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All in a Row
Inspired by fields of wildflowers, a Los Angeles floral designer is making a name for herself by creating vibrant arrangements that practically leap right out of their planters. Take a peek inside her studio—and pick up a few foolproof tips for making bouquets that will take on a life of their own.
One of Clover Chadwick’s fondest memories of growing up in Los Angeles was bounding into the family car as a young girl and being whisked away on a road trip. Sitting in the backseat, she’d look out the window in awe at the blur of roadside flowers and meadows whizzing by. Those images stayed with her, and ultimately sparked the organic, free-form approach to arranging flowers that she’s become known for. Stretched across long, narrow containers, her “garden screens,” as she calls them, are now popping up at weddings and chic establishments around her hometown and beyond. “They’re like little slices of meadow,” she says.
Chadwick didn’t start as a florist, however. Only a decade or so ago, she was managing restaurants, and wishing their centerpieces were more considered—like the unforgettable displays of wildflowers at the French Laundry, where she had a stint as maître d’. Flowers shouldn’t be an afterthought, she believes, but “an intentional part of the dining experience.” Soon she began creating arrangements for restaurants, and her business “naturally bloomed from there,” she says.
Her client list quickly expanded, and before long she had opened her first studio, in 2003. A tiny spot in the lot out back, where she planted a wild garden, served as her workshop. “The studio practically sprang from a crack in the concrete,” she says of her humble beginnings.
She’s since moved to a larger location, but her approach remains the same. Her vessel of choice is almost always a shallow bowl or low rectangular box, which she fills with moistened rock wool, a natural alternative to synthetic floral foam. “Since it’s a growing medium, often used in hydroponic gardening, it can prolong the life of the arrangement for about a week,” she says.
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Rise and Shine
Every project starts with a sketch, then moves to what she jokingly calls a “branch-off”: Each stem is laid out; after examining their shapes, she decides which of them will “win” a spot. The tallest go first. Other than that, she says, “I let the flowers be my guide.” If a poppy looks best facing left, she’ll create a design that showcases its good side. Next, she “colors in” the empty spaces with shorter stems but avoids any overlap. “I imagine the flowers are growing toward the sun,” she says. To finish, she covers the base with blossoms, echoing the shades in the tall stems above.
What results is an homage to the natural landscape. “By highlighting the lines of each flower, you can appreciate the beauty in the way things grow,” she says—just as she once did through the car window, but now does up close, with the luxury of stopping and smelling them.
This cheerful display explodes with color like a bright summer day. To create it, Clover Chadwick works from high to low, placing tall pink larkspurs first, then adding shorter spires of white veronica and orange poppies, and finishing with a soft carpet of peonies, sunflowers, and carnations.
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At the entrance to Dandelion Ranch, Chadwick’s studio in an industrial section of Los Angeles, abandoned tires are transformed into a thing of beauty.
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Inside, she works her botanical magic.
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Into the Woods
Soaring fiddlehead ferns, chartreuse sword ferns, and nodding Sicilian honey garlic offer height to this verdant arrangement, inspired by a wander through woodlands. Chadwick likes placing a pair of her screens on either side of an entrance.
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Above the Curve
Ivy winding around branches of curly willow adds a sense of movement to this mostly foliage arrangement. A mix of succulents and fuzzy gray dusty miller weaves in texture.
Tricks of the Trade
Prep Like a Chef: Clean and cut all of your materials. Have everything in its place, in separate containers, and organized by flower type and color.
Create a Palette: Make sure to gather a variety of shades from each hue -- from light to dark. "It adds a richness, giving texture and depth," Chadwick says.
Consider All Sides: Place your vessel on a lazy Susan, so you can spin it around easily and look at it from every angle. This way, your arrangemet will be balanced and look good from all sides.
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Buckets of clipped and organized stems line Chadwick’s studio, ready to go. “If you get stumped while arranging, imagine you’re working on a puzzle,” she says. “Figure out the shape that’s missing, and find a flower to fill that spot—but mostly, have fun.”