Written By Anne Blue

By the time Rene Bonde finished high school, she had tried just about everything Carroll County 4-H had to offer – from photography, sewing, and modeling clothes to raising rabbits and lambs.

“I learned how to sew and I can fix rips and sew buttons.” said Rene. “I tried baking but realized I didn’t want to be a culinary chef. I tried raising lambs, but realized I didn’t want to be a farmer.”

During her high school years at South Carroll High School, Rene joined Future Farmers of America (FFA) and took her first class in floral design. She came home after the second day of class and declared to her parents that she was going to be a florist. “We were only making bows, but I knew then that is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” said Rene.

Now, at the age of 23, Rene Bonde has parlayed her 4-H and floral design talents into a successful business. With the help of her mother and business partner, Ellie Bonde, she runs Blossom and Basket Boutique on Main Street in Mount Airy.

The business is an obvious hybrid of Rene’s 4-H talents.

It is tucked in a yellow building with green awnings and pots of flowers by the door. Customers are often greeted by Tuxedo, a large black cat, as well as the scent of flowers, and displays of specialty teas, delicate tea cups and tea pots, condiments and seasonings, handmade jewelry, scented candles, and more.

Blossom and Basket Boutique is a full service florist featuring unique gifts and gift baskets for all occasions.

“We are a flower shop that does so much more,” said Rene. “We are able to personalize everything.”

“Everything we do is customized,” agreed her mother. “Everything is specially designed and put together for a particular customer.”

“My favorite part of the job is Ôpoking the posies.’ I know how each flower is grown,” said Rene, “how it is dyed or sprayed, how to care for it, its physiology, and how it reacts to other flowers. I am the main designer [of floral arrangements] and I have a distinct style.”

“I love to go to work every day and know what I do makes someone’s day brighter,” said Rene with a confident smile. “I love our location on Main Street here in Mount Airy and I would not want to be anywhere else.”

Rene credits 4-H with a lot of her success, “4-H gave me a lot of self confidence. I know I can do anything I set my mind to and that it is going to happen and going to work.”

The young entrepreneur began attending 4-H meetings at the age of two with her seven-year-old sister. When she was 16, Rene won the horticulture award at the Carroll County 4-H & FFA Fair for her demonstration on flower arranging.

Her demonstration won at the state level, and she spent a week in Memphis, Tennessee, where her demonstration won again at the national level. This time she was honored with a plaque declaring her the National Junior Horticulture Champion and the knowledge that she was the very best in the country.

“It is the most exciting thing,” says Lori Powell Mayhew, who taught the floral design class that helped inspire Rene’s future. “Some teachers wait 10 or 20 years to have that student, the one you can look at and say, my class made the difference.”

Rene took her flower arranging skills to Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where she majored in floriculture and minored in business. She was not afraid to speak up in class.

When her advisor discussed the use of California crystals, a silica gel used to make individual flowers stay in place in an arrangement, Rene told him his information was outdated. Soon, he was calling her the night before his lectures to go over the information for his floral design class.

In February of her sophomore year, Rene’s mother called her at college and gave her exciting news: “There’s a flower shop for sale in Mount Airy.”

“We cried and counted our money. It was a great opportunity but two years too soon,” recalled Rene. “We agreed to think it over. Then my mom called back the next day to say we are going to do it.”

“I had so much confidence in Rene,” says her mother. “By the time she was 17, I knew she had a talent with flowers and that she was mature for her age. We were able to buy an existing business with all the basics already there: a cooler, a computer connected to the Teleflora system.”

Subsequently, Ellie Bonde retired from her 30 years as an educator and preschool director. Over her daughter’s spring break, with the help of friends, they readied their new shop. To ease the financial burden of filling the shop, they refurbished yard sale furniture and took consignments from an antique furniture dealer and area artists. Rene even decorated the front windows with lace fabric given to her by a 4-H friend and intended for her wedding dress.

Blossom and Basket employee Stephanie Farrar has worked at the shop for almost four years. “Rene is a great leader in the shop,” she said. “There are days where everything seems to go wrong, but Rene is so positive. She stays calm and figures out a way to solve all the problems. She can handle the chaos.”

In April, Rene Bonde and her mother celebrated the fourth anniversary of their shop and the addition of their second shop, The Secret Stork.

It is just up the street from the Blossom and Basket Boutique and specializes in personalized gifts for newborns and their families.

Rene stays connected to 4-H, which she credits for much of her success, by sponsoring an award for floral design at the Carroll County 4-H & FFA Fair and participating as a judge. She knows that when she has children they will be involved in 4-H. “4-H keeps families together and brings out the best in kids,” she said.