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Local florists have hand in parade

The Rocky
Saturday, December 29, 2007

For eight years, Cherrie Silverman has decorated floats for the Tournament of Roses Parade, the New Year's Day celebration of botanical beauty in Pasadena, Calif.

Enduring thorns, prickles, cold and lack of sleep, Silverman, owner of Cherry Blossoms Florist in Westminster, takes time from her shop to bring the award-winning floats to life.

With costs running $125,000 to $350,000 per float, decorating these floral fantasies takes volunteers thousands of hours and stretches the talents of the handful of master florists who lead them. Silverman, 50, along with Lisa Weddel of Highlands Ranch, are two of 20 florists on staff with Fiesta Parade Floats, a Pasadena-based builder for this annual parade.

Garden writer Carol O'Meara spoke with Silverman about the challenges of creating the floats for the parade, which will be aired on several stations at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

How did you get into the float-decorating business for the parade?

"I was at an American Institute of Floral Design symposium where they were asking for volunteers. I'd been through some personal tragedy that year and a friend suggested I try it. I wasn't going to at first, but I really needed to take my mind off things. Well, it worked. I ended up on the Edison Electric float, poking blue thistles into foam for days to create a water effect."

Since the material on the floats has to be natural, where do you get all the botanical bits that go on them?

"It's amazing how many flowers it takes to create these designs, so Fiesta has brokers who buy from all over the world. One blue wave took 10,000 irises to make, and an FTD float a couple of years ago had 100,000 roses. This is why florists have a hard time getting flowers in December. We're told it's because of Valentine's Day, but I don't think so. I think it's because every single flower on the planet is in Pasadena."

What goes into decorating these floats?

"It's insane. First, you sign a contract agreeing to work 24 hours straight in the days just before the parade, then show up on Dec. 26 to begin working on cutting, tagging and processing flowers so they last. Those floats are huge; we use cherry pickers or climb scaffolding to place the flowers. I start exercising in December just to be able to climb that scaffolding.

"Underneath the natural material is netting covered in foam that holds flowers pushed into it. Every flower you see is placed individually; each has its own water tube."

Last year you worked with the giant roses, the most talked-about flowers in the parade. What will you work with this year?

"We never know what our material will be until a day or two before we arrive. Last year I didn't know what the big buzz was with the Organic Style roses until I saw them. They were enormous - taller than me with gorgeous blooms, and the thorns were so beautiful I refused to remove them."

Which float are you decorating?

"I do the floral displays on the Macy's Queen's float for the parade royalty, and usually the city of Torrance float, too. After that I'll work where I'm needed."

Carol O'Meara, a local gardening expert, can be reached at omearac@yahoo.com.

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