Exotic Blooms

Designing hundreds of floral arrangements for productions such as the Trumpet Awards and the Super Bowl requires Francis Queeley to consider several factors, from panning television cameras to weather conditions. Queeley, 41, owns Island Flowers (www.islandflowersatlanta.com), a 15-year-old Atlanta-based shop specializing in exotics, a standout for any occasion, as their unique heights, colors, textures, and shapes distinguish these flowers from more popularly used roses and Chrysanthemums. Queeley describes exotics as eccentric — and offers advice on how to handle and display such flora:

Arrange by numbers: Queeley prefers using odd numbers for a more effective display. “I’d use one orange Asiatic Lily, three red-orange Heliconia, and five green Anthuriums. I [also] stick to using three colors when arranging tropicals because they’re already so brilliant.”

Keep the height: Queeley avoids overcutting exotic flowers, which tend to offer great length. “Much of the drama and beauty of exotic blooms is in their unusual, long stems,” she notes. She prefers for them to tower one and a half times the height of the vase to induce scale, drama, and a woodsy feeling with the flowers. To keep stems upright, Queeley uses clear waterproof florist’s tape to create a tic-tac-toe pattern across the mouth of the vase to create pockets for the stems.

Care: Exotics can enjoy a full week of blooms, Queeley says. “The trick is to change the water every other day. If you’re out of cut flower food add three drops of bleach per pint of water.” It mimics flower food and kills bacteria. Potted exotics require less water than popular houseplants. Those like Bromeliad or Lady Slipper Orchid should be watered once weekly and a Caladium every three days during the summer. “Over-watering makes soil rotty and is the most common care mistakes.” A Phalaenopsis Orchid’s bloom can survive for five months if watered twice weekly. When the petals drop it takes watering consistency to revive the next batch of blooms.

The $5 to $15 per stem premium is driven by transport and middleman costs. Queeley gets weekly shipments of alliums, calla lilies, and Gerbera daisies from Holland, New Zealand, Hawaii, and Asia, where exotics grow year-round so price isn’t usually driven by demand surpassing supply. “For most of our exotic arrangements clients are paying $100, $300, $500,” says Queeley.

Budding florists should check out Florists’ Review magazine (www.floristsreview.com), source suppliers, and illustrated thematic guidebooks. The American Horticultural Society (www.ahs.org/events) offers a listing of flower shows. An estimated 157,000 flower enthusiasts converge on London each May for the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show (www.rhs.org.uk), the most fascinating feast of flowers and floral art on the international show circuit. Queeley, a member of the Georgia State Florists Association, suggets joining a florist group for the benefit of seminars that discuss industry trends and to participate in friendly floral arranging competitions.