Laura Dowling, who just recently departed as the White House florist, spoke at a nearly sold-out lecture and luncheon, A Spring Day in Paris, at the Walters Art Museum, sponsored by the Women’s Committee.
Several hundred women, and yes, it was almost all women, came out to hear Laura talk about her unexpected appointment as White House Florist nearly six years ago. She addressed her recent departure graciously, saying she appreciated the opportunity and looked forward to new opportunities, never confirming nor denying reports that she clashed with the first lady’s staff. Of course, the crowd was too polite to press her on the details.
Laura was working in the state of Washington for the Natural Resources Defense Council when she took a trip to Paris that changed her life. She discovered the beautiful art of arranging flowers, the French way. She took a class, and then another, and soon opened a small floral business in her kitchen, all while working full-time.
Laura would go back to Paris twice a year for more classes and also to Germany and London. It was while she was in Germany that she received the news that she was short-listed for the position of White House florist, something she’d applied for almost on a whim, never expecting that she’d be chosen.
After three increasingly difficult auditions, including one where she had to plan a party at the White House, and provide flower arrangements for the Blue Room and the Oval office, she learned that she’d won the job, only to find that she had to plan the first State Dinner (the infamous India dinner, which was crashed by the reality TV stars ) in three weeks.
As Laura spoke, she worked fashioning an old fashioned bouquet, using a set “recipe” for success. She first takes a big flower to use as the focal point and then begins spiraling other flowers around it, arranging them on the diagonal.
She adds greens and pieces with some shape and texture to bring depth to the piece. Finally, she wraps the stems in garden twine or ribbon and then trims the stems to it can stand on its own.
Another arrangement she whipped up was one with a square base of floral foam, with small fingerling potatoes studded around the sides. She put some sturdy leaves in the center as supporting materials and then added a number of double white daffodils and then a bit more greenery.
Vegetables are one of Laura’s trademarks, and she told the story of creating Olympic torches for a celebration at the White House using green beans, artichokes and carrots for the flames.
You can see more of Laura’s work by visiting her website, lauradowling.com.
Please excuse the poor quality of the images, it was a packed house with purple lighting!