her pieces are crafted with control, but allow her plants to express themselves – she works with the plants to let them create their own beauty.
The two botanical aspects of landscape and floral design are quite different, she said.
“With floral design, I’m working against time, as soon as I touch those flowers, they are blooming, but they are dying,” she explained. “The landscaping is planting something and watching it grow, designing for a future and it’s all about how it’s going to develop over time.”
She has completed projects throughout Chapel Hill, Durham, and Hillsborough, both private residential and public spaces projects.
Her business has two branches, with the first, floral design and event design, which includes weddings and floral pop-up shops in town with arrangements including as many local flowers as she can find. Collins has designed flower arrangements for weddings around the world, in places from Herefordshire, England to Chateau Las Collas, a French Vineyard, to Asheville, North Carolina to Toronto, Canada and more.
The second branch, landscape design, includes private gardens and public space projects, which aren’t necessarily traditional landscape architecture projects with large infrastructures; her projects are mainly more private residential projects.
“I love the sort of changing elements of design for landscape because they are living things,” Collins said. “It’s a very rare experience to design something that is living and will continue to grow and change over time.”
As the climate in North Carolina is far different than those in England or Scotland, Collins has enjoyed learning the plants that work best in this area, and she has also learned to take various factors into account.
“It’s such an extreme climate and you have some of these hurdles to overcome like deer and extreme heat and drought, you have to be really creative in working with those constraints,” she said. “One of the more interesting things to me about this particular climate is this subtropical aspect to it, creating these really lush tropical plant palettes that add this incredible texture and really distinctive feel.”
Collins is excited for her growing business in town, and is available for private clients locally. On Sunday, Feb. 12, at Cup-A-Joe from 1-3 p.m. she will be having a pop-up shop of flowers arrangements, perfect for Valentine’s Day.