As the old saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make … bamboo plants.
Well, that's the version Tu Bloom has lived, loved, perfected and prospered with.
Bloom came to Chicago from his native Viet Nam when he was 6. He graduated from Taft High School in 1997, Loyola University in 2001, and then started working in Corporate America. He ultimately became a director, managing about 50 people and earning a six-figure salary.
Then, in early 2006, his world came crashing down.
In March of that year, his dad died about three weeks after being diagnosed with stage-four cancer. Two months later, his Vietnamese grandmother died.
"I was thrown a curveball. It was a very difficult time. My life just fell apart," Bloom said. "I was devastated."
Bloom quit his lucrative job to care for his mom and younger sister.
Fate, though, led to a fortuneor good fortune.
Bloom started selling home-made, hand-designed lucky bamboo plants on eBayand he quickly made more than $1,500 in a month, with only about 15 hours of work per week.
"People just really liked my cute designs," Bloom said.
So, as the weather started getting cooler in 2006, Bloom wanted to build a greenhouse to further his floral fantasies. And through free ads on Craigslist, he acquired everything needed to build a greenhouse, including the glass, windows, doors and more.
Bloom's personal North Side greenhouse is now the size of a standard, one-car garage. It measures 14-feet long by 12.5-feet wide by 11.5-feet tall. It's now filled with miniature grapefruit plants, bamboo plants, various tropical houseplants and much, much moreeven a 500-gallon koi pond, filled with 28 fishes.
Bloom has grown and flourished in the floral and landscape garden design community.
"I get to improve people's lives, personally and professionally, through my love for living designs," said Bloom, who works with cut floral and live rooted plants.
"A lot of people are confused [ about ] what I do. They think [ the plants are just ] cut floral, but it's actually rooted, live plants in a container that are sustainable for a prolonged period of time."
Bloom has clients across America, not just locally. His designs can be small and simple, or glitzy and glamorous.
And some are extremely high-profile, too.
Take, for instance, the 53rd annual Grammy Awards show on Sunday night, Feb 13. Bloom will be there, working his magic as Tu Bloom Designs will be showcased as his company was selected to design all of the floral and luxury container gardens for the entire red carpet arrivals areaand last year was the first time such attention to detail was given to the prestigious red carpet.
"I'm still in shock mode," about getting this job offer, Bloom said. "It's such a great honor and I'm still in awe that so many people are starting to get captivated by my designs."
Last year's Grammy work led Bloom to get a call from Katherine Jackson, Michael's mother, who wanted Bloom to redevelop the entire landscape and garden area for the fabled former Jackson home in Gary, Ind., to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the superstar singer's death.
Bloom also has designed the interior floral arrangements for the private dressing quarters of Lady Gaga, Elton John, Mary J. Blige and Beyonce.
Bloom's blooming brilliance also has been chosen for another high-profile client, though he can't name names.
"I work with some of the most popular people in the world … and I water their plants," he said, laughing.
The young entrepreneur said his biggest challenge is business organization, figuring out how to successfully grow and maintain that personalized care and interaction for all his clients.
And Bloom does get dirty himself, digging in the dirt.
"Oh my God, I have the greatest job in the world," Bloom said. " [ Building ] that greenhouse [ in 2006 ] saved my life."
It seems to have certainly changed it, too.
Name: Tu Bloom
Title: President/CEO ( Tu Bloom Designs® )
Relationship status:: Dating Thomas Basile, 31, project manager ( Tu Bloom Designs® )
Nickname : "Plant Doc"
Neighborhood : Andersonville
Pets: Three dogs ( Lexi, Lani, Roxy ) and two canaries
Fun fact: Close to finishing his graduate degree at DePaul University