By Jill Brooke
In an effort to highlight African American accomplishments in the flower world and plant seeds of inspiration for future generations, garden writer Teresa J. Speight gathered some of the best and brightest for her new book, “Black Flora.”
Published by Bloom Imprint, the flower-friendly enterprise launched by Slow Flower movement founder Debra Prinzing, this collection features some famous names including Seattle’s Kristen Griffith-Vanderyacht and Virginia’s Bron-Zuri Hansboro, from “The Flower Guy Bron” but also introduces you to many new faces and people worthy of knowing.
“Younger generations of black plant-lovers are seeking inspiring examples of successful floral artists and entrepreneurs,” says Speight, who also is the Urban Gardening Chair and the liaison to the National Butterfly Garden at the U.S. Botanic Garden for National Garden Clubs Inc. “When they see their potential — through the representation of people who look like them in farming and floristry — the possibilities of the future enable their dreams.” So true isn’t it?
Furthermore, as “Conquer the Soil’s” Abra Lee eloquently wrote in “Black Flora’s” introduction, the contributions of the black experience on flower farming are profound.
“When the Civil War was over and plantations of the South were burned to the ground or deserted, the formerly enslaved went back into the ruined gardens – ones they nurtured with their own hands – to take cuttings and roots of the flowers,” she points out “They planted them in little plots and preserved magnificent heirlooms still enjoyed to this day. By horse and buggy, we brought homegrown flowers from the countryside into Washington D.C., to sell along the Potomac River. In the Midwest, we taught floral design courses so others who looked like us could attain specialized skills and make their own living. And in California, we designed award-winning, avant-garde parade floats covered in blooms.”
It is indeed a petal-paved past that is more deserving of exploration and further education to the general public. This book serves that role splendidly by hearing the stories of floral artists, farmers and event planners such as Ashley Robinson, Shanda Zelaya, Talia Boone, Taij and Victoria Cotton, Herman Black, Mino Davis, Drew Rios, Joy Proctor, Aishah Lurry at Patagonia Flower Farm; Lauren, Leah, and Callie Palmer of The Wild Mother.
“Our flowers are more than just a decoration,” says Lauren Palmer. “They are a mouthpiece, a narrator and a storyteller.”
And with “Black Flora,” Teresa J. Speight is the consummate storyteller for what she calls “an “embryonic” movement to showcase the cultural contributions and future possibilities of floral artists who are adding to the world’s beautiful gardens and milestone events with their talents, experience and vision as well as earth-friendly practices.
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.