Former White House Chief Floral Designer Laura Dowling appearing at Akron Home & Flower Show (photos)


CLEVELAND, Ohio – – As with fashion, flower trends come and go. So what’s the floral equivalent of “skinny jeans” for 2018? Lots of purple popping up in arrangements, including wreaths, table settings and bouquets, for starters. Ditto for small fruits and vegetables worked into arrangements, adding fresh visual flavor. Arrangements that feel breezy and just-picked-from-the-garden, rather than structured, will be show-stoppers, too. So predicts Laura Dowling, who served as Chief Floral Designer of the White House from 2009 until 2015, under the Obama administration. In that position, Dowling managed the floral settings for thousands of White House events, from state dinners to intimate lunches, along with the day-to-day flower decor that filled East and West wing offices, public spaces, Camp David, and more. “You think of a floral position as being quaint, cutting flowers and going around with a little basket, kind of a Jane Austen style job,” Dowling says during a telephone interview from her home in Alexandria, Virginia. “But it was actually very intense, involving seven days a week sometimes, with 16-to-18 hours a days. I was responsible for outlining the decor and choosing linens, ordering flowers, staffing the production. It’s a pretty big job.” Dowling is appearing at the Akron Home & Flower Show , Friday through Saturday, February 23 to 25, at the John S. Knight Center. She’ll present a slide show of her designs with an emphasis on the newest ideas, take questions from the audience, and share anecdotes about her time at the White House. Her appearances are at 12:30 p.m. and 4:30p.m. Saturday, and 1:15 p.m. Sunday. On the trend front, purple flowers will reign, so to speak, because “Ultra Violet” happens to be the hottest shade this year, according to Pantone , which annually chooses a leading color. “Flower trends follow fashion trends, so the idea is that the Pantone Color of the Year is being incorporated in floral designs” says Dowling. “That would include sweet peas, hydrangeas, orchids. It’s a bit controversial because not everyone likes that shade. But I think, with flowers, there is an incredible range of options. For example, one of my favorite roses is called amnesia. It’s a pale lilac-gray-beige. It almost has a vintage feel.” Grape tomatoes, turnips, limes and other edibles are lending a new look to floral arrangements, too. “With an unusual mix of materials, arrangements are much more organic,” says Dowling. “The look is very natural and free-flowing.” The horizontal-shaped arrangement is a new trend as well. Dowling, who at one time was a part-time florist with her own design studio, and held jobs in government and public policy before then, was picked to be the official White House Florist after her husband, Robert Weinhagen, learned of the opening. “I sent my resume in never expecting to hear back, and much to my surprise I heard several months later that I was one of 17 finalists,” she remembers. “After several cuts it was down to three finalists. There was a four-hour, […]