Local flower promotions sizzle during American Flowers Week

Emerald Design for American Flowers Week
American Flowers Week branding on jars of locally-grown flowers as part of Emerald Design’s pop-up coffee shop event in Evansville, Indiana (c) Patton Photography

NOTE: A version of this story appears in the August 2021 issue of Growing for Market magazine

Slow Flowers Society launched American Flowers Week in 2015 as a community-focused floral holiday, encouraging everyone in the floral marketplace to participate — from flower seed and bulb producers to cut flower growers; from designers to retailers; from cutting garden enthusiasts to artists.

As the original American-grown floral holiday, the campaign’s goal is to stimulate interest in beauty, seasonality, local agriculture and sustainable floral design.

The timely importance of promoting seasonal and locally-grown flowers is at its peak, especially given new findings around consumer behavior and attitudes relating to cut flower purchases, based on the 2021 National Gardening Survey (published in April 2021). The omnibus survey of nearly 2,500 U.S. households found that 57 percent of respondents say it is very or somewhat important that the flowers they purchase are American-grown, while 58 percent of respondents say buying locally-grown flowers is very or somewhat important.

58% of Americans say buying local flowers is very or somewhat important”

2021 National Gardening survey

The survey, sponsored in part by Slow Flowers Society, found that four in 10 U.S. adults (41 percent, 104.6 million) reported spending some amount of money on cut flowers in 2020, with an average household expenditure of $62.63, or an estimated $6.55 billion spent by U.S. households last year.

So how do flower farmers leverage the marketing and branding opportunities during a patriotic “buy local” campaign, which runs June 28-July 4 each year? Creative ideas include retail and farmers’ market displays. direct-to-consumer and CSA programs, hands-on design workshops and artful collaborations with florists. Here is an overview of some of the inventive projects that took place earlier this year:

CSA Bouquets
Slow Flowers’ red-white-and-blue American Flowers Week bouquet labels are sold as a member benefit, giving farmers and florists a low-cost way to elevate their branding. Sage Devlin of Far Bungalow Farm in Leesburg, Virginia, used the labels as packaging for the farm’s June CSA bouquets and bulk flower bucket program.

Far Bungalow Farm
American Flowers Week branding at Far Bungalow Farm

Far Bungalow Farm’s flowers move through a number of channels, including the Summer Bouquet Share program, sold for $225 for 14 weeks of bouquets and the $350 bucket program, which provides 50 stems weekly for 14 weeks. The farm also supplies a weekly flower share add-on to a large vegetable CSA and markets blooms through Old Dominion Flower Cooperative, an emerging wholesale collective of Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia flower farms that sells to florists and consumers.

Sage Devlin Far Bungalow Farm
Sage Devlin of Far Bungalow Farm

Using the American Flowers Week bouquet labels “is kind of a brilliant marketing scheme,” Devlin says. “People see red, white and blue during this time of year – and ‘American’ – and they can get behind it.” It’s not important that the flowers are patriotic in color, Devlin says. “We do add a bunch of frosted explosion grass to suggest fireworks, though.”

Farm to Grocery Partnerships
The 10-year-old Seattle Wholesale Growers Market, a farmer-owned hub for local and domestic flowers, added the American Flowers Week branding to wrapped bouquets and bunches sold through local grocery outlets during most of June, up to July 4th.

T&C Markets American Flowers Week
Locally-grown blooms at Central Market Poulsbo (c) Joshua Hessler

“We feature flowers in our mixed bouquets from multiple member farms,” says Brad Siebe, general manager. Other farms use the labeling on their own bouquets and bunches supplied through SWGMC. The collaboration elevates awareness for high quality, locally-grown flowers, he explains.
Among its regional grocery customers, SWGMC sells to Town & Country Markets, a family-owned neighborhood chain with six stores in the Seattle area.

T&C Markets has participated in American Flowers Week for several years, spearheaded by floral category manager Melanie Cherry. Each years since 2017, Cherry has commissioned special in-store signage for American Flowers Week and designed sales promotions, giving staff members and customers a great reason to highlight locally-grown flowers.

Illustration by Hillary Husted of Town & Country Markets/Central Market

She encourages floral department managers to build special American Flowers Week displays, with creative results. For 2021, Melanie asked the company’s graphic artist to reinterpret a USA state map (found as a free downloadable coloring sheet at americanflowersweek.com) into a full-color poster. Hillary Husted, the staff designer, rendered a beautiful map depicting each state flower as a botanical illustration, with the tagline “Celebrate American Farmers and Washington Flowers.”

Flowers for American Flowers Week
Floral department display ideas at Central Market Poulsbo (c) Joshua Hessler

In past years, T&C Markets has featured a “big board” sales special on local peonies and local sunflowers. “This year, we ran an in-store special on the SWGMC bouquets for $5 off, so we promoted $20 bouquets for $14.98 during American Flowers Week,” Cherry says. “Our sales doubled the amount we sold from last year and I consider it a success seeing local flowers in our customers’ hands. I believe that this promotion will help flower sales all year long.”

Cherry and her department managers view the annual promotion as a success, one they also measure in sales data. “It’s amazing how this has made the floral department relevant during the 4th of July week when everyone is here buying their barbeque supplies.”

Consumer-Direct DIY flowers

Flower Farmers Old Dominion Flower Cooperative
Flower farmers from Old Dominion Flower Cooperative, along with Kelly Shore of Petals by the Shore (third from right)

The flower farmers of Old Dominion Flower Cooperative, including aforementioned Sage Devlin of Far Bungalow Farm, teamed up with one of their florist customers, Kelly Shore of Maryland-based The Floral Source, to package a curated flower box during American Flowers Week.

“This project gave ODFC and our growers an incredible opportunity to showcase what is growing here in the DC Region,” says Megan Wakefield, director of operations. “We have so many incredible growers who are passionate about producing sustainably- and lovingly-grown blooms for local designers and the flower shops who purchase from our cooperative. The American Flowers Week project was our first foray into shipping our blooms and we couldn’t have done it without the support and guidance of an industry leader like Kelly.”

As a drop-ship, farm-to-florist wholesaler, Shore works with growers across the U.S. to help them sell direct to florists. Her unique program originally was developed as a COVID-pandemic “pivot,” and has since blossomed into a popular service with farmer-florists, DIY floral designers and retail florists who have trouble sourcing domestic flowers from conventional floral wholesalers.

The Floral Source flowers
Flowers from Old Dominion Flower Cooperative featured in The Floral Source’s “American Grown at Home” offerings

Shore’s special American Grown at Home box of 50 summer blooms and greenery featured seasonal stems harvested from all of Old Dominion Flower Cooperative’s 22 member farms. The box sold for $150 (including overnight shipping) and included a decorative metal vase that customers used during The Floral Source’s July 1st virtual workshop.

It’s vitally important in the Slow Flowers Movement to know who is growing your flowers and have the reliance that the seasonal flora they grow will meet florists’ needs. That strengthens the story behind the flowers, the farmers and gives our work deeper purpose.”

kelly shore, the floral source

“As an advocate for local and American flowers and now a drop-ship wholesaler, it’s a privilege and honor to bring national awareness and accessibility to the growers in my own backyard,” Shore says. “Having the opportunity to highlight Old Dominion Flower Cooperative, such a progressive and passionate group of small growers, allows me to empower them and build confidence in my designer community. It’s vitally important in the Slow Flowers Movement to know who is growing your flowers and have the reliance that the seasonal flora they grow will meet florists’ needs. That strengthens the story behind the flowers, the farmers and gives our work deeper purpose.”

Coffee Store Pop-Up

American Flowers Week pop-up flower bar
An American Flowers Week pop-up flower bar presented by farmer-florist Whitney Muncy of Emerald Design in Evansville, Indiana (c) Patton Photography

Farmer-florist Whitney Muncy of Evansville, Indiana-based Emerald Design, honored American Flowers Week by hosting a flower bar at White Swan Coffee Lab, a favorite neighborhood hang-out with excellent coffee and free Wi-Fi. She promoted the event on social media with the message: “Support two local small businesses by purchasing coffee and flowers together.”

The event took place 9-11 a.m., Friday, July 2nd, an ideal time for locals to stop by for coffee drinks. “We had a table filled with locally-grown flowers,” Muncy says. “We invited people to arrange their own bouquets or ask me to design for them. Plus, we had grab-and-go vase arrangements, jars, and hand-tied bouquets for purchase.”

American Flowers Week bouquet
The just-picked blooms reflect the American Flowers Week bounty from Emerald Design (c) Patton Photography

In planning her first floral pop-up, Muncy decided it was less about profitability and more about marketing her upcoming summer CSA subscriptions to raise awareness about local, Indiana-grown flowers. But she actually achieved all those goals. “We had an amazing response to our flower bar,” she says. “My employee and I designed non-stop until the flowers were gone. I had no expectations going into it, but I know that we will be doing this again.”

Instagram Giveaway
To celebrate American Flowers Week in the Philadelphia area, Cassie Plummer, a farmer-florist from Jig-Bee Flower Farm in Philadelphia, ran an Instagram contest with flower giveaways for five winners.

Jig-Bee Flower Farm American Flowers Week IG
A flower bundle giveaway, promoted through Jig-Bee Flower Farm’s Instagram account

“To enter, people had to like our post, follow our Instagram account (@jig-bee) and our market account (@americanstreetflowermarket), comment on the post naming their favorite flower and finally, tag a friend who might be interested in local flowers,” she explains. People who aren’t active on Instagram were asked to enter by responding to Jig-Bee’s newsletter with an email entry.

“The giveaways were actually a full bucket of flowers with a mix of focal blooms, accent flowers and foliages,” Plummer explains. “American Flowers Week is actually a slower sales week for us because it’s right before the 4th of July holiday when everyone goes to the shore, so it was fun to put together the mixes of flowers for the winners — and we gained new information by reading the comments and learning our customers’ favorite flowers.”

Hands-On Workshops

Titus Creek Flower Farm bouquets
Bouquets from Titus Creek Flower Farm in LaPlata, Missouri (c) Theresa Eads

Jill Stidham of Titus Creek Flower Farm in La Plata, Missouri, grows more than 80 varieties of specialty cut flowers on a 1/2-acre parcel of her six-acre farm. She markets beautiful rose lilies that wow wholesale florists and also sells through two area farmers’ markets as well as through Titus Creek’s online shop.

floral arranging workshop
Jill Stidham of Titus Creek Flower Farm incorporated the AFW theme into her first-ever design workshop, held at a local wine bar (c) Theresa Eads

In addition to using the American Flowers Week branding on wrapped market bouquets during the holiday, Jill incorporated the theme into her first design workshop, held June 29th at a local wine bar. It was her first collaboration with Sip Downtown in Kirksville and she called the workshop “Flight and Farm Fresh Florals.” Both businesses promoted the workshop through their respective newsletters. The evening included a wine flight tasting, plus hands-on design instruction, including Titus Creek’s just-picked blooms – priced at $55 per person. “This was our first time, so we capped the event at 10 people, just so I could easily instruct them,” Stidham explains. “But the shop can accommodate 80 people at a time, so there’s room to grow floral events in the future.”

Students gathered at a local wine bar where they enjoyed tastings and American Flowers Week bouquets (c) Theresa Eads

The American Flowers Week promotion gives Stidham another reason to talk with both wholesale and retail customers about where flowers come from. “People in my area did not understand that flowers were coming from South America or Israel or Africa or wherever, transported in airplane cargo holds out of water. They never gave much of a thought to it.”
Stidham knows that when people experience her locally-grown flowers, they begin to notice the difference. She has plans create more local flower experiences for those customers, with the addition of 1/2-acre of lavender fields this summer for future agritourism. “When I’ve been designing what our farm is to become, I want to bring in as many different avenues as I can possibly manage.”

Botanical Couture Collaboration

Hilltop Community Flower Farm botanical couture
Erin Schneider’s contribution to this year’s Botanical Couture series for American Flowers Week (c) Patricia Espedal, Tree People Photography

American Flowers Week’s most visible promotion opportunity requires advance planning on the part of farmer-designer teams who collaborate in the annual botanical couture collection. Since 2016, Slow Flowers has invited member-teams to showcase iconic U.S.-grown blooms, fabricated into a garment, worn by a human model and photographed as if for a fashion magazine layout.

To date, the series has included 25 ensembles featuring locally-grown flowers from Alaska and Hawaii to the central U.S. states of South Dakota and Wisconsin to Maine and New Hampshire in the northeast to South Carolina and Florida in the southeast.

By presenting flowers as fashion, photographed with editorial styling to tell a story, the American Flowers Week campaign shines a light on the talented growers and designers who are part of the Slow Flowers Movement.

Moreover, it changes what we think of flowers. No longer just a perishable item to capture a sentiment in time, perhaps the flowers, foliage, foraged botanicals, and natural elements you see in these pages will shift and expand your thinking. With flowers transformed as art or sculpture, as fashion and beauty, as a symbol of the human desire to connect with nature, there is much more to each bloom than one might imagine.

SFJ cover
Click to read!

You can read about one dozen of this year’s floral fashions in Slow Flowers Journal, a digital flipbook. One of the garments began its life at Erin Schneider and Rob McClure ‘s 60-acre Hilltop Community Farm in La Valle, Wisconsin. Schneider provides her wedding and event customers a wide range of blooms, including many familiar perennials and annuals, but she is most passionate about prairie and pollinator plants, as well as native varieties not often considered for floral design.

pollinator and native perennial dress
Pollinators and native perennials inspired Erin’s design (c) Patricia Espedal, Tree People Photography

For American Flowers Week, she designed a botanical couture garment with Midwest prairie flowers and grasses, to encourage more of her customers and the florists to share a similar appreciation.

“The native plants I use in floral design and pollinator-friendly flowers are alluring to me,” Erin explains. The whimsical dress used 39 species from the farm in swirl patterns that suggest a dragonfly’s flight path and composite flower shapes: Peak-of-summer ingredients like goldenrod, Queen Anne’s Lace, native sunflower, amaranth, Joe Pye weed, wild quinine (Parthenium integrifolium), rattlesnake master, vervain, celosia, and strawflowers. Aronia and Viburnum berries, plus other pods, were used as jewelry along the neckline.

“Above all, I hoped to shed light on the value of local, sustainably-grown flowers and the resulting collaboration between land and plants, flower farm, florist, and design team to offer beauty, style, and truly unique designs for our clients and customers — all while supporting the other life forms making these flowers possible,” she says.

AFW 2021

American Flowers Week (June 28-July 4) is an all-inclusive, virtual promotion campaign designed to engage the public, policymakers and the media in a conversation about the origins of their flowers. As an advocacy effort, the campaign coincides with America’s Independence Day on July 4th, providing florists, retailers, wholesalers and flower farmers a patriotic opportunity to promote American grown flowers.

American Flowers Week supporters can find more information and resources at americanflowersweek.com. Downloadable fact sheets, infographics, logos and social media badges are available for growers and florists to use for marketing and promotion efforts. Participants are encouraged to use the social media tag #Americanflowersweek to help spread the word about this campaign across all platforms.

April Showers Flowers botanical couture

One woman’s flight of imagination began by searching the New Hampshire woods for design ingredients

            April Holmes is a small-scale grower, floral artist, and lifelong crafter who found herself in need of a creative distraction from chronic illness and pain. After designing smaller wearables, April was inspired to create a head-to-toe botanical ensemble for American Flowers Week. Her resulting design elevates saplings, peeled birch bark, and an abundance of faded leaves into a whimsical fantasy narrative.

in process April Showers botanical couture

            Owner of April Showers Flowers, April grows her flowers on a seven-acre farm in rural Candia, outside Manchester, New Hampshire, the state’s largest city. She supplies CSA subscribers through her “Blossoming Buds Flower Club,” and creates Mandala-styled floral art, which she photographs, prints on canvas, and sells through her Etsy shop. In 2021, April plans to open a flower shack in her community to sell arrangements and her artwork, as well as gifts and herbal body products.
            Growing flowers to sell as art is one thing, but April also “loves to push the boundaries of creativity when working with flora,” she says.

square badge AFW2021

            “I started with smaller pieces like flower crowns. Then, I slowly moved to more ideas and larger concepts finding inspiration from Susan McLeary and her book The Art of Wearable Flowers,” she says. Last winter, stuck at home in New England for months on end, April was pulled by the creative muse of nature. The inspiration for her evocative woodland couture came from the forest floor: large sheets of birch bark, the edges curling back to reveal a lighter contrast to the cinnamon-colored sections.

I’ve always been attracted to birch bark. You see it on the ground; you see it peels and curls in all different shades.”

april holmes, april showers flowers

               After trying a number of techniques to fashion a corset, the designer glued felt to the back of the birch panel so it wouldn’t scratch her model. Ever inventive, she used a heat gun to warm the material so the curled edge at the top of the corset would take shape.
            Enchanted by the shapes, faded colors, and translucence of birch and beech leaves, many still attached to the dormant trees in New England’s deciduous forest, April envisioned a flowing skirt. When she started working with the leaves, though, they quickly shattered. “I remembered seeing someone use glycerin and water to soften eucalyptus, so I tried boiling a batch of leaves in water and glycerin, and — success! — they became supple and soft.”

vertical of April Showers Flowers dress

            Once treated, the leaves were “a dream to work with,” April describes. “It made the whole process easier because I was able to chip away at the garment over a couple of months instead of working in a two-day window with fresh flowers.” Starting at the hem, she attached individual leaves, one at a time, row after row, overlapping layers of foliage to resemble oversized sequins of 1920s flapper dresses. Cold glue didn’t work as well as Fabri-Tac. “It’s clear, it holds quickly, and it stays a little bit pliable instead of getting hard like some glue,” she says.
            She collaborated with her frequent model, Winter Morrissey, who sewed a long, white slip dress as the base garment. Winter also stitched an overskirt to which the leaves were glued. The skirt wraps around the waist and ties in front, over the slip dress.

two views of april holmes botanical couture dress

            The incredible headpiece modeled by Winter coordinates perfectly with the all-organic vibe of a bark corset and floor-length leaf skirt. April had access to a neighboring property with thousands of birch saplings. “I harvested them to form the hair-like headpiece,” April explains. She crafted the headpiece from Warbla, a product used by cosplay artists to make armor and other contoured pieces. She attached to it a separate piece made from structural wire covered in air-dry clay into which she poked the saplings to create a hair-like mane. “Toward the top, where I wanted the ‘hair’ to fold over, I actually boiled the branches and then bent them and tied them for a few days to make the shape.”
            The entire look is a flight of one woman’s imagination — and it draws attention to the beauty of nature in an entirely new way. “There is so much beauty already here around us,” April says. “If you’re stuck at home, go outside and look for it. If you’re stuck in a city, go for a walk into nature. It’s so healing and even if you’re not physically healed, nature can heal emotionally.”

Creative Team:
Floral Palette:
 Foraged and gathered woodland elements from a forest in central New Hampshire
Designer: April Holmes, April Showers Flowers, aprilshowersflowersnh.com, @aprilshowers_flowers
Seamstress: Winter Morrissey, @bintterr
Model: Winter Morrissey
Hair/Makeup: Winter Morrissey
Photography: Jay Curtis, @jay.c.photo
Location: Candia, New Hampshire

Erika's Fresh Flowers botanical couture

A farmer-florist tells the story of early spring through her camera’s lens

            Owner of Warrenton, Oregon-based Erika’s Fresh Flowers, Kathleen Barber grows many of her own floral design ingredients. She also is an award-winning fine art photographer and member of the Professional Photographers Association.
            “I wanted to tell a story about the Pacific Northwest in early spring,” she explains. “My character is a hunter-gatherer wearing his woodsman’s apron. Daffodils are the first sign of spring here along the Oregon coast, so I used them, along with bay leaves, moss, eucalyptus bark, Douglas fir branches, and pine cones — all gathered from my garden.”

erikas fresh flowers botanical couture

            With dark green felt as the apron base, Kathleen attached her botanical ingredients with Oasis cold glue, working from the hem toward the bib. Fir branches create the apron’s “fringe.” The midsection is formed by bands of eucalyptus bark, moss dotted with tete-a-tete narcissus and overlapping bay leaves. Vibrant golden double-daffodils, around 200 in all, decorate the bib. The heirloom blooms originated from clumps Kathleen’s father dug and transplanted decades ago from spots along old Oregon logging roads.

My character is a hunter-gatherer wearing his woodsman’s apron. Daffodils are the first sign of spring here along the Oregon coast, so I used them, along with bay leaves, moss, eucalyptus bark, Douglas fir branches, and pine cones — all gathered from my garden.”

kathleen barber, erika’s fresh flowers

            Kathleen’s son Robert Barber, a college student studying electrical engineering, became her willing model. She imagines that his character has returned from fishing in a mythical stream. The scene is earthy, almost Hobbit-like, styled with old-world props including a deer skull, a cleaver, reference books, and weathered candlesticks. The apron coordinates with Robert’s peasant shirt finished with durable leather cuffs and a wool cape he brought home from a trip to Germany.
            When Robert donned the hood, Kathleen knew her floral narrative was complete — a forest character come alive straight from the pages of a Tolkien story or a Brothers Grimm tale.

Creative Credits:
Floral Palette: Daffodils and foraged woodland ingredients from Erika’s Fresh Flowers, a cutting garden in coastal Oregon
Designer: Kathleen Barber, Erika’s Fresh Flowers, @erikasfreshflowers
Model: Robert Barber
Photographer: Kathleen Barber, Kathleen Barber Photography, kathleenbarberphoto.com, @kathleenbarberphoto
Venue:  Warrenton, Oregon

Zinnia ball gown by Johnny's Selected Seeds

A luxe gown, fashioned from Johnny’s Selected Seeds’ cut flower trial grounds

            For the third year, the floral team at Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Winslow, Maine, is fully embracing the spirit of American Flowers Week by sponsoring a floral fashion for our annual botanical couture collection. Hillary Alger, floral and herb product manager, and Joy Longfellow, manager of the floral trial program, have supported Slow Flowers designers in previous years, helping with the harvest and providing production. For 2020, the two floral experts were inspired to create their own floral gown.

hillary alger sketch

            Hillary relied on her fine arts training, and together with Joy, the duo tapped their extensive knowledge of the Zinnia genus. “We took your urging seriously, Debra — to feature one type of flower,” Hillary said. “Zinnias are Johnny’s second-most important flower crop after sunflowers and we always have a big trial plot. Not only do we love them, but we have them in abundance — enough to make something extravagant like floral fashion.”

American Flowers Week 2021 with Johnny's Selected Seeds

            The women spent much of last summer brainstorming. “We kept asking each other, ‘Can we do this?’ ‘Can we make it happen?’,” Hillary says. “At one point, we decided we were ‘in,’ and then Joy and I walked the fields to figure out what appealed to us. We loved the eucalyptus and Mahogany Splendor hibiscus leaves combined with zinnias for a bold, grand palette.”

Zinnias are Johnny’s second-most important flower crop after sunflowers and we always have a big trial plot. Not only do we love them, but we have them in abundance — enough to make something extravagant like floral fashion.”

hillary alger, johnny’s selected seeds

            Their project began with a foundation: a bridesmaid’s dress in Joy’s closet, one that fit her well, but was unlikely to be worn again. Hillary sketched a body-flattering concept incorporating the shape of Joy’s dress and added a decadent floral bustle to trail behind. She constructed the dress in two parts, first using a fusible webbing to attach the wine-colored hibiscus and sage-green eucalyptus foliage to cloth panels for the bodice. “We needed to keep the leaves wet so they wouldn’t curl off the fabric, so we spritzed the panels and layered them between wet paper towels until it was time to attach to the dress,” Hillary explains. Volumes of fine-mesh window screening and layers of tulle netting were gathered to form the bustle — the canvas for thousands of zinnias.

zinnia varieties

            After picking buckets and buckets of flowers, the Johnny’s team, including volunteer co-workers, convened at Hillary’s home to clip and glue flowers in an array of red, scarlet, rose, purple, wine and coral petals. There are 39 zinnia varieties and seed mixes in the Johnny’s catalog, with many of them represented in this luscious garment. The finished train, covered in a floral pavé, suggests draped tapestry.
            The team hit a snag when attaching the piece around Joy’s waist, though. “The bustle was so heavy and the skirt structure wasn’t strong enough to stay secure on Joy’s hips,” Hillary recalls. “My husband, Jon Hill, came home after work to find a shop full of flowers as we tried to solve the problem. Luckily, he is both a mechanical engineer and excellent sewer. He fashioned an industrial-strength belt-corset that fit around Joy’s waist — and it was perfect.”

joy in zinnia fields

            Joy is more likely found wearing her favorite plaid shirt and jeans as she records and evaluates quantitative data in the flower fields. Dressing up in a zinnia gown and wearing makeup isn’t her typical “look.” “Thankfully, I have a friend who is a professional opera singer, and she was excited to give me pointers and a bunch of her makeup supplies,” Joy adds.
            Johnny’s staff photographer Kristen Earley documented the beautiful dress in the zinnia fields during a pre-dusk golden hour session late last summer. She captured a perfect moment to savor, when the colorful multi-petaled flowers are at their peak.
            For Hillary, this was much more than a project to showcase zinnias and other cut flower varieties in Johnny’s catalog. “Making a flower dress was extra special; for a lot of us at Johnny’s it was the first time we actually had done anything together since March of 2020. It was this really magical, joyful moment that only comes from doing something communal.  A few people stayed on through the photo shoot, just to help and watch. They couldn’t pull themselves away. We were all on Cloud Nine.”

Creative Team:

Floral Palette: Maine-grown annual flowers and foliages from Johnny’s Selected Seeds,  johnnyseeds.com, @johnnys_seeds
Designer: Hillary Alger, Johnny’s Seeds
Model: Joy Longfellow, Johnny’s Seeds
Hair/Makeup: Joy Longfellow
Photography: Kristen Earley, Johnny’s Seeds
Location: Johnny’s Trial Gardens, Winslow, Maine

Margaret Joan Florals Kilcoyne Lilac Farm

The timeless, swoon-worthy lilac is the symbol of spring — in gardens, vases, and couture

            The best way to celebrate springtime is by inhaling the intoxicating fragrance of lilacs, known in Latin as Syringa vulgaris. Kilcoyne Lilac Farm in California’s Antelope Valley, about 50 miles north of Los Angeles, is a bucolic place owned and cared for by Elizabeth and Dennis Kilcoyne. They cultivate more than 3,000 lilac plants on their 10-acre farm, making it truly a sight to behold when thousands of tiny, lavender-hued florets burst into bloom, their plump clusters ranging in hues from pure white and pale pink to lavender, periwinkle, and plum.

Kilcoyne Lilacs

            The year-round attention Elizabeth lavishes on her special plants pays off in early April when the farm plays host to a wild, three-week lilac harvest period. With her small crew, Elizabeth cuts and bunches up thousands of fragrant stems for eager fans. Depending on the volume of each year’s harvest, she sells the bodacious blooms at local farmers’ markets, through wholesale florists in Los Angeles, and to the many visitors who make the drive to Kilcoyne Lilac Farm — just to bring home a nostalgic armload of local lilacs.

Margaret Joan Florals Kilcoyne Lilac Farm American Flowers Week

            Santa Barbara-based floral designer Margaret Lloyd, owner of Margaret Joan Florals, is a lilac devotee who in the past has purchased bunches of Kilcoyne-grown lilacs at her area farmers’ market. A rare find in Southern California, she knows how truly special these flowers are.
            “I want to inspire April brides to consider a lilac bouquet,” she says. “I just love the scent of lilac and if I was getting married in the spring, I would want to carry an all-lilac bouquet.”
Wearing an all-lilac dress is another aspiration altogether. When we invited Margaret and Elizabeth to collaborate, they were immediately intrigued and they combined talents to plan a spring photo shoot featuring a model wearing a lilac frock in a grove of lilac trees.
            Margaret and Elizabeth kept an eye on the bloom calendar and zeroed in on early April for fabricating and photographing the garment for American Flowers Week. Elizabeth previously worked in the fashion industry as a pattern-maker before retiring early to raise children and become a flower farmer, so she offered to transform Margaret’s concept and construct a top and skirt as the base garment.

Inspiration board ideas

            Margaret’s idea was to to recall old California and the region’s cowboy culture. “This is sort of a make-believe story from a Hollywood Western,” she jokes.”If Hollywood wanted to make a cowgirl more sexy, they would create this flirty outfit.”
            Styling and storytelling were important to the designer who gathered Western-style accessories, including short boots, a white-brimmed hat, and a leather belt with silver details. She knew her model Jocelyn Kaylene, with whom she’d worked in the past, would effortlessly pull off the look.
            Lilac isn’t known for lasting long out of water, so Margaret worked quickly over one-and-one-half days. When she arrived at Kilcoyne Lilac Farm, the lilacs were cut and hydrated, ready to transform into a wearable fashion.
            “I cut the flowers into little, workable pieces and then dropped them into a half-inch of water in the bottom of a plastic bin. The short pieces kept drinking water until I started gluing them to the garment,” she explains. “Next, I flattened one side of each piece — the side I would glue to the fabric.”
            Margaret used a combination of Oasis cold glue and spray adhesive to cover the two-piece dress with lilac bits. She used white lilac florets for the shoulder-flattering blouse and paired several of Elizabeth’s favorite plum and dark purple varieties to create the flared skirt. Smaller lilac pieces around the waist and hips ensured a flattering fit, while fuller clusters form the pointed, asymmetrical hem that Margaret describes as a “Tinker Bell” style.

Margaret Joan Florals Kilcoyne Lilac Farm

I just love the scent of lilac and if I was getting married in the spring, I would want to carry an all-lilac bouquet.”

margaret lloyd, margaret joan florals

            When Margaret designs wedding flowers she works with couples to help relate their personality and story through flowers. In a similar way, she used Elizabeth’s lilacs to help tell Kilcoyne Lilac Farm’s story of place, season and bloom. “These lilacs are Elizabeth’s babies. She calls them by their names and her farm is a place of pride, a place that is nurtured.”
            The fleeting lilac season offers a glimpse into the rare beauty of a single cherished flower, reimagined as fashion.

Creative Team:
Floral Palette:
 California-grown lilacs from Kilcoyne Lilac Farm, kilcoynelilacfarm.com, @kilcoynelilacfarm
Designer: Margaret Lloyd, Margaret Joan Florals, margaretjoanflorals.com,
Model: Jocelyn Kaylene, @jocelynkaylene
Hair/Makeup: Jocelyn Kaylene
Photography: Lerina Winter, Lerina Winter Photography, lerinawinter.com, @jocelynkaylene; Danny Miles, Danny Miles Photography, @dannyinthewoods
Location: Kilcoyne Lilac Farm, Acton, California

Jennifer Designs botanical couture
(c) Haley Richter

A new take on botanical couture celebrates creativity and local flowers

            Floral designer and artist Jennifer Reed of Jennifer Designs has produced flowers for hundreds of weddings and events around the greater Philadelphia region. She is a popular featured florist at the PHS Philadelphia Flower Show and leads design workshops in her Mullica Hill, New Jersey-based studio. When a spark of inspiration prompted her to create and style a botanical couture piece for the 2021 American Flowers Week collection, Jennifer knew she wanted to design a look she hadn’t seen in earlier years.

Tulip botanical couture

            Her muse for this project: Corey Radar, a friend and floral designer himself, who occasionally freelances for Jennifer Designs. “What don’t I see in previous floral fashions?” Jennifer asked herself. The idea took root last year, at the 2020 Philadelphia Flower Show, when Jennifer designed a floral bikini for a model. “Corey is a fabulous designer himself and he helps me occasionally. We’ve worked on some fun projects. He admired my bikini and jokingly asked me to make one for him because he likes to dress in drag for fun.”
            She recalled their conversation later when a local floral event hosted a drag performer. “That just sparked something and I started sketching dresses for Corey,” she recalls.

garden accessories and details

            But Jennifer didn’t want to create a traditional drag look. “I wanted to showcase a gardener — A Drag Queen Gardener,” she laughs. It wasn’t hard to sell the idea to Corey. “Because he is an avid plantsman who treats his plants like babies,” Jennifer says.
            Things fell into place for a springtime photo shoot incorporating all locally-grown flowers and plants from area nurseries. Jennifer gave Corey a white men’s dress shirt, tied at the waist à la Diane Keaton. She designed a classic, 1950s-inspired skirt popularized by the Christian Dior “it” silhouette — fitted at the waist and falling into a full circle at the hem. Clad by hundreds of tulips, daffodils, hellebores, grape hyacinths, hyacinths, pansies, and bougainvillea blooms, the garment recalls a beautiful floral print.

I wanted the arrangement to look natural, like a flower garden.

jennifer reed, jennifer designs

            The skirt itself was a feat of engineering, Jennifer explains. Its hoop skirt base is the type often worn under a ball gown or prom dress and made from metal hoops and tulle netting. Midway through the production, the netting began to tear, so Jennifer’s 10-year-old daughter, who had been taking sewing lessons, jumped in and stitched bands of ribbon to anchor it back together. “I also made a harness of suspenders to distribute the weight so Corey could wear the heavy skirt more comfortably,” Jennifer explains. “He was also wearing five-inch heels!”

the design team

            Working with her team members, she wired the spring blooms to the hoop skirt. “I wanted the arrangement to look natural, like a flower garden,” she explains. “Sometimes you have a single bloom; sometimes you have three flowers blooming together. We started with the first layer and then added a layer of moss to cover any mechanics or gaps before continuing to the next layer. That extra step paid off in the end because the moss made everything look fluffy. The eye-pleasing palette begins with white, buttery yellow and pale green blooms placed near the waist of the skirt. The petal hues continue to orange and coral and end with shell and darker pink flowers dangling at the hem like a floral fringe.
            The styling, including the jade green heels and a dazzling manicure, adds a good dose of camp. The “pearls” hanging around Corey’s neck and earlobes are made from strands of white hyacinth pips. Jennifer added vampy, oversized teal eyewear frames, and also tapped Jessica Saint, a hair and makeup artist who works in theater, to provide the flowing blonde wig and transform Corey’s likeness into a ‘lady gardener’ of the 1950s.
            Props include items one might expect to see in the pages of a vintage women’s magazine: a flower basket, a straw hat, fancy tools, a watering can, gardening books, house plants, and more. “We have her doing a whole study of her plants,” Jennifer jokes. “And many of those come from Corey’s own plant collection.”
            The creative experience was both a lot of fun and personally rewarding, she adds. “There was a point when all of a sudden, I started tearing up. It was so moving to see an idea we put all our energy toward materialize into something beautiful.”
            Corey named the character “Tammy Tulips,” and he later suggested showing up as the Drag Queen Gardener at Jennifer’s 2021 Philadelphia Flower & Garden Show display in early June. But Jennifer says Corey will have to wait. “I have a wedding the same week, too, and I need him to work on that wedding with me!”

Creative Team:
Floral Palette: Spring bulb flowers and bougainvillea
Concept/Floral Design: Jennifer Reed, Jennifer Designs, jenniferdesignsevents.com,  @Jenniferdesignsevents
Collaborating Farm: Jig-Bee Flower Farm, Kensington, Pennsylvania, jig-bee.com, @jig_bee
Bougainvillea Plants: Platt’s Farm Market, Clarksboro, New Jersey, @plattsfarmmarket
Hair/Makeup: Jessica Saint Beauty, jessicasaint.com, @jessicasaintbeauty
Model: Corey Radar, @coreyradar
Photographer: Haley Richter, haleyrichterphoto.com, @haleyrichterphoto
Venue:  660 Collective, Norristown, Pennsylvania, 660collective.com, @660_collective
Garden Accessories: Terrain, shopterrain.com, @shopterrain

LORA Bloom botanical couture

A collective of Seattle area florists reimagines judicial collars with botanicals

            Tammy Myers, founder of Seattle-based LORA Bloom, designed a stunning dahlia quilt for American Flowers Week’s Botanical Couture collection in 2019 to honor the Karuk Tribe and her grandfather’s Native American heritage. See below American Flowers Week 2019 (c) Missy Palacol.

tammy myers botanical couture dahlia quilt

            This year, Tammy is honoring a contemporary influence, the U.S. Supreme Court’s late Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Tammy has long viewed Justice Ginsburg as both a fashion icon and a female role model. “Ginsburg frequently wore jabots over her judicial robes, something we also see Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor doing. I have often wondered how her neckwear collection might appear as flowers instead of lace or beadwork. In my research, I learned Ginsburg had favorite pieces that communicated subtle messages of the Court’s decisions. We know flowers can speak in similar ways.”

Tammy’s inspiration: RBG’s collars, featured in Time Magazine (c) Elinor Carucci

            A Time Magazine feature on Ginsburg’s collars and jabots (images shown above) further captured Tammy’s imagination. Author Tessa Berensen wrote in November 2020, “over time, Ginsburg’s collars came to symbolize more than just a long-overdue feminine energy on the Supreme Court. To her, each one developed a special significance. The style of the collar sometimes reflected the substance of her work; perhaps most famously, the liberal Ginsburg often wore a bejeweled collar that looked like armor on days she dissented.”

floral collars
Creative botanical collars:
Top row, from left: Lori Poliski, Flori and Anne Bradfield, Analog Floral
Middle row, from left: Maura Whalen, Casablanca Floral and Kristal Hancock, Sublime Stems
Bottom row, from left: Sophie Strongman, The Old Soul Flower Co. and Sharlet Driggs, Sharlet Floral

            Tammy saw an opportunity to celebrate Ginsburg’s feminine energy for American Flowers Week. She turned to the floral artists who are part of her LORA Bloom platform, an online, direct-to-consumer e-commerce site for locally-grown flowers. “This project is quite ambitious for a variety of reasons. Because LORA Bloom represents a collective of local florists, we asked six florists to design a floral replica from RBG’s collar collection,” she says. Four Slow Flowers members, Anne Bradfield of Analog Floral, Maura Whalen of Casablanca Floral, Sharlet Driggs of Sharlet Floral, and Lori Poliski of Flori participated as designers, as well as Sophie Strongman of The Old Soul Flower Co. and Kristal Hancock of Sublime Stems.

sketch mockup
Transforming a judicial robe into a stylish gown relied on the talents of Riva Juarez

            Tammy tapped her friend Riva Juarez, a model, lifestyle blogger, and designer who covers DIY beauty and fashion as @rivaladiva to construct the “base garment” to showcase the floral collars. Riva transformed a boxy, black judicial robe into a stylish garment. The resulting piece, which Riva modeled for the series, is a modern take on the classic courtroom robe. Riva gathered the sleeves into dramatic cuffs; she tucked volumes of fabric into a flattering empire-style waistline, and shortened the hem to a flirty length, completing the look with black tights and heels.

RBG botanical couture
Front and back views of the botanical tribute to RBG (c) Missy Palacol

            To embellish the robe, Tammy searched for as many “black” or “almost black” botanical elements as she could find. She cleverly deconstructed the leaves of a plum-black leucadendron to adorn the bands enclosing the robe’s front zipper and created a gorgeous crown of blooms on the back of the garment using anthurium, scabiosa, calla lilies, and other deeply-hued botanicals as focal detail. There is beautiful contrast in the shapes, forms and textures in all dark petals as they catch the light and add interest to the otherwise generic black cloth. One indulgence: Tammy added feathery fern accents as a fluffy “skirt” detail. “It’s business in the front and party in the back,” she jokes.

Ginsburg frequently wore jabots over her judicial robes, something we also see Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor doing. I have often wondered how her neckwear collection might appear as flowers instead of lace or beadwork. In my research, I learned Ginsburg had favorite pieces that communicated subtle messages of the Court’s decisions. We know flowers can speak in similar ways.

tammy myers, lora bloom

            Each botanical collar is highly inventive, influenced by the beading, lace, and fine metalwork of Ginsburg’s judicial collars. By reimagining materials grown and gathered from nature, pairing them with embroidery, crochet, and jewelry-making techniques, the designers show an evident affection for their subject. “Undeniably, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was one of the most distinguished, respected, and educated women in modern history,” Tammy observes. “She manifested beauty inside and out. She walked where few women have. Perhaps we can express our gratitude for the path she forged so we can achieve ours through the language of flowers.”

Creative Team:
Floral Palette: Domestic U.S.-grown botanicals from Washington, Oregon and California
Creative Concept/Creative Direction: Tammy Myers, LORA Bloom, lorabloom.com, @lorabloom.flowers
Model: Riva Juarezrivaladiva.com@rivaladiva
Hair/Makeup: Riva Juarez
Photography: Missy Palacol, Missy Palacol Photography, missypalacol.com@missy.palacol
Collaborating Slow Flowers Society florists: Tammy Myers; Anne BradfieldAnalog Floral@analog_floralMaura Whalen, Casablanca Floral@casablancafloralSharlet Driggs, Sharlet Floral@sharletfloral; and Lori Poliski, Flori, @flori.flowers
Other florists: Sophie Strongman, The Old Soul Flower Co., @theoldsoulflowerco and Kristal Hancock, Sublime Stems, @sublimestems
Location: University of Washington Campus, Seattle, Washington

Postal Petals Flower Duet LA Flowers Without Borders

Professional sports meets botanical couture, portrayed at an iconic Los Angeles venue

            Four Southern California Slow Flowers Society members from distinct facets of the floral marketplace teamed up to reinterpret a gold-and-purple #24 Los Angeles Lakers jersey — in flowers — as a tribute to both the late basketball player Kobe Bryant and to the city of Los Angeles. Captured on film at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and modeled by Talia Boone, founder of Postal Petals, the glam jersey “shift” has a regal, multi-colored botanical train appropriate for the grand sports venue.
            Like the NBA Lakers, the Coliseum arena is an instantly recognizable symbol of the City of Angels. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in conjunction with the 1984 Summer Olympics and is also home to the University of Southern California (USC) Trojans football team.

            The L.A. narrative came to life when Talia partnered with Yoni Levenbach, owner of Flowers Without Borders, a Southern California wholesaler who specializes in local and domestic sourcing, and Flower Duet, a design studio owned by partners Casey Schwartz and Kit Wertz. The creatives shared their ideas and talents, not to mention a passion for Los Angeles, culminating in a photo session that captured the Coliseum’s soaring architecture as backdrop to the brilliant floral garment.

LA Inspired Sketch for Botanical Couture
The inspiration sketch from Postal Petals

            Originally, Talia responded to our request to showcase the best of Southern California with the Lakers jersey idea. “I’m a homegrown Los Angeles girl and I’ve always loved the Lakers,” Talia explains. “Immediately, when we thought of something to represent Southern California and Los Angeles, I knew we had to do a Lakers jersey and I just thought it had to be Kobe’s. You see jerseys worn as short dresses and this always looks cute, but I wanted step it up to have a high fashion-couture look with the train.” She noted making a floral ensemble to celebrate American Flowers Week aligns with Postal Petals’ mission of sourcing exclusively U.S.-grown flowers for its DIY flowers-by-mail product line.

Kit and Yoni
On location with Kit Wertz (left) and Yoni Levenbach (right)

            Flowers Without Borders is the flower-sourcing arm of Talia’s mail-order business, so Yoni naturally assumed the task of procuring flowers. That was particularly challenging after Mother’s Day when the fields and greenhouses of many local farms were cleaned out. Working all of his grower contacts, Yoni procured about 700 stems, mostly California-grown flowers, including a number of options that he harvested from his own garden, including blooming elderberry and California oak.

production at Flower Duet
Production day at Flower Duet

            When Flower Duet agreed to join the project as producer of the design, owners Kit and Casey tapped into more than a decade of event production know-how, including past endeavors ranging from large-scale floral installations to life-sized animal topiary. The production took place over two days, as Talia joined the Flower Duet team at their studio in south Los Angeles County.

on location with Talia
Behind the scenes at the LA Coliseum

            The design uses vivid gold strawflower heads to cover most of the jersey’s front, with purple and white statice cut from Kit’s garden to create “stripes” and spell out the Lakers’ logo and Kobe’s legendary #24. The jersey’s neckline is edged in a row of craspedia; its hem is finished with a band of gerbera blooms in primary yellow. The project collaboration hit a full court drive when Kit and Casey saw Talia’s sketch of a floral train, and they then quickly moved into event-producers’ engineering mode.

This dress is a great way to illustrate what can come to life when we collaborate and work together.

            Considering the requirements for the train, they came up with a few ideas, deciding to make a separate train that could be easily transported and attached on site. “I thought of Susan McLeary’s use of faux leather for her floral collars,” Kit says. “Netting or muslin wouldn’t have worked; we needed something that could handle the weight of all those flowers.” She found a 60-inch square remnant of faux leather and cut it into a diamond shape. Working on a flat surface at the Flower Duet studio, Kit, Casey, Talia, and several Flower Duet team members attached hundreds of stems to the rougher side of the faux leather, creating chevron bands and a center medallion on the train. “We had the side stripes to carry the purple and gold through for the Lakers theme,” Kit explains. “And in the middle, we mixed all the flowers — the kangaroo paw, asters, gerberas, and more — to show the different cultures and diversity of Los Angeles.”

Long and short versions
Long and short versions of the botanical ensemble, modeled by Talia Boone of Postal Petals

            The top point of the train wraps over a chicken wire “bustle.” (Kit covered the raw-cut edge with duct tape, hand-stitched the bustle to the train using a needle threaded with dental floss, and then stabilized the attachment with zip ties.) Talia wore a construction back-support brace under the jersey for attaching the train. “It was like a corset,” Kit explains. “We cut two little holes in the jersey and used small carabiner hooks to attach the train to the belt. At one point, Talia also posed with the train as a cape, using her fingers to hook through the carabiners. I wish we had weighed the train because I know it was very heavy to wear.”

We mixed all the flowers — the kangaroo paw, asters, gerberas and more — to show the different cultures and diversity of Los Angeles.

            This project came together in just under three weeks, thanks to a collective willingness to create a stunning botanical couture addition to the American Flowers Week series. Members of the creative team didn’t know one another, and yet their goal of supporting the Slow Flowers Movement inspired them to collaborate. “There were some nights when I didn’t sleep at all because I was trying to figure out the mechanics,” Kit jokes. Adds Casey, “On the busiest, busiest floral holiday of the year, I was out shopping for supplies on Mother’s Day!”
            To Talia, the train represents the vibrant melting pot existing in Los Angeles. “I think it came out beautifully. And [this dress] is a great way to illustrate what can come to life when we collaborate and work together. That’s the part that I enjoyed most, because it’s something that I would not have been able to do on my own and I’m not sure if Yoni would have been able to do on his own. It was a great experience for all of us to work together and pull this off.”

Creative Team:

Floral Palette: Seasonal California-grown flowers in a yellow, purple, orange, red, green and white range. Grown by CamFlor Inc., camflor.com, @camflorinc; Ocean Breeze oceanbreezefarms.com, @oceanbreezefarmsca; and Tutuli Flower Farms, tutuli.com.
Flower Procurement: Yoni Levenbach, Flowers Without Borders, flowerswithoutborders.com, @flowerswithoutborders
Design concept: Talia Boone, Postal Petals, postalpetals.com, @postalpetals
Production and engineering design: Kit Wertz and Casey Schwartz, Flower Duet, flowerduet.com, @flowerduetla
Flower Duet production team: Suhair Alnabulsi and Mandy Hughes
Model: Talia Boone
Hair: Brandy Rice, @Thatchick703
Makeup: Maria Castro, @LuzBeauty
Stylist: James Carroll, @svint.jvmes
Photographer: Randy Schwartz, randyschwartz.photography, @randyschwartzphoto
Venue:  Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Fetching social media botanical couture

Pop culture meets floral fashion inspired by style icons

A child of the Nineties, Niesha Blancas’s influences were sparked from MTV moments and celebrities who graced the covers of the teen bop magazines she convinced her grandmother to buy for her at the checkout counter of their local grocery market.
Today, a social media expert and owner of Fresno, California-based Fetching Social Media, Niesha has managed Slow Flowers Society’s profile on Instagram and Facebook for several years. She’s helped us promote previous American Flowers Week’s botanical couture collections and her love of fashion design prompted Niesha to become even more involved — this year as a creator.

Niesha Blancas of Fetching Social Media

            “This was my first effort, ever,” Niesha confides. No stranger to the apparel industry, Niesha often produces editorial-style photo shoots for Brainchild, a vintage fashion company she launched while studying apparel merchandising and public relations at Fresno State University.
            Niesha jokes that Barbie was the first model she dressed in designs of her own. “Growing up as an only child, my toys were probably more important to me than toys were to other kids with siblings. There were a lot of times where I had to be creative when playing by myself — and I was really attached to my Barbies. Mine had all these wonderful outfits and shoes, but as I got older and started becoming obsessed with pop culture, I took it upon myself to create the looks I saw Britney Spears or Gwen Stefani wearing. I would ask my mom or grandmother if they had any scraps of fabric for me to use so I could sew little versions of their outfits for my Barbie. I was probably only around seven-years-old!”

initial concepts
Initial design concepts from Niesha Blancas

            When she was young, sewing an exact replica of a Gwen Stefani music video outfit for her Barbie meant teaching herself how to use a needle and thread. So, when Niesha decided to celebrate American Flowers Week with botanical garments for human models, she knew she could figure it out. She also wanted her contribution to be different and unexpected. “I wanted to create something maybe you haven’t seen someone do in the past for American Flowers Week.”
            In her own wardrobe, Niesha is a “fashion mash-up” practitioner and frequent thrift store shopper. “My wardrobe is not tied to one decade. The way I dress personally means wearing something modern, but with a twist. That twist may be a hint of vintage from the sixties, or the eighties, but always intertwined somehow with the nineties.”

Fetching Social Media American Flowers Week 2021

            The idea of dressing her two models in floral bodysuits came when Niesha pushed herself to think beyond the mini-dress looks she first sketched. “I knew that I wanted my designs to be different, maybe something you would see on Lady Gaga, something outrageous like a tailored bodysuit you’d have seen sported onstage in the early 2000’s.”
            With a plethora of flowers and foliage provided by Carlos Cardoza of CamFlor Inc., a Slow Flowers member farm based in Watsonville, California, Niesha started by separating the blooms into two identical batches ensuring both looks had an equal balance of flower varieties, colors, and textures. “I only gave myself 48 hours to have everything done,” she says. “The flowers came on a Friday and I told myself I had to complete my entire first look by the end of that day. I glued on the last flower at midnight!”

More botanical couture fun with Niesha Blancas
More botanical couture fun from the hands and brain of Niesha Blancas

            The foliage of Aucuba japonica, also called spotted laurel, isn’t widely used in floral design, but when Carlos asked Niesha if she wanted some “funky” foliage options, she said “Yes,” sight unseen. Typically found in landscapes of older properties, the broadleaf evergreen gains newfound fashion status as a unifying focal element of both of Niesha’s looks. The foliage appears as exaggerated, asymmetrical shoulder detail on one bodysuit and as a peplum skirt on the other.

The combination of fishnet and rhinestones is a little edgy, yet dainty. It’s something I have always incorporated in my styling, whether for photo shoots or fashion shows. Everything is always fun and girly, but edgy.”

niesha blancas, fetching social media

            To attach the botanical elements, Niesha used a lot of Oasis cold glue, finding that the faux leather material of one bodysuit and the woven cotton of the other base garment were suitable surfaces for the glue. She also built out the shoulder and hip details with small sections of chicken wire and thin upholstery foam (recycled from an old cushion) onto which the glossy spotted foliage was attached in fanned layers. “This was the vision and the volume I was going for,” she explains. “I wanted the two looks to be different but cohesive.”
            Niesha’s brilliant styling adds glamour and sass. The models, her friends Jada and Gloria, are each wearing dramatic blue eye shadow, sparkly accessories, opera gloves, and patterned black-and-white boots — one, a short pair in cow-skin, and the other, a pair of knee-high, zebra-patterned boots. About her obsession with the opera gloves, Niesha says, “the combination of fishnet and rhinestones is a little edgy, yet dainty. It’s something I have always incorporated in my styling, whether for photo shoots or fashion shows. Everything is always fun and girly, but edgy.”
            Her influence for this vibe is Tim Burton, director of the 1990 film “Edward Scissorhands,” one of Niesha’s favorite childhood films. “I’ve always admired the way he contrasts his films by providing a dark, moody feeling, but also with waves of bright elements — this direction has always been a favorite of mine to include in my work.”
            Niesha is a little surprised at how well her imaginary floral outfits translated into three-dimensional botanical garments worn by real women. “I could say I am my ideal client. In the nineties, I was a little kid who watched a ton of movies and glorified all these cool outfits. But as a little kid, I couldn’t dress like a teenager. I think that’s why I’m so obsessed with these looks now, since I am older and can wear whatever I want — especially all the trends I used to see back then. I love tapping into my nostalgic treasure trove and creating pieces that are funky and fun.”

Creative Team:
Floral Palette: Seasonal California-grown flowers in a yellow, peach, coral, orange and green color range. Grown by CamFlor Inc., camflor.com, @camflorinc
Designer: Niesha Blancas, Fetching Social Media, fetchingsocialmedia.com, @fetchingsocial
Design Team: Cathy Blancas, Ana Quinata
Models: Jada Cruz, @d3vinetrinity and Gloria Serna @glowstiic
Photographers: Niesha Blancas and Ana Quinata @anaquinata
Venue:  Fresno, California

Petals by the Shore and Resendiz Brothers Protea Growers

Often used as a “filler,” the wax flower takes center stage as a dreamy design element

Fallbrook, California, is an agricultural region in Northern San Diego county where many of the dramatic hillsides are planted with the flora of Australia and Africa. The rugged landscape offers ideal cultural conditions for Resendiz Brothers Protea Growers to farm some of the most beautiful Protea, pincushions, Leucadendrons, and wax flower crops in California. According to owner-grower Mel Resendiz, there are more than 50 varieties of the genus Chamelaucium uncinatum, an Australian shrub in the myrtle family. “Wax flowers add texture, volume, and style to designs,” adds the farm’s creative director, Diana Roy. “They compliment most color schemes and add frilly or delicate textures to floral arrangements.”

Petals by the Shore and Resendiz Brothers botanical couture

            After getting to know the team at Resendiz Brothers, and after buying and working with their flowers, Kelly Shore knew she had to visit and see the farm for herself. Owner of Petals by the Shore, a Damascus, Maryland-based studio, Kelly has since collaborated with Resendiz Brothers to teach design workshops and partnered with the farm to market wholesale boxes of their blooms through The Floral Source, her sister business. “I am not going to sell anything I haven’t seen in person or understood how it is grown and harvested.”
            Kelly returned to San Diego this past March, spending several days with Mel and Diana while learning more about Resendiz Brothers’ seasonal offerings. She noticed the proliferation of wax flowers at their peak bloom, spanning white, pink, lavender, and purple hues, with many bi-colored and multicolored varieties.

design process and final look botanical couture with wax flowers
Left: Kelly’s design “in process,” with a dress form to help during garment construction; Right: the glorious completed look

            “Inspired for creating my garment, I wanted to highlight the spring beauty of what’s growing at Resendiz Brothers,” she says. “Seeing wax flowers swaying in the wind, up in the hills, was very ethereal. I felt transported and I wanted to capture the feeling in my design, using the wax flower for botanical couture and the backdrop setting for our photography.”
            The photography took place in Rainbow, a community of Fallbrook, where Resendiz Brothers grows a wide array of Australian native wildflowers throughout their 200 acres. The majority of the plants are established on steep, rocky hillsides at an elevation of approximately 1,600 feet. “Amazingly, these flowers all bloom beautifully in the harshest conditions,” Diana points out.

Waxflower details
Intricate bloom details reimagined as a delicate textile pattern

            With a Western-style skirt as her base garment, Kelly attached bands of wax flowers by color. She worked upwards, from the hem toward the waistline, using both Oasis cold glue and U-Glu, an adhesive tape, to attach small flower clusters to the fabric. Kelly oriented the flower heads downward so that each row overlaps stems of the previous row.
            “As I built the garment, my vision started to come to life,” she recalls. “I very much wanted a Southern California look. Mel’s family is from Mexico originally, and I wanted a Mexican-American model to wear this garment to represent that history.”
            The frilly flowers resemble soft chiffon, with layer-upon-layer mimicking ruffles of a gown. Tiny details in the wax flower petal colors, forms, and shapes are revealed, adding dimension and interest to the design.
            The entire production took four days, as Kelly worked in a corner of Resendiz Brothers’ pack house. Farm crew members stopped by to see her project, asking for permission to take photographs. “I don’t think they get to see all the ways the flowers they harvest are used by designers,” she observes.

I felt transported and I wanted to capture the feeling in my design, using the wax flower for botanical couture and the backdrop setting for our photography.”

kelly shore, petals by the shore & the floral source

            Finishing details compete the head-to-toe look: a statement necklace, hand-tied bouquet, and Western-style hat decorated with eucalyptus, wax flowers, plus other Resendiz Brothers crops. She chose a white jersey top to complement the botanical skirt, emphasizing the waistline with detailing from Serruria ‘Blushing Bride,” a pale pink protea relative.
            Kelly recalls driving up into the hills in her rental car, worrying that the vehicle wouldn’t make it up the steep, narrow dirt road. “I wanted to capture those hills as our setting,” she says. “People do not understand how laborious it is to farm this land. It is not like just going out into the field where everything is in tidy rows. It is an ordeal and there is a lot of climbing up and down to reach these flowers.”

Creative Team:
Floral palette: California-grown wax flowers from Resendiz Brothers Protea Growers
Designer: Kelly Shore, Petals by the Shore, petalsbytheshore.com, @petalsbytheshore
Grower: Mel Resendiz, Resendiz Brothers Protea Growers, resendizbrothers.com, @resendizbrothers
Model: Beatrice Alvarado, @beaaalvarado
Hair/Make-up: Beatrice Alvarado
Photographer: Madeleine Collins, Madeleine Collins Photography, madeleinecollinsphoto.com, @madeleinecollinsphoto
Location: Resendiz Brothers farm, Fallbrook, California