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All photography (c) Lauren Sophia

In Portland, Maine, a group of Slow Flowers Members wanted to celebrate American Flowers Week with a public floral installation. As their search for a location hit several dead-ends, mostly due to COVID-19 permitting restrictions, they landed on a beautiful way to honor Portland’s Black community while also raising awareness about seasonal and locally-grown flowers.

After a few locations didn’t work out as planned, Rayne Grace Hoke of Flora’s Muse landed on the perfect venue. “I used to walk past the Green Memorial AME Zion Church when I lived on Munjoy Hill in Portland. And I knew it was one of the first Black churches in Maine.” The stone church was built and dedicated in 1914.  You can read more about the history here.

Hoke recruited friends and fellow Slow Flowers members Michelle Rech of Electric Flora and Shelley Stevens of Bloomers Maine, to join as collaborators and then approached the church via email. According to Hoke, Pastor Kenneth Lewis, Jr., was touched by the idea and he put the group in touch with Merita McKenzie, a congregational lay leader.

Like many places of worship, gatherings for members of Green Memorial AME Zion Church had been restricted due to COVID. “They haven’t been able to have any physical ceremonies or services — just Zoom or Facebook services,” Hoke explains. “When we were talking about the American Flowers Week timeframe, McKenzie mentioned that Reverend birthday is July 4th — and they were planning on having a drive-by birthday celebration for him. The timing worked out perfectly, that we could celebrate the church and their Reverend.”

With the go-ahead from Green Memorial AME Zion Church, the designers pulled things together in less than one week. “We really wanted to make this a community event, even though we’re in this pandemic. This project is about supporting community. American Flowers Week gave us a platform to design an installation, but we wanted to take it one step further to show support for local flower farms, businesses owned by people of color, and finding sustainable design mechanics.

The team divided up tasks to procure and pick up flowers and to connect with the local Black Lives Matter organization for guidance. Hoke credits the local floral community for its generosity (see donor list below), including a Boston wholesale florist that saw Hoke’s social media post and reached out with a donation.   

Because of the historic landmark nature of the church’s architecture, the designers took care with the installation, which occurred on Friday evening, July 3rd. The asymmetrical, two-sided floral arch spans the front entrance to the sanctuary. The upright elements are built on a chicken wire base mounted with damage-free hangers. The design’s first layer of greenery covered the chicken wire. And then, thanks to another local florist’s donation of water tubes, the team inserted hundreds of flower stems, one-at-a-time into the foliage base.

Volunteers from Green Memorial AME Zion Church reinforced the feeling of community and collaboration. “We showed the ladies how to put the flowers in water tubes and they jumped right in. They were the best helpers ever,” she says. “Michelle and I decided that we want to hire them when we need freelancers.”

As an important finishing detail, they hung a “Black Lives Matter” banner above the door. It was designed and donated by Girl that Designs, a local Portland artist. “We pressed some of the flowers and now that the installation has been taken down, we plan to frame the banner with the pressed flowers and give it to the congregation,” Hoke says.

The experience was joy-inducing and incredibly meaningful for everyone who volunteered and who stopped and viewed the floral installation over the holiday weekend. “As a florist during the pandemic, I haven’t been able to do my job,” Hoke says. “Whether it’s designing flowers for a wedding, a funeral or helping people celebrate other life milestones, it has been very difficult not to help people heal through flowers. I  felt so proud and grateful to be able to help the congregation celebrate their Reverend’s birthday, the history of their church and to use all the locally-grown flowers to do so.”

On July 4th, Reverend Lewis viewed the floral installation during the congregation’s socially-distanced birthday tribute to their leader. He sat in front of the church, framed by flowers, as members drove by with signs, balloons, and mask-wearing smiles as they waved and wished him a happy birthday.

Hoke can’t help but feel emotional about the experience. “I got teary,” she admits. “We’ve all been feeling so helpless and after seeing other floral memorials and tributes around the country, we were inspired. Each of us has a voice. We can do something. It just felt right.”

Flower donations

*Meadow Ridge Perennial & Cut Flower Farm @meadowridgeperennials

Snell Family Farm @carolyn.snell

Bumble Root Organic Farm @bumblerootorganicfarm

Direct Flowers of Boston @directflowers2florist

Mechanics donation

Fiddlehead Florist @fiddleheadflowers (water tubes!!!)

Signage

Allie Norman, @girlthatdesigns

Florists

*Rayne Grace Hoke, Flora’s Muse @florasmuse

*Shelley Stevens, Bloomers Maine @bloomersmaine

*Michelle Rech, Electric Flora @electricflora 

Photography, Lauren Sophia @laurynsophia

*denotes Slow Flowers Member