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Floral Diplomacy: life as a White House floral designer

  • In this Dec. 1, 2010 photo provided by Stichting Kunstboek, Laura Dowling completes a holiday arrangement of peach and coral roses in a magnolia leaf vase in the Vermeil Room, before the launch of the White House Christmas season, with the Aaron Shikler portrait of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in the background at the White House in Washington. The photograph is featured in the book "Floral Diplomacy: At the White House," by Laura Dowling. (Chuck Kennedy/The White House/Stichting Kunstboek via AP) Chuck Kennedy

  • This undated photo provided by Stichting Kunstboek shows the cover of the book "Floral Diplomacy: At the White House," by Laura Dowling. (Stichting Kunstboek via AP)

  • In this Feb. 27, 2011 photo provided by Stichting Kunstboek, a vivid bouquet of orange and fuchsia flowers with accents of hot pink phaleonopsis orchids makes a strong statement for the annual National Governors Association Dinner at the White House state dining room in Washington. The historic "Charleston" candlesticks are wrapped with blooming jasmine vine. The Lady Bird and President Johnson china service, featuring wildflowers from across America, reflects the gathering of Governors from all 50 states. The photograph is featured in the book "Floral Diplomacy: At the White House," by Laura Dowling. (Chuck Kennedy/The White House/Stichting Kunstboek via AP) Chuck Kennedy

  • In this Feb. 11, 2014 photo provided by Stichting Kunstboek, French President François Hollande signs the guest book as President Obama looks on at the White House in Washington. For the state visit, a centerpiece bouquet of early spring flowers in the French style is presented in a gilded pedestal Vermeil vase, part of the historic White House collection. The gloriosa lilies mimic the flames of the fire in the Blue Room. The photograph is featured in the book "Floral Diplomacy: At the White House," by Laura Dowling. (Pete Souza/The White House/Stichting Kunstboek via AP) Pete Souza



Associated Press
Friday, March 03, 2017

Laura Dowling’s new photo book, Floral Diplomacy at the White House (Stichtung Kunstboek), gives a behind-the-scenes look at White House flower decorations, including the traditions, design concepts and logistics that go into them.

“Flowers are so universal . . . that the messages they communicate track back to all kinds of cultures,” said Dowling, who was chief floral designer at the White House from 2009 to 2015. “Flowers should create excitement and energy, lifting the spirits of people in the room.”

Some highlights from an AP interview discussing Michelle Obama:

AP: What was it like working with the first lady?

Dowling: She seemed to know that flowers could be a powerful tool for making people feel welcome, and at that point she really wanted to open up the White House to all Americans. We talked about that . . . and the ability to work with these high-end flowers combined with more common, seasonally available ones, and how that tied to the way she was working with fashion.

Did she have any favorite flowers or colors?

Mrs. Obama always favored the brighter, more vivid shades. She would gravitate toward displays that made a bolder statement. And she really liked garden flowers like roses and hydrangeas, the pretty flowers that grow together in the garden.

Do the floral displays change a lot from one administration to the next?

Yes. What’s so interesting about the White House is that there really are no rules or guidelines, and each administration sets its own tone.