Flower: Colleen, you created the stunning table runner featured in our July/August issue for outdoor entertaining on your patio. What’s your favorite way to incorporate flowers into your get-togethers? COLLEEN: I really don’t use a lot of fresh-cut flowers in my home. I collect quirky vessels—everything from midcentury-modern vases to repurposed flea market finds—and I plant them with speciman cacti. I’m all about the architectural lines of a plant. I like to think that my arrangements in my home are my pieces of art.
What is your first floral memory? The blooming redbuds, crabapples, and roses in my parent’s garden. My sister and I were in charge of weeding the garden, and we usually ended up pulling a few flowers “by accident” to create bouquets and hair wreaths.
I understand you studied horticulture at the University of Illinois and then worked at the Chicago Botanic Garden. What brought you to Tucson? The desire to live in a warmer climate!
Did you always aspire to own your own business? How did La Fleur Plantscapes + Fresh Flora come about? When I first moved to Tucson, I was the development director at the Tucson Botanical Gardens. I saw firsthand the waste involved in throwing huge fundraising events with an abundance of fresh-cut flowers, and I thought to myself, Why isn’t anyone offering an alternative? Living plants make gorgeous centerpieces, and you can plant them in your garden afterwards. The idea of creating a décor firm that specialized in living arrangements and eco-conscious practices took hold, and I left the Tucson Botanical Gardens to start LaFleur.
Tell us about your new studio space. We are a design firm specializing in event décor. We use our studio space not only as a design studio for LaFleur Plantscapes but also as Atelier de LaFleur, a workshop offering classes in horticulture and floral design. We’re located in the historic downtown train depot in a revitalized area often referred to as the arts and entertainment district. Our space is vintage-modern and was designed by architects Jason Gallo and Dale Rush.
We at flower appreciate your eco-friendly approach. What does that mean to you, and why is so important? Moving to Tucson has taught me a great deal about conservation. Desert gardening can be harsh, unforgiving, and isolating. It makes you aware of your environment and it makes you tough. We try to conserve water, use native drought-tolerant plant life, purchase local when possible, and choose vendors who align themselves with our eco-conscious mission.
It seems you have a broad clientele, working on things from hotel arrangements to bridal bouquets. What has been your most rewarding project to date? I’ve had the honor of designing the floral arrangements for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson’s event called The PARTY for the past three years. It’s a wonderful night where we transform the Tucson Convention Center for over 3,000 attendees enjoying local food, music, and art. Proceeds from The PARTY support over 40 programs, professional staff, and a safe environment to assist the 6,000 youth club members in developing self-esteem, values, and skills.
When beginning a new project, what or whom do you look to for inspiration? I always look to my clients’ personal design aesthetic, the architecture that my work will reside within, and the surrounding natural environment.
When you’re not in the studio, where do you like to spend your free time in Tucson? Do you have a favorite restaurant, coffee shop, boutique, etc.? I’m very fortunate to live downtown and within walking distance to all of the amazing art galleries and restaurants. My favorite artisan boutique is Mast. Three amazingly talented women outfit this boutique with gorgeous art and jewelry. My favorite coffee shop is Sparkroot, where I get my daily dose of TCHO chocolate and Blue Bottle Coffee, and my favorite restaurant is Saint House, a rum bar where I installed a living wall in the main dining room.
What is your favorite flower? Phalaenopsis orchid.
And your favorite public garden? Versailles.
What are your tips for people who want to implement eco-friendly design in their own homes? Start with a modern eco-vessel, such as a bamboo bowl or a repurposed planter, and blooming plants—orchids, kalanchoe, cyclamen, bromeliads, etc. Unlike fresh-cut flowers that will die in a week or two, blooming plants will continue to bloom throughout the year.
By Alexandra Schmitt | Photos by Natasha Mishano