Every year, in Project Phoenix, we like to feature a group of enterprising DIY'ers making their creative mark on the city. This time, we’re getting grounded with Growth Industries — profiling a florist, a tomato farmer, a nursery owner, a community plot, and a rogue gardener.
Morgan Anderson has never heard that creaky old Dorothy Parker quip that goes, “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.”
“Oh, that’s awful!” laughs the 29-year-old horticulturist when Parker’s bon mot is repeated to her. “I think people have been deliberately keeping that one from me.”
Anderson, born and raised in Phoenix, has been doing nothing but thinking these last several years — mostly about flowers.
The self-described “flower nerd” holds a Ph.D in horticulture from Texas A&M University. She grew up in Arcadia and left to attend college, returning only last July to launch Flori.Culture, which offers unconventional floral arrangements to clients both residential and commercial, as well as classes in everything from centerpiece design to the history of flowers in medicine.
Leaving town had been on her short list for a long time, she admits.
“I was always attracted to greenscapes as a kid, and since we have very little of that here, I moved away. Having green, and spring, and tulips and hyacinth was important to me.”
Returning to the desert as a grownup floral designer has meant creating a new aesthetic, and Anderson finds herself using a color palette of different sands, juxtaposed with the spring blooms she was inspired by in her youth.
She does not, she explains, “like to go all desert,” however.
“I’m drawing from environments found all over the U.S. I’ve got a teddy bear cactus set into some sand, and then I’ll put it next to a hydrangea, or a tulip. A peony from Alaska, next to a succulent or a barrel cactus from the Sonoran Desert.”
Flowers are great to look at, to be sure. But there’s more to them than just smelling nice and being pretty, says Anderson. She thinks of flowers as a gateway to visual art and cultural history.
“Egyptians were the first to use flowers for ceremonial purposes,” she says, a little apologetically, clearly used to being the only one in the room who cares about the deeper meaning of a mum. “Every flower has its own history — how it was used in medicinal ways, what its meaning was in ancient cultures, how it shows up symbolically in art history.”
Much to Anderson’s surprise, she’s not the only flower nerd out there. Her floral-scented dance card is full with clients who are as passionate about the history of hyacinths as she is.
“I didn’t set out to conquer Phoenix,” she says, “but I admit that I’m more interested in educating than I am in making the perfect bridal bouquet. Finding all these likeminded people was a surprise.”
She’s been making plenty of those bridal bouquets, too. When she’s not writing client proposals or designing daffodil installations, Anderson is stumping for the slow flower movement, a concept she’s hoping to grow here in Arizona by working with flower farms in northern Arizona and teaching classes on slow flowering. It’s a movement that promotes locally grown blooms and bouquets in place of the chemical-infused arrangements flown in from other parts of the world.
“Yes,” Anderson admits, “we’d all like for our arrangements to last for two weeks. But this global market of cut flowers isn’t helping our own local economy.”
Arizona, she says, is a bit behind in embracing this movement, in part because of our arid climate, not great for growing a lot of different species of flower. Anderson won’t consider her work done until people understand that a bouquet from the grocery store lasts for weeks because it’s full of nasty chemicals that can harm the environment as well as the consumer.
“Americans tend to think we’ve gotten a good bouquet if it lasts longer,” she sighs. “And who wouldn’t want a two-week flower arrangement? But it’s lasting that long because it’s been preserved by chemicals, like a silver thiosulfate dip, which is bad for the environment. And, you know, you’re breathing silver thiosulfate because it’s in your home, and that’s not good, either.”
We can, Anderson believes, learn to love a flower that dies in a few days.
“It’s a way of teaching ourselves to appreciate what we have, while we have it. If a peony only lasts two days, hey, it was beautiful in those two days. Life is precious and fleeting, kind of like a flower.”