Botanical couture? It’s a thing. And a Portland florist will be showing her dress, with matching flower-festooned high heels, during American Flowers Week, which begins today. Both dress and accessories were made from real, live actual flowers provided by Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

Last year’s event also featured a dress by a Maine “floral artist.”

The online event, which ends on the Fourth of July, is sponsored by Slow Flowers, a group that promotes sustainably grown local flowers.

It started with a yellow cotton dress from Old Navy, and floral designer Michelle Rech of Electric Flora in Portland attached “floral embroidery.” The dress is part of an event that celebrates sustainable, American-grown flowers. The blooms for this dress were grown at Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Winslow. Photo courtesy of American Flowers Week

Michelle Rech of Electric Flora created this year’s dress while Rayne Grace Hoke of Flora’s Muse in Biddeford designed a dress for the 2019 American Flowers Week.

The flowers were picked and “conditioned” – in other words carefully handled to enable them to hold up well after they’re picked – when the designers came to Johnny’s trial gardens in Albion.

“We did some work ahead of time, finding what colors and shapes the designers want, and using that as a sort of shopping list to collect things,” Hillary Alger, product manager for herbs and flowers at Johnny’s, said in a telephone interview.

While Johnny’s didn’t grow the flowers specifically for the American Flowers Week project, she said, since they grow hundreds of flowers in their trial gardens each year, the selection is good. She and other farm staff also helped scout out potential sites for the photo shoots. The woman modeling this year’s dress, Kristina Alofaituli, is actually an employee at the trial farm who normally does “a little bit of everything” from maintaining the trial gardens to tractor work, Alger said.

These high-fashion shoes were designed out of flowers by Rech to go with her flower dress. Could you walk a mile in these shoes? Photo courtesy of American Flowers Week

Rech was quoted as saying in a press release that she felt like a kid in a candy story when she saw the flowers provided by Johnny’s.

“Just holding these little elements in my hands was a different experience because they came straight out of the growing field, rather than from a box at the wholesaler,” she said.

Hoke, who created the dress for the 2019 program, said she was chosen to do a design after she met Debra Prinzing, the Seattle-based Slow Flowers founder, at a conference. This year, Hoke recommended Rech, a friend of hers, for the event. The three share a commitment to American flowers grown without dangerous pesticides. Most of the cut flowers sold in the United States come from South America and Africa, Hoke said.

“The plant material being sourced out of the country is grown in horrible conditions, and the people who grow it being treated horribly,” she said in a telephone interview, “so I was delighted to see this movement toward American flowers.”

Asked if it were strange to create a beautiful dress that is so fleeting, Hoke replied, “Not really. Part of being florist is knowing that at some point what you create is going to be composted. After a wedding, I come in and break it down, giving away the flowers that are good and composting the rest. It’s part of the nature of my art.”

The dress for American Flowers Week wasn’t even the most unusual floral art Hoke has done. “I’ve done burlesque, and I think burlesque tops that,” she said. “I’ve made interesting pasties and underwear accouterments.”

With much of her usual business curtailed by the pandemic, she has been working on more permanent pieces, made from moss and lichen, and selling them on Etsy. But, just a hint here as Hoke wouldn’t give me any details, expect a pop-up floral event in Portland in the coming week.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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