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Brown Roses, Vanilla-Scented Tulips, Handcrafted Containers--Today's Floral Arrangements Offer Surprising New Choices

July 21, 1996|BARBARA THORNBURG

Like the '80s that spawned them, opulent floral arrangements overflowing with huge Casablanca lilies are ancient history. The '90s have ushered in cut-flower creations that are pared down in scale but not style. The secret lies in unique containers--hand-painted pots, vintage metal baskets, foliage-swathed vases--and novelty flowers, those surprising hybrids of uncommon color and unexpected fragrance. Today's palette now includes yellow and peach hyacinths, terra-cotta roses, even albino lavender. To delight the nose, there are cosmos that smell of chocolate and vanilla-scented tulips. But don't look for these blooms at every corner flower shop; they're still rare enough to be destined for just a lucky few. Here, four top L.A.-area florists interpret the new trends.

Suzane Le May

A spring vacation spent touring beautiful Parisian gardens prompted French Canadian Suzane Le May to suddenly change career goals. "I was studying to be a dietitian but decided I didn't want to spend my life telling people "non." With visions of Les Jardins du Luxembourg still dancing in her head, she returned to Montreal to study floristry. "Now I make people happy," says the florist who moved to L.A. in the early '80s and whose eponymous shop, open by appointment only, specializes in les sculptures vivantes, or living sculptures. "I believe in arrangements where flowers get to breathe," she says. Which is why Le May favors containers like old-fashioned milk trays filled with reproduction medicine bottles, each of which showcases a separate bloom. "In the '80s, we were torturing flowers--binding them, putting them in bizarre arrangements. Today, we're back to romance. It's a return to Grandma's garden."

Clifford Miller and Michael Burkhart

"These days, people want a flower arrangement to look as if they might have picked it from their own garden and arranged it themselves--even though they didn't," says Clifford Miller of TFS in Los Angeles. Miller and partner Michael Burkhart are self-taught florists who turn out site-specific arrangements inspired by nature. Flowers by TFS, which stands for The Flower Shop, typically have an earthy quality about them. Containers might be found in the wild (hollowed-out tree stumps, giant mushrooms) or scavenged at flea markets (animal troughs, Fiestaware egg cups). Miller and Burkhart also dream up originals that are hand-painted, aged artificially or, for this summer, wrapped with rope. Besides using favorite blooms, the two designers combine textured foliage--coleus, Algerian ivy, scented geranium leaves--into arrangements on an intimate scale. As Miller says: "Flowers should accent a room, never overwhelm it."

Robert Smith

Robert Smith of Laurels, who likes to design "romantic, uncontrived flowers," says less isalways more. Still, for one client's wedding anniversary, he lined a hallway with 40 rosetopiaries and sprinkled rose petals from the master bedroom to the bath. He likes to design whole floral environments," he explains, "so you really see how unique each flower is." Containers that evoke memories are another Smith trademark. Recently, he has begun recycling the mesh baskets from public swimming pools, lining them with mood moss and filling them with masses of fuchsia peonies or blue hyacinths. "They offer both scent and memories," he says. And if a container lacks mystique, Smith simply creates one. He washes new concrete pots with beer and yogurt, buries them in his backyard for several weeks and voila! That instant neo-ancestral look.

Walter Hubert

Native Angeleno Walter Hubert, owner of Silver Birches in Pasadena, is known for mixing indigenous foliage with exotic blooms. But he's quick to tell you that he's opposed to the overbreeding of flowers: "They're trying to come up with the perfect rose, with an exact alignment of leaves and no thorns, but it has no scent. Too much hybridization strips the soul of a flower." Hubert much prefers flowers in their natural state: "I get a thrill out of finding something along the road and using it." His favorite "roadsidia" include privet, pittosporum, madrone, eucalyptus, oak leaves and melaleuca bark, all of which he often uses to camouflage pots and vases or fill arrangements. Hubert's take on the florist's job? "Each flower has an individual personality with its own needs. My role is to act as an agent speaking on its behalf."

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