By Jill Brooke
Like silk ribbons tying together floral bouquets, the tradition of the annual First Lady’s Luncheon is a gathering of possibility, purpose and beauty.
Held this year at Washington Hilton this fall, and presented by the Congressional Club Museum and Foundation, the 105th Annual First Lady’s Luncheon honoring First Lady Jill Biden was even more special this year because so many were happy to gather together.
After all, the original purpose of the congressional club was to provide a non-partisan social setting for building friendship among the spouses of Members of Congress. In 1912, the Congressional Club held a breakfast to honor First Lady Nellie Taft which then became the First Lady’s Luncheon attended by every First Lady since its inception.
As is also tradition, Certified American Grown, the organization that supports farmers growing American flowers and foliage, once again supported the event with beautiful American grown floral, identifying a team of talented floral designers and volunteers to create 175. incredible table arrangements, flower arches, displays and décor that enhanced the elegance of the event.
Chair Patricia Garamendi, wife of California’s Honorable John Garamendi, gave lead designer Carrie Wilcox and co-lead designer Kelly Shore a peek at the art work her daughter had painted that was going to be given to First Lady Jill Biden.
“This painting became the color scheme of the event,” says the Connecticut-based Wilcox, who participated in years past. “We knew we had to use purples, blue and greens.”
Then American Certified Grown CEO Camron King reached out to farmers to provide “14,000 stems” for this lunch, including lilies, garden roses, gladiolus, tropical flowers, greenery including dusty miller and silver dollar eucalyptus and pillowy antique hydrangeas.
Among the generous farms who donated their bounty were Florida’s Albin Hagstrom & Son and FernTrust, Virginia’s Bee’s Wing Farm, Harmony Harvest, Lynnvale Studios, Washington/Florida/California’s Continental Floral Greens, California’s Dramm & Echter, Glad-A-Way Gardens, Mellano & Company, Menagerie Farm & Flower, MOBIS, Myriad Flowers, Ocean Breeze Farms, Pyramid Flowers, Resendiz Brothers, Sun Valley Flowers, and Camflor. Additional partner support came from Syndicate Sales, Oasis Floral, DVFlora and Brix & Columns Vineyards.
In past years, there was a flower wall in the receiving room.
But since the event had to be rescheduled around Dr. Jill Biden’ teaching schedule from September to a Friday in October, which then impacted the previous lead designer Christi Lopez’ availability, Wilcox was anointed but then had more time and staff pressures too.
With necessity being the mother of invention, Wilcox had an aha moment and thought, why not do a floral arch instead of a wall of flowers.
And what an arch it was.
Blooming with baby’s breath, fragrant lilies and gladiolus standing proud, it became catnip for those gathered to take their photographs and Instagram moments, uniting people who some veteran Congressional spouses admitted were more polarized than anyone can remember, and providing conversation and connections.
The clicks of cameras as families and friends waited in line for their picture-perfect moment made Wilcox, who will be the lead chair next year, realize the arch is an inspired idea that should also be a tradition.
When the guests gathered into the main room festooned with gorgeous centerpieces and chairs draped with color-coordinated pashminas, patriotic inspiring performances ensued including the United States Marine band singing “God Bless America,” a dance by Jeanvieve “Strong Heart Woman” Jerome encouraging a bountiful harvest, and Broadway’s Brian Stokes Mitchell singing “The Impossible Dream.”
It was also notable, as Dr. Jill Biden mentioned in her heartwarming speech that when the marines escorted all the congressional spouses down the introductory runway, female marines escorted the increasing amount of male spouses while the male marines escorted the female spouses.
At the podium overflowing with cascading greenery and flowers, the daughter of a Navy Signalman also discussed the importance of accepting vulnerability while overcoming obstacles, citing the death of her son Major Beau Biden from cancer. The luncheon benefited cancer research and as she said, everyone is touched by illness in some way and must find ways for compassion and comfort.
Of course, flowers, are always a source of comfort when it’s hard to find the words. Furthermore, more than ever, flowers are a major crop for U.S. growers and as studies now reveal, more young people are seeking careers in sustainability and flower growing.
As Kelly Shore, noted, “as a designer who advocates on behalf of these American growers each and every day I find it vitally important to dedicate this week annually to bringing our farmers beautiful product to our nation’s Capital to grace the tables of a wide audience that has the power to help create change.” Certified American Grown is supporting the introduction in both the House and Senate of the American Grown Act requiring the display of American grown cut flowers and foliage in the White House, State Department and Department of Defense, which flowerpowerdaily also supports.
In fact, Shore and others are hoping that these efforts to raise awareness of diversity and abundance of American grown flowers will “one day see our farms’ botanicals decorate the desks, halls and tables of the White House and other federal buildings and grounds.”
And at flowerpowerdaily, we hope as well for weddings, birthday parties and any life event where flowers are, as always, a universal kiss to remind us that beauty and solace exist.
Other volunteers for the event also included Deborah Trout-Kolb from “Tulips Floral Design Studio,” Hermon Black from “HB Fiori,” Lisa Ann Sharpen, Quan Gorbachevski from “Civil Centerpiece,” Sara Arujo, Tina Ahlberg from “Carrie Wilcox Floral Design,” Felicia Alvarez from “Menagerie Farm & Flower,” and students Madeline McDonald and Kira Buchner.
Jill Brooke is a former CNN correspondent, Post columnist and editor-in-chief of Avenue and Travel Savvy magazine. She is an author and the editorial director of FPD and floral editor for aspire design and home magazine and contributor to Florists Review magazine.
Photo Credit: Beth Caldwell Photo