MZR: What is your flower history and how has it evolved? Danielle Rollins: My parents are passionate gardeners. Growing up I spent countless weekends going to garden centers with them, and I became enthralled by all the herbs, perennials, and annuals. I have tried to pass my love of flowers and gardening on to my kids. My two teenagers sometimes act too cool for it now but my youngest, Preston, is 11 and he has really taken an interest in gardening. It’s been wonderful to see his joy in watching something that he’s planted grow. He started a vegetable garden that yielded the most delicious carrots in all different colors. He was so proud of them! We served them at Thanksgiving dinner.
You’ve been open about some of the difficult situations you’ve faced in life, from a divorce to your daughter’s serious accident—did you find respite in flowers, and if so, what role did they play in the healing process? During Carlyle’s hospital stay, I would come home some days and head straight to the garden to decompress. I remember one time sitting in the rose garden thinking, Before there’s a rose, there’s just a thorny branch. But give it time, and it will blossom into something amazingly beautiful. That helped me realize that no matter how bad things are, they will get better. Time does heal. I do a lot of thinking in the garden. I don’t talk on the phone because I don’t want to disconnect from what I am doing. Feeling the soil in my hands grounds me and literally brings me “down to earth.”
What are your favorite public or historic gardens, and what gardens are still on your “bucket list” to visit? I would have to say the gardens at Versailles would be my all-time favorite. During a dinner in the Orangerie hosted by the American Friends of Versailles, I was lucky enough to be introduced to the head gardener. He took me to some of the gardens that aren’t open to the public and although he spoke little English and I spoke little French, we were able to understand one another by discussing the plants and flowers using their Latin names. As for those I’ve yet to see, I hope one day to visit the gardens at Prieuré d’Orsan, the potager at Château de Villandry, and any garden by Jacques Wirtz.
Do you have a favorite floral fabric and wall covering? I have many floral favorites, but I love Brunschwig & Fils’ Verrieres fabric in blue and white and Boussac’s Tarentelle wallcovering. It’s currently in my bathroom.
What about a favorite floral fragrance? I have been wearing Jo Malone’s Lime Basil & Mandarin since the 1980s, and it has become my signature scent. Those closest to me say that when they smell it, they think of me, and I love that.
How would you describe your personal approach to entertaining? Any tips on helping hostesses discover and develop their own style? My personal entertaining style is relaxed—but that’s not to be confused with informal. Whether it’s an elegant black-tie affair or an intimate dinner for friends, everyone should be relaxed and comfortable—the hostess included! I think that is probably the best advice or tip I can share. Relax, and don’t be afraid to take/ask for help. You don’t have to hire an entire event team, but maybe you could use help in the kitchen? Or an extra hand to set up or serve? If you’re cooking, take shortcuts! I have been known to stack Publix fried chicken on a silver platter and serve it with homemade sides I made the day before. Remember, your guests are coming to enjoy you—not judge you—and if you are happy they will be too.
What are your go-to arrangements for elegant dinners and casual suppers? To be honest, I don’t have any! I like to see what’s available, and then buy the best of what’s in store or pick what’s freshest in my garden. That said, for more formal dinners or events where advanced planning is required, I will pick a color palette for the flowers based on the table linens or china I plan to use. For an impromptu gathering, I might just stick some branches in a vase, throw some lemons in a bowl, or group some herbs in a basket. It’s all about bringing something fresh to the table.
We love your book SOIREE: Entertaining in Style (Rizzoli, 2012). Any plans for another book? What’s the next step for you? I would love to do another book, but I’m also interested in pursuing television. I’d like to have my own show so that I can educate and inspire others to make their lives more beautiful, and their surroundings more enjoyable. I am currently talking with a few licensing agencies about launching my own line. Line of what? I’m not quite sure yet! Tabletop, containers, fabrics, rug, and home décor, maybe?
By Margaret Zainey Roux