Before Wildflowers Events & Occasions was even a thought for Natalie Appleyard, the “creative bug” that would eventually lead her to found what has become the premier décor and floral design company for weddings, special events and corporate affairs was ingrained in her soul – from birth. It wasn’t something she caught like the common cold. And she may have traversed a circuitous road to realizing her passion, but when she did, she stayed the course, and never looked back. Today the name Natalie Appleyard is synonymous with “lifestyle maven of The Bahamas”. When her name is uttered, it’s akin to being dubbed the Martha Stewart/B. Smith of The Bahamas. It’s a compliment that’s not new to her; she’s heard it many times from fans of her work.
At Wildflowers, their imaginative floral works, variety of quality décor and incomparable client service showcase limitless creativity and innovation in making clients’ events memorable and unforgettable.
Wildflowers’ reputation as a power player in the events arena that propelled them into a household name, she believes, was their production of the wedding for the owners of Comfort Suites Paradise Island, which was held at the Atlantis resort.
“Once Atlantis saw what I could do, they grabbed me and put me onto their weddings department and it went from there.”
She followed that up with a wedding at what was then The One&Only Ocean Club (current Ocean Club, A Four Seasons Resort). The resort’s management took note of her work and proceeded to take her on as a preferred vendor. The ride was a wild one for Appleyard and Wildflowers after that.
Over the years, Wildflowers has created a number of signature events that Appleyard said has really knocked her socks off.
“Wildflowers is a one-stop shop for events. It’s spectacular. It’s ridiculous what we do. We also work with people from abroad; they would bring in their team player and we would work with them,” said Appleyard.
She emphatically states that she doesn’t have a favorite event. When pushed, she conceded that her daughter Amanda’s wedding seven years ago was phenomenal and a stunner for her. Outside of her daughter’s wedding, she said a wedding they did in May for a Russian couple that had 37 guests was pure decadence.
“The opulence of that wedding was unheard of in The Bahamas. The opulence was ridiculous for 37 people,” she said.
Wildflowers’ work hasn’t escaped the international market either. The company has been featured in InTents magazine, DFW events, Harper’s Bazaar, as well as Luxury Travel Guide. And they have been named the 2016 Event Specialists of The Bahamas.
High praise for this 100 percent family-owned business that’s a one-stop shop for creating signature events.
Appleyard is able to do what she does because it fits in with her personality. She enjoys company, enjoys having fun and enjoys entertaining.
“I’m a big freak for entertaining,” she said. “I’m a fun-loving, free giving, caring, crazy-crazy fun person. When I go out with my girlfriends, it’s Natalie who has everybody laughing. Natalie is the prankster. Natalie is the one who will come up with the crazy, raunchy jokes and keep everything together and keep everybody glued together.”
For Appleyard, the road to becoming the country’s “lifestyle maven” goes back to her childhood.
While most kids dreamt of becoming a doctor, lawyer or Indian chief as adults, she recalls dreaming of becoming an interior decorator and of having made Barbie doll houses out of record album covers and jewelry boxes, and using her basin as a swimming pool with the ruler.
The creative genius was already beginning to bloom.
In her early adult years, the bug that she couldn’t quite shake manifested itself in her planning parties for friends and hosting dinner parties at her house.
“In the beginning it was a passion. I just wanted to set tables and make things beautiful and use my quirkiness to make things different. It was like okay let’s have fun. I’ve always had a passion for pretty things. All my kids’ birthday parties would be…like my daughter had a five-year birthday party, but it was a tea party. All the young ladies had to come in gloves and dressed up and it was served with silver cutlery and wine glasses – at five years old! It was really fabulous! We like to do it over the top,” she said.
She planned a “diamonds and denim” party for a friend which blew away her friend and the guests; she also did a safari party for her cousin that was super impressive. That led to someone asking her to do their wedding and wanting to pay her to do it.
“I was like whoa, you’re going to pay me to do something that I love doing? Okay, let’s do it.”
She recalled not even having the money to do the wedding and a girlfriend loaning her $3,000 to pull it off.
“I thought I had arrived,” she recalled.
That led to her creating a company in 2002 which she named Creative Designs, which didn’t stick.
During a visit to Canada, she noticed the fields of wildflowers everywhere and she had a complete freak out and “lightbulb” going off moment.
“Like I was going crazy,” she recalled. “I said that’s the name of my company – Wildflowers, and that’s how it became Wildflowers.”
Success still did not come overnight for Appleyard who had taught herself how to make flowers and learnt every single flower there is in the world. After Wildflowers got its name, she still had to go through years during which nothing happened. The turnaround, she said, came after her son Alexander, who studied finance in college, returned and decided to join the business.
“He’s the one who has really brought it (Wildflowers) to what it is today with his thoughts and things we should purchase and things we should do,” she said.
“He was in the office with me and his dad (Tony, Wildflowers co-founder). He saw what I was trying to do and after a year, he decided he wanted to jump in with me.”
That was nine years ago.
Today it’s still fresh in Appleyard’s mind the day Wildflowers obtained its first truck.
“It was a used truck, but you would have thought we came into a million bucks. And then when we got our first 25 chairs…to now it’s to the point where we’re a one-stop shop – our own seamstress, our own upholsterer, our own laundry room, our own everything…portable luxury restrooms, all our tents including air-conditioned tents with glass walls, the flowers, the linens, the glassware, the cutlery, the candleholders, anything a person needs, we own it. So, we have grown by leaps and bounds in the last nine years.”
Appleyard and Wildflowers are gearing up to host what could be its most opulent soiree to date as Appleyard prepares to celebrate her 60th birthday in January 2020, because nothing could possibly be too much, or out of reach for the founder of the country’s premier events company.
The lifestyle maven is pulling out all the stops for her event that she’s dubbed the “Nat Gala” and which could rival the Met Gala (Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute benefit, a black-tie extravaganza held the first Monday in May) that has been called many things from “the party of the year” to “the Oscars of the United States East Coast” due to the celebrity star power and elaborate red carpet.
The opulent black-tie “Nat Gala” will be held at The Ocean Club, A Four Seasons Resort.
“Lots of music and fine food and wine, we’re just going to have a blast,” said Appleyard, who finally conceded that her upcoming gala just may end up being one of her favorite events.
“If it works out the way I want it, it would be,” she said. “You don’t turn 60 every day – so, I’m very excited to just let my hair down, let loose and have fun with my closest family and friends. We’re going to have a blast.”
As Appleyard looks back over 17 years of Wildflowers, she said everyone assumes she is Wildflowers, but she says Alexander is too, along with her children and her ex-husband, as they all work together. Her daughter Amanda Appleyard-Burrows is the head sales person; another son Branden drives the 40-foot trailers and trucks; and another daughter Nastassia “Stassie” is a singer whom they hire to perform whenever the company needs a vocalist for an event.
Almost two decades later, Appleyard is proud of her accomplishment, even though she had gotten sidetracked from time to time, as does happen to most adults, before she got on the right course that brought her to Wildflowers. At one time or other she was a flight attendant, stay-at-home mom, worked in her in-law’s clothing store, painted T-shirts (she estimates she painted over 500 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle T-shirts during that phase) and even made personalized Christmas ornaments for people’s homes. The last side-track job before she delved full-time into her passion was a two-year stint in a doctor’s office.
Creativity runs deep in her bloodline. Her grandfather Hedlay Edwards, a horticulturalist, started Ardastra Gardens. She thinks his talent also trickled down to his grandchildren. He sister (Nina Wood-Charles) is a talented seamstress extraordinaire in the United States who also speaks eight languages. Her brother (Reginald Wood) is an engineer in Washington and she describes him as super brainy. And she said their dad (Reginald Wood) is very talented, so she believes they got their creative talent from him as well.
“There’s a lot of little talents floating around,” she said.
And Appleyard wholeheartedly embraces the quirky and fun side to her personality. She lets it shine.
“I’m a jokester. I have 160 full-time employees and every one of them calls me ‘mum’. No one calls me Mrs. Appleyard. No one calls me Natalie. It’s all mum. I don’t care what age – it’s mum. I’m the prankster. I’m the one who just makes jokes. I actually don’t do anything anymore,” she said.
With a raucous laugh, she says she doesn’t have an official title at Wildflowers, because she’s just mum.