Since the early 1900s, the First Lady of the United States has hosted a spring luncheon for the spouses of all Congressional members. It is a huge social event, with entertainment provided by Grammy Award winners, and is literally a red carpet affair. I was among of cadre of flower growers and designers who decorated the venue for this year’s event.

Oh, What a Night!

Technically, I guess it should be “Oh, what a morning!” since we started at 3:00 a.m. I had been in the Washington Hyatt Ballroom before—actually at the podium with President Reagan—so I was surprised when this time I entered and it had grown in size. Maybe that was just a misconception, because what I saw immediately was 160 round tables, a very, very long promenade and another very, very long head table.

Our task was to install beautiful bouquets so that no matter where you looked, you would see American Grown Flowers. Luckily, there were some really talented and energetic people standing right there with me.

There was a bit of silence before we all took a breath and started what appeared to be a fully orchestrated plan. Even though we all had never worked together, everything seemed to click. I’m sure that was due to our excellent leadership team, the breathtaking American Grown Flowers, designed by Andrea Gagnon and Daevid Reed, and another volunteer with endless energy, Michael Novobilsky. They were both from David Beahm Experiences; they had to be a bit tense as the day after this event they were doing the Knot Dream Wedding.

The first time I entered the holding area, the scent of literally thousands of fresh flowers arranged in the most breathtaking bouquets overwhelmed me; I was ready to set up my tent and live there forever. But that lasted only a few seconds before the parade of nine 4-tiered carts started rolling out to the elevators to their destinations. As the carts rumbled past I thought of the number of growers who had contributed the flowers for this huge undertaking, and was humbled by their generosity and the overall magnitude of our assignment.

In December when our group, Certified American Grown, did a fly-in to promote American Grown Flowers to our illustrious leaders in Washington, D.C., on the very last day at the very last hour, five of us were invited to the Congressional Club House. I’m reluctant to admit I had no clue. However, it became clear quickly that we were going to be allowed to provide the flowers for the First Lady’s Luncheon.

As soon as we left the Club House I called Piet Wierstra in Oregon and asked if he would donate peonies for the occasion as I would not have any at the time. He said yes but to coordinate with Martin Mesker, his broker. I’m sure the same thought was going through everyone’s mind “Where do we get enough American Grown Flowers donated for the occasion?” But as we all know, American flower farmers are generous.

As we all worked in this huge room, so huge we often lost track of each other, I saw in the distance Slow Flower’s Debra Prinzing working quietly on the promenade. Beautiful in her own right, Diana Roy of Resendiz Brothers Protea is another one of those who works quietly just getting things done. Kasey Cronquist seemed to be having a great time. I don’t think I saw him one time without a huge grin.

For me the experience was invaluable: not only the excitement of such an auspicious event, but meeting new folks in our industry, making good contacts for future business, and the satisfaction of being a small part of a beautiful accomplishment. I knew this was a huge step in our campaign to have only American Grown Flowers in the White House. As a Council member of Certified American Grown, I encourage flower farmers to become involved in this organization. The rewards are superb and the cause is worthy.

How do you measure success? The first meeting for the 2017 First Lady Luncheon has already happened at the Congressional Club House. And guess who has been invited to provide the flowers?

Rita Jo Shoultz

Alaska Perfect Peony

Rita Jo Shoultz is the owner of Alaska Perfect Peony in Fritz Creek. Contact her at [email protected]