Saturday, December 3, 2011

White House Florist

I recently came across an interesting book: My First Ladies, by Nancy Clarke. In this slim volume, Nancy holds the reader's interest with little tidbits about her 30 years as the White House Florist, and her interactions with those first ladies. Starting with Rosalynn Carter, on to Nancy Reagan, Barbara and Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, and finally, a few months with Michelle Obama.

The White House has employed 'bouquet makers' since the 1850's.
But it was President Buchanan's niece who returned from England and
told of fresh flowers gracing the most elegant homes there.
This heralded the end of the use of wax flowers, and the White House hasn't looked back since.
Even in these days of economical austerity, Michelle Obama is careful to use long-lasting forced branches, natural elements and even asks that flowers be 'recycled'
to other rooms when they are past their prime.

Nancy started out as a volunteer in 1978, quickly moving up to Head Florist and working through 5 administrations. Nancy's patience and dedication are evident throughout the book, as she tells of the many long hours spent meeting with White House staff and the First Ladies themselves, each one having their own idea of what the White House flower arrangements should look like. It was Nancy's job to help each First Lady put her own stamp on the White House, while also maintaining a certain decorum.

And of course, each First Lady also had her own favorite colors or flowers. For instance, Nancy Reagan loved the color red, but for flowers, her favorite was pale peonies, and she requested them often during her stay in the White House. But peonies are notorious for their short period of availability. So much so that Nancy had a small pillow embroidered for her that read:
"Peonies bloom in May", as a gentle reminder.

Decorating for the holidays is no small feat, and decorating the White House even more daunting, requiring an army of volunteers, and hundreds of man-hours of planning for Nancy and her staff. The First Lady would generally decide on the theme for the year, such as Mrs. Carter's "Antique Toys" theme, and then most everything else floral and decorative was left to Nancy to plan out and execute.

There were few weddings in the White House during Nancy's tenure, but she was asked to help with the flowers for Jenna Bush's wedding in 2008 at the family ranch in Crawford, Texas. Flowers were selected in Washington and sent to the ranch for the big day, arranged there by Nancy and a team. Jenna had requested a rustic but elegant look, which Nancy achieved using birch containers, roses and Hydrangeas.

One big change brought about by a First Lady was Hillary Clinton.
Until she came to the White House, the florists wore skirts and pantyhose...
not the most convenient outfit for a physical job!
Hillary wore pantsuits, and shortly thereafter,
so did the florists, and they all breathed a sigh of relief!

Along with keeping flowers in the public rooms in top condition,
there were multitudes of dinners large and small to plan for visiting dignitaries, at times involving travel to Camp David, or flowers for Air Force One.
Here, the staff is shown preparing flowers for Queen Elizabeth's visit in 2007.
You can see there wasn't much elbow room!

How lucky is this florist that she had beautiful vases, pitchers and containers,
not to mention all the different patterns of beautiful White House china patterns, to work with!

To help with new-home jitters, Nancy took Sasha and Melia Obama to the flower shop when they first moved into the White House, and had them create their own flower arrangement for their rooms. What a great way to welcome the new First Family,
and a special touch that helped Nancy be considered family by all her First Ladies.

Bloomers Floral Design
122 South Front St.
Wilmington, NC 28401

No comments: