Today I bring to you an interview done with my good friend and designer who is a Horticulture Instructor, Mr. David Clark from New York.
In November 2013 and previous to November 2012, David presented floral design programs at The Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown, NY. In addition, Clark was honored to be the stage designer for the 8th District New York State Federated Garden Clubs Spring Garden Symposium with over 200 attendees in April 2014.
It means a great deal to me to share this interview as David is my go to expert on anything relating to horticulture/floriculture and has been a helpful guide in my floral career thus far. I hope you will sit back, relax and enjoy this interview as much as I did.
How did you get started in floral design? What are your roots within floristry?
My 86 years-young Mom is still is an active member in 8th District Federated Garden Clubs of New York State. She specialized in flower design & mechanics, horticulture classification and class judging. She took me to all of the design competitions and meetings when I was very young. My Grandfather was one of the largest landscape professionals in Montgomery, Alabama. I found out that one of his specialties was creating floral installations for affluent residences in that area!
I grew up on a 15 acre farm in Eden, NY, that was my canvas to create English style gardens, rose arbors and cutting gardens full of flowers for my Mom and me to design with. My Dad and I constructed a 9’ x 13’ Janco Lean-To greenhouse that housed an extensive orchid collection, and, which allowed me to start vegetable and flower plants for 7 families. Dad and I also planted an extensive orchard consisting of apple, nut and fruit trees, plus we had a BIG vegetable garden. We also rented stalls for horses, and had a registered Angus cattle herd + chickens, pigs, turkey, and ducks. I grew up in a very supportive agricultural and horticultural existence.
I attended S.U.N.Y. Cobleskill in New York State’s Catskill Mountains and graduated with an Associate in Applied Science degree majoring in Floriculture with an emphasis on Flower shop and greenhouse management.
My floral design1 professor made us learn how to make bows… for weeks!!… Corsage bows, funeral bows, package bows any kind of bow. She told us “If you can make a bow, you can always find a job is a flower shop!” I guess it’s true…I teach bow making in some of my floral design workshops. We make it look easy to folks until THEY try to do it…then that $15 bow suddenly has some value!
So I’m graduated and try to find employment in nearby flower shops, well none will hire me because I don’t have experience in a store. How the heck can you get experience when no one will hire you? One day I ventured into a local store, “Hess Brothers Florist” here in Hamburg, NY. and introduced myself to Mrs. Hess. I asked if there might be a job available…the conversation went as usual, “Do you have experience…No I don’t…Then I can’t hire you.” I then told her I would work for FREE, doing anything to get that experience. My internship [today’s’ word] lasted only a couple of weeks, and at the end, Mrs. Hess came to me and said “David, I have seen something special in your eyes while you were working here…I think you are going to make a darn good florist!” At that, we said our goodbyes.
~My journey had begun~
When was (your business) born and why did you choose to start your own business?
~Wow~ I have been giving presentations and teaching people since I was about 12 years old…that was when I was a member of 4-H and we were required to give a presentation.
The signage, ‘the speech’ and the actual demonstration were to be judged ‘live’. Oh my gosh, was I a sweaty mess! The judging panel liked what I did and said my signage was good and that I “looked good” and had ‘nice stage presence’.
In my wildest dreams, I never would have thought
that this experience would lead to becoming
a successful retail floral designer and teacher in the mid-1980’s.
From 1990 to the present, I became a wholesale florist for Sieck Wholesale Floral Distribution in Depew, NY, kept up the free-lance designing floral education, design shows & workshops and made myself a name in the contract-event coordination industry.
I kind of fell into the education aspect and was ‘’found out’ by the then Director of Education at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, Lynn Wieser, in 2008.
Lynn’s words about my work: “David is one of the best, most knowledgeable & certainly the most entertaining garden speakers I have ever heard.”
That crazy occurrence has led me to create a 20 class horticulture certificate series at The Buffalo Botanical Gardens, teaching floristry on the national level for botanical organizations including Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh, Pa., florists and garden groups, to a blossoming writing career plus a television/video media presence.
Please tell us about your clientele. What type of clients do you attract?
Because of my employment at a wholesale florist, I do not accept private individual requests for free-lance business. I am strictly a contract designer, which means floral companies bring me on-board to their premises or venues, where I get to design some very cool things! Every event and store has their own personality. Sometimes it is all about production, other times; it is becoming the store’s liaison to the Event Visionary Director. I have the best of all worlds!
What are your thoughts on floral education and have you attended any workshops? If not, do you plan on attending any in 2015?
ABSOLUTELY YES! Floral education is one of the biggest keys to enter and have staying power in the industry. Unfortunately, there are so many fewer options for design training than when I was going to school. I know of 2 New York State schools that have completely removed floral design and flower shop management from their curriculum. My alma mater has reduced their floral design program to only 1 basic class. I have heard good reports regarding the educational experience at Leanne Kesler AIFD’s “Floral Design Institute” out in Portland, Oregon. To tell you the truth, I watch the videos on her site and learn a lot. Another resource would be my flower friend and mentor: J Schwanke. His ‘uBloom’ site which I highly recommend [you do have to be a subscriber]…has tremendous ‘how-to’ videos and insights into the floral industry as a whole.
I am really blessed to have assisted and trained with Hitomi Gilliam AIFD; J Schwanke AIFD, PFCI, AAF, CFD; Rene Van Rems AIFD; Ann Jordan AAF, AIFD, CFD, mmfd; Kim Morrill AIFD; Matt Wood AIFD, Kevin Ylvisaker AIFD, PFCI; J. Keith White AIFD, CFD; Sharon McGulkin AIRF, AAF, PFCI; Neville Mackay CAFA, PFCI; Vonda LaFever AIFD, PFCI, CFD; Shane Connoly, Royal Warrant, UK; and Ron Morgan.
~Do attend as many training workshops as you can afford time and money~
What is your favorite part of being a designer?
My favorite part about being a designer is working with one of Nature’s most perfect, important and tantalizing products: FLOWERS. Think about it, without flowers and plants, life on planet Earth would not exist as it does today because why? [Oops… that’s the educator in me showing through!]
What is one piece of advice you’ve been given and how do you apply it to floristry?
Ok, so I was seeing a ‘professional advisor’ for a time and she told me, “David, if you don’t feed that flame of creativity within yourself regularly, it will consume both itself and you upon its demise. Creative people are made to create- daily!”
This includes not only working with flowers, but these days, connecting to/networking and posting your work on Social Media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ and Pinterest.
Lastly, what is the biggest problem you’ve run into in floral design and how did you solve it?
I would say that the biggest problem I have run into in floral design is, especially being a free-lance designer, not everyone is going to “get you” and your ideas. However, it is your job to “get them” and their ideas. Many florists have recognized and very valid policies of, “We Do It This Way Here Because’. It is not your place, even as “regularly-looked-to-floral-freelance-specialist”, to change hard and fast rules for the current client. It is permissible however, to expound upon a technique tip or trick that has worked well for you in the past.
Friends, it’s all about the learning experience-
absorb as much as you can from every job and client you work with!
Be on the look out for David in 2015! David was asked and accepted a position to be a workshop facilitator in September 2014 on the Dream Team for the 2015 North East Floral Expo in Groton, Ct. Some of the many designers on this team include, Rene Van Rems AIFD; J Schwanke AIFD, PFCI, AAF, CFD; Tina Coker AIFD, PFCI, FTD Education Consultant.
For more about David Clark or if you are seeking out education within Horticulture and Floristry the following links can be very useful tools for you.
Buffalo News Biography Article: http://www.buffalonews.com/life-arts/people-talk/lifelong-love-of-plants-blossoms-into-career-20140302
Gardenista Houseplant Interview: http://www.gardenista.com/posts/11-ways-to-keep-houseplants-happy-in-winter
‘Savor Life’ Radio Interview on WYSL Radio/Rochester, NY:
Community Garden at Lockwood’s Greenhouses, Hamburg, NY:
Preserving and Drying Flowers
Innuendo: The Secret Sex Life of Plants
Grow rose bush from wedding bouquet! (Or from any roses you get from the florist)