Michael McCann,owner of Greenworks ,has changed the way Washington thinks aboutflowers. We sat down with him, for our Balls & Galas issue, to learn about ways to makeeach event special. Opening his fifth store this fall at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel which promisesto be cutting edge and interactive, McCann understands that the secret to his successis giving customers what they want. Here Michael McCann offers advice to those seeking toenhance their events with flowers.
What makes Greenworks such a unique florist and the choice of so many high-endcompanies and individuals in Washington?
Service, Service, Service. Excellent personal service is one of the few remaining luxuries.Good service together with world-class floral design and outstanding value per dollarspent. Indeed, much of our client base can be considered “high end,” however we are skilledat doing very creative work for clients such as nonprofits, charitable organizations,andassociations who have very small budgets for their events.
What have been some of the most memorable events that you have done in Washington?
The 1986 grand reopening of the Willard Intercontinental Hotel comes to mind immediately.Greenworks was still located in Houston and Dallas, and I flew in a large team ofdesigners. We created hundreds of floral arrangements for the Willard, installing the six-foothigh floral “pouf ” in the lobby, floral arrangements for every guest room, and several massivefloral displays in each common area of the Hotel. That opening was the most publicized grandopening of any hotel before or since, with more media in attendancethan at any other hotel opening ever. Equally memorable was the opening of the newRitz-Carlton here in Washington in 2001 where I have had the pleasure of working with theirexcellent management staff.
Why was the Willard the most publicized grand opening of any hotel?
Many people forget that the Willardhas played a significant role in American history. The Civil War was formally declared atthe Willard. A representative from the North entered at the North entrance and arepresentative of the South entered at the South entrance and the two of them met in the middle of theWillard's "Peacock Alley" promenade. President Lincoln coined the term"lobbyist" because many Presidents had resided at the Willard and would conduct businesswith their constituents in the Willard's lobby. The Willard reopening was a key elementin the Pennsylvania Avenue DevelopmentCorporation's (PADC)plans to revitalize Pennsylvania Avenue. Later that year, Iopened my first shop in D.C.at the Willard.
Didn't Greenworks once create a bed out of roses for a client?
Yes, an extremely wealthy client of ours, had me construct a king-sized bedmade entirely of fresh roses.I must have used 10,000 roses on that bed,covering the entireframe and headboard in roses.
Hasn't Greenworks designed the flowers for a number of Inaugural Balls?
Greenworks did the floral arrangements for several Inaugural Balls for the firstPresident Bush in 1990. And in 2001 we again did several Inaugural Balls and manypolitical and private parties.
What are some of the ways that someone planning an event can use flowers to make thatevent special?
Flowers are the most visible and unforgettable part of any event. Used effectively,flowers can help set the tone of an event: romantic, high-style and artsy, tropical,European formal garden, French country garden, American country, Victorian, and so on.When you think about it, virtually the only decor used at a wedding is flowers. The colorand style of the bridesmaids' dresses help create the color scheme for a wedding and thenthat color scheme is carried out in the floral carried by the bride, the attendants, the altarfloral or chuppah, and at the reception.
For a ball or gala, using dramatic elevated centerpieces may help to create impact andexcitement. We did an event where 7' palm trees were used in the center of each table, and thenwe created mini tropical gardens at the base of each, using a mass of tropical flowersincluding orchids, lilies, and antherium. And for a large event this past spring, we createdmini cherry tree groves in each corner of a large ballroom using full-sized blooming stems ofcherry blossoms.
How much money should one budget for flowers?
Most clients make the mistake of thinking that flowers are inexpensive, and they arenot realistic about their floral budgets for an event. For maximum drama and impact, atypical event decor budget should be increased by about 25%. A good rule of thumb to use increating a budget for centerpieces would be to budget the same amount of money for flowersper table as is spent on the dinner and drinks for one dinner guest.
How many events do you typically handle, and how are you able to make each event uniqueand memorable?
At the height of the season, we typically do an average of six events a day to includeluncheons and dinners. Throughout the year I average about four weddings a weekend. AndI am fortunate to be able to double or triple that volume and still serve my clients well.The floral for every event that we do —regardless of the table count— is built around thewishes of our clients using colors and flowers that appeal to the client and that complementthe theme of the event and/or the color of the linens.
Are there flowers that tend to evoke certain emotions or moods?
All f lowers evoke an emotional response. Flowers tend to raise the passions ofeven the most unemotional person. Everyone seems to have an opinion about flowers.They like this, they don’t like that, etc. Some people love calla lilies, but many people don’trealize that callas come in a variety of colors including yellow, burgundy, orange, and palegreen. Other people hate callas —regardless of the color— and swear that callas remindthem of funerals. Red roses have been linked to romance, lily of the valley is bridal, whitedaisies are pure and innocent. A talented designer, however, can creatively use any ofthose flowers in a way that dispels those perceptions and brings new life to a commonlyused flower.
Are there any books about flowers or other resources that you suggest for clients to look atbefore working with them on a big event?
I admire the work of Jane Packard. She's published a few books on flowers. Manyclients swear by the Martha Stewart books and religiously follow everything that Marthasuggests in her entertainment and wedding guides. That's not a bad thing because MarthaStewart has some great floral design ideas. The thing that most people don't realize,however, is that those Martha Stewart floral designs are expensive!Very expensive!
How were you able to transform Greenworks from a single shop at the Willardinto the largest florist in Washington?
One of the most important factors contributing to our growth, again,has beentop-notch service. Unlike our competitors, we are open late into the evening seven days a week.For all of our work, regardless of the price point, we use only premium flowers. We offera better selection of flowers than most of our competitors. On any given day at the height ofthe season I will stock about 250 varieties of flowers. I strategically locate my shops only inthe District of Columbia and don't branch off into the suburbs. In this way, I can effectivelyservice the entire city in a timely way, and at the same time contain transportation costs.And, of course, we turn out top-notch design work. Washington in many respects is a smalltown and word of mouth has served us well here, with repeat business from clients andtheir referrals.
Are there any new trends in floral design that we will be seeing throughout the fall?
Every good florist will work around the seasons of the year. This fall, for instance,we will start to include elements such as berries, dried grasses, crabapples, colorful leaves,etc. in our work. Greenworks first created many of the floral trends that you now see inWashington.
What can we expect from the newest Greenworks that will be opening at the newRitz-Carlton this fall?
The store will be a trendy, cutting-edge, urban store, with an interactive showroomof the latest trends in tabletop decor, and it will showcase upscale gifts and interiordesign accent pieces. It will be unlike any other shop in Washington. This will bemy fifth store in Washington. Other shops include the Willard, Union Station,35 th & O Streets in Georgetown, and the design house on YumaStreet in Spring Valley.