5 Fall Arrangements by Frances Grace of Prema

A Q&A with the Denver-based floral designer, who captures the abundance of the harvest with arrangements starring one of autumn’s early divas: the dahlia

Fall is my favorite season,” says Frances (Harjeet) Grace. “I adore working with late-summer and early-autumn blooms because of their lushness, large size, and vibrancy. Colorado can be a harsh climate for flower growing, but Meg McGuire, a flower farmer at Red Daisy Farm outside of Denver, has perfected it. For me, working with her local flowers is a no-brainer because of the freshness, high quality, and communal aspect of supporting a local producer. My hope with these arrangements is to highlight the warm, cozy beauty of fall. Achieving this look requires the use of subtle gradation of color; heirloom copper vessels; and abundant, ruffled, textural blooms.”

Find Flower‘s Q&A with Frances following her five autumn floral designs.

1 | Graceful Swoop

Dahlia arrangement by Frances Harjeet Grace, a Denver, CO florist
Flower List 1: ‘Cafe au Lait’ dahlias | ‘Color Spectacle’ dahlias | ‘Foxy Lady’ dahlias | ‘Karma Choc’ dahlias | ‘Caramel Antike’ garden roses | Benary’s Giant zinnias | ranunculus | scabiosas | ‘Zinderella’ zinnias | nandina | gum maple | wild grasses

Design Notes: “I love when floral designs have a ‘swoop’ to them with a high point and a cascading low point. This kind of movement is very pleasing to the eye, causing it to pause and take in the different components of a design mindfully. To achieve the shape above, I started with larger branches of nandina to create a lacy, loose framework and allowed the nandina to be both the highest and lowest points of the design. I clumped together the largest dahlias as the focal points, but then used smaller dahlias and scabiosa up high to draw attention to the top. The wild grasses on the left side of the arrangement hint to the lower end of the swoop and add movement around the perimeter of the arrangement.”

2 | Tall Order

dahlia arrangement in copper vaseby floral designer Frances Harjeet Grace
Flower List 2: Cafe au Lait’ dahlias | ‘Color Spectacle’ dahlias | ‘Foxy Lady’ dahlias | ‘Karma Choc’ dahlias | buttercream dahlias | ‘Caramel Antike’ garden roses | Benary’s Giant zinnias | ranunculus | scabiosas | chrysanthemums | snapdragons | ‘Zinderella’ zinnias | nandina | gum maple | scented geranium leaves | millet | wild grasses

Design Notes: “This copper flower bucket has a wide mouth, but even so it can be restricting to design in a tall narrow vase and still achieve a flowy open feel. I am definitely a ‘stuffer’ of flowers (more, more, more!) but I like the challenge of working in tall vases. It forces me to be a little more discerning with my flower placement since there is only a limited amount of space for all the stems. I really test the limit of how angled I can go with a stem in order to achieve a wider, looser shape in a vase like this. This can be tricky for household flowers, especially in a dry climate like Colorado where the water will evaporate very quickly leaving the poor blooms high and dry!”

3 | Sweet & Petite

Flower List 3: ‘Color Spectacle’ dahlias | ‘Foxy Lady’ dahlias | ‘Caramel Antike’ garden roses | ranunculus | chrysanthemums | snapdragons |‘Zinderella’ zinnias | scented geranium leaves | privet branches | millet | wild grasses

Design Notes: “I love designing small sometimes! But I think the challenge lies in keeping small small, which means you have to be picky with your choice and placement of each stem so that it all stays in scale. The joy of a small design is that it can really highlight a petite blossom, like the many-petaled ‘Zinderella’ zinnia in this composition.”

4 | Autumn Ombré

harjeet, dahlia arrangements
Flower List 4: ‘Café au Lait’ dahlias | ‘Color Spectacle’ dahlias (orange) | ‘Foxy Lady’ dahlias (small creamy ball) | ‘Karma Choc’ dahlias (burgundy) | Buttercream dahlias (yellow) | ‘Caramel Antike’ garden roses | Benary Giants zinnias | ranunculus | scabiosa | chrysanthemums | snapdragon | ‘Zinderella zinnias | nandina | gum maple | scented geranium leaves | wild grasses

Design Notes: “I feel like the best ombré designs happen a little bit on accident—this one certainly did. Once I noticed a pattern developing with the color as I was designing, I accentuated the gradation by placing all of the very dark snapdragons, ranunculus, and dahlias on the right side of the arrangement. Technically, the blush of the ‘Cafe au Lait’ dahlias is the lightest tone in the ombré, but I chose to use the yellow Buttercream dahlia as my far left focal flower because I loved how it popped next to the orange ‘Color Spectacle’ dahlias and peach ranunculus. When making an ombré design, I think it’s important to not be too strict or literal with the color gradation—it’s nice to have subtle variations and even small accents of a lighter or darker hue in the midst of one chunk of color so that the look feels natural and not too forced.”

5 | Star of the Show

frances harjeet, dahlia arrangement
Flower List 5: ‘Color Spectacle’ dahlia | ‘Karma Choc’ dahlias | ‘Caramel Antike’ garden roses | burgundy ranunculus | peach ranunculus | pink scabiosa | rusty-orange chrysanthemums | cream chrysanthemums | burgundy snapdragon | pink zinderella | gum maple | scented geranium leaves | burgundy privet branches | wild grasses

Design Notes: “The large, orange ‘Color Spectacle’ dahlia at the top of this design really asked to be the star of the show, so I obliged! This design has a bit of a starburst feel with the tall grasses and long exposed stems, but is grounded by the heavy grouping of maple leaves on the bottom right so that the large dahlias don’t make the design feel too top-heavy.”


Denver, CO florist Frances Harjeet Grace of Prema stands next to a large autumn-hued arrangement wearing a dark blue blouse and a dark jeans

Flower: Name three people who inspire you.

Frances Grace: Coco Chanel, Iris Apfel, and Billie Holiday.

What flower best represents your personality?

A poppy. They have a mind of their own and are old-fashioned, whimsical, and a little bit fragile.

In a few words, describe your floral aesthetic:

Victorian, exuberant, and decadent.

What is your home style like?

It’s a tall Victorian row house from the 1890s. It has a lot of traditional elements and is filled with antiques but is also very colorful and decorated with artwork and textiles from our trips to India.

Your favorite travel destinations are …

My husband and I have traveled to India quite a bit, which is always a wild ride of sensory overload and new experiences. One of the most extravagant hotel stays of my life was at the Taj Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur—absolutely breathtaking! The whole thing was like a fairy tale. The Imperial Hotel in Delhi is also spectacular. It smells like jasmine blossoms and has the best high tea around.

In a serene blue-gray room warmed by a wood-burning stove, floral designs 2 and 5 add fiery pops of autumn hues.

If you could live anywhere, where would it be, and why?

I really love the English countryside. It has such beautiful gardens and old homes. I wouldn’t mind living an idyllic life in Kent or Sussex or maybe up in Yorkshire.

Name three things that are essential to your well-being.

1 | Avocados: During busy wedding weekends, avocado with herb salt on sourdough bread is basically the only thing I manage to eat. I would probably die without avocado.

2 | A big, felted rancher hat: Working outside in the mountains of Colorado is brutal on the skin and can really drain you of energy. A big hat is a godsend, especially since I don’t love working with sunglasses on because I feel like they impair my vision when installing larger floral designs and décor for an event.

3 | Yoga: Having a regular yoga practice keeps me sane, strong, and healthy. My body really craves the energetic movement it provides, and my mind needs the quiet stillness of meditation.

floral arrangement on an antique carved wood table beneath a cyndrical brass lamp
Another view of Frances’s “swoop” floral design on a carved antique table

Your musical taste leans toward …

Men with soulful voices and beautiful lyrics, like Lord Huron, Josh Ritter, or Gregory Alan Isakov, along with female musicians that I want to sing along with, like First Aid Kit and Alvvays. I’ve also long been a fan of music that makes me feel a little dreamy, as though I have cotton balls in my ears, like Radiohead and Beach House.

If you could take only three books with you on a journey into space, what would they be, and why?

Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger: I’ve reread this one so many times. It was definitely a pivotal book for me in my teenage years, and I still love it for all the clever cultural references, the honesty about odd families, the precocious children, and the legitimate—but often self-involved—quest for spiritual truth. I’d also take Wuthering Heights, because it’s another childhood/teenage favorite that really shaped my romantic—and sometimes dark, let’s be honest!—sensibilities. And War and Peace because it’s so darn long that I’ve never gotten all the way through it, but the cast of characters is amazing, and I love Tolstoy.

A floral arrangement in a copper vessel stands on a small metal drinks table between two blue-gray velvet, square-shaped wing chairs. The wallpaper is gray with a metallic gold marbling.
The ombré arrangement and its copper vessel pick up the gold tones in the wallcovering’s marbled design.

If your life were a movie, who would you want to play you?

Emma Stone because she’s funny, very pretty, and seems to not take herself too seriously. Plus, I’ve always wanted to be a redhead.

Produced by Jenna Hippensteel | Photography by Ashley Sawtelle | Floral design by Frances (Harjeet) Grace of Prema, premastyle.com | Flowers from Red Daisy Farm, reddaisyfarm.com

This story originally appeared in Flower magazine’s Sept-Oct 2017 issue.

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