Celebrating Flowers in a City of CementCelebrating Flowers in a City of Cement

Celebrating Flowers in a City of Cement

Why so popular? 

It’s estimated that 70 million tourists will flock to New York City in the year 2025. That’s a lot of people on top of the 19+ million who reside there. So, what’s the big deal, why do so many people think it’s worth the visit? After spending a month in the big apple, I’ve come to understand a little bit about what it has to offer. It’s a multicultural city, filled to the brim with diversity; restaurants and bars, art galleries, museums, Broadway theatres, parks, architectural madness, history and endless parties. But equally, I found myself a little disheartened by a lack of beauty (although the sunset skyline is quite something). It’s not uncommon that in a city of this size, for there to be a lack of space. And when there’s a lack of space, there’s a lack of green space. Sure, the city boasts about Central Park, which spans 1.31 square miles. But what if you don't live next to the park, where do you go? Most people don't have a garden, so this is their best bet for some greenery and a dose of mother nature. 

LEAF flower festival displays at Meatpacking district courtyard

Where are all the flowers?

On arrival to the city, I was mesmerised by tall buildings and the bright lights of times square, but pretty soon the novelty wore off and so did the tourist goggles. It suddenly dawned on me, where are all the flowers? I can see concrete, cars, and a tree every so often, but where are the flowers? There must be 700+ florists in New York, and with the high population it has, that’s a lot of bouquets. But it’s one thing to have flowers in your home and quite another to fill a city with them. If only there was a team trying to change this. 

The people painting the city with petals

This is where I introduce L.E.A.F, an amazing flower festival in its second year of flourishing. This wonderful festival sprung up from 10-12th June 2022 to bring beauty in flowers to the Meatpacking district of New York. The event boasts a magnitude of florists, flower workshops, market stalls and art installations made of - you guessed it- flowers! For weeks florists and designers work rigorously on their contributions, knowing that thousands will flock to take in their colourful displays. It’s estimated that 2 million stems were used by florists for the event, with around 150 florists taking part. Currently this is the only flower festival in New York, founded in 2019 by Moira Breslin. There hasn’t been a flower festival in the city for decades, so I spoke to Moira about what influenced her decision to found LEAF, and the people who made it possible. “I was truly inspired by other great flower shows, Chelsea Flower Show which has been going for over 100 years. It always struck me as strange that in a city like New York where there are so many great floral designers that there wasn’t a platform to celebrate their work, there wasn’t something where they all came together. We did want to do something and keep it very native to New York. Whatever we did had to have that same grit and energy (of the city) and so finding our home in the Meatpacking District is really awesome because it’s such an iconic location.”  

 

‘Out and Open’ Display by East Olivia for Absolut Vodka

Let me paint the petal picture

It certainly is a unique location, a quaint cobbled courtyard surrounded by boutique shops filled with designer fashion brands, chic restaurants making cocktails for the occasion, outdoor seating to take a pew as a jazz quartet sets the scene for a summer’s day – you could almost be on a film set it’s just that picturesque. Walking around the district it was undeniable that there was a buzz about the place. People were flocking to see the displays, some stumbling through by chance enjoyed how their day had suddenly been lifted by colourful floral art. There was an overwhelming sense of community, happiness, and joy being shared. Moira told me “Pulling something off on this scale and for this amount of people in New York takes a lot of collaboration from a lot of parties. Quite frankly, it wouldn’t have been possible without the Meatpacking BID (business improvement district) – they have been fantastic. The department of transport have been amazing, NYPD, and we certainly couldn’t do it without them.” There were large maps, people on hand to help point you in the right direction, florists manning their stalls were all too happy to help and talk about their work, whilst others worked tirelessly through the day to keep their flowers cool and fed with iced water. 

5 continents of flowers by Larkspur Botanicals

A breath of fresh air

Why bother? Why all this fuss and effort for such a short-lived festival? To be poetic, not all beauty lasts a lifetime. The first live event took place in 2021, after being postponed by covid the year prior, Moira recalled the live launch success. “Not only was it brilliant for the floral community that was completely decimated by Covid, but to see them all come back together, their professionalism and their design, to see the community come back. To see nearly half a million New Yorkers come together, and I think we live in an urban jungle, being close to nature, being surrounded by beautiful things it does have an impact on our mental health. I live here, I appreciate it, and it does make a difference.”  After a successful two years, it’s expected that this festival will continue to thrive and grow year upon year. Praised by Vogue last year, the city and its businesses continue to welcome the event and its immersive beauty which is currently entirely free to attend. It’s safe to say the efforts of LEAF are not in vain, having a significantly positive impact on a population surrounded by concrete. 

‘Summer of Topo Chico’ Display by East Olivia

The florists behind the art

Perhaps the most prominent figure taking part was Lewis Miller, creator of the Flower Flash. Named the ‘Banksy of Flowers’ his pop-up designs have become iconic to the city, and much loved. Moira made it clear that this was never about having just the big names, “We also wanted to be able to have a platform where lesser-known florists or younger florists could show their work too.” And they certainly have done that. The flower market supported by TF Cornerstone, gives independent florists the opportunity to sell their own products to the visiting public. From fresh flowers and dried bouquets, to pressed flowers in frames and floral clothing by Gangsters Buy Flowers, the market is bursting with choice. As I explored, I spoke to Kelsea Olivia the founder of East Olivia, a floral creative agency who has taken part each year, putting together numerous displays paired with brands. We discussed how important it is that LEAF has a space to exist, and what it means to the floral community. “I believe beauty is a human right, not a luxury. Human beings need beauty, like sleep, air, movement, nourishment and nature is evidence of that. So having a floral design company is just one way to create beauty in the world. Our motto is creating beauty and sharing that with the world. LEAF is the perfect stage for that and it’s really exciting to have something that exists to bring the floral industry together. This is really fun because we get to see the others designs out in the world, we get to network, hang out and celebrate with each other. It’s a really special thing not only to share with the city at large, but for our floral industry.

‘Unbridaled’ by Van Vilet New York

Petals making progress

I expressed my adoration for the designs featured on display and noted how as an industry it can perhaps seem wasteful to the pessimistic eye. Kelsea informed me that any fresh flowers used will be composted or given away. This composting program is part of a wider Zero Waste Initiative launched in 2015 to achieve a 90% reduction in landfill use by 2030. Wanting to understand a little more about the work the city is doing to promote the importance of agriculture, Kelsea expressed I didn’t need to look far. “LEAF, the highline just next to it, and Little Island are examples of this effort. I’ve seen a lot of progression after being here ten years, nature seems to be taking a priority and I’m excited to see it grow. The more we have these areas, and events like LEAF, I hope that it will trickle down more into wider communities because people understand the connection we have to nature.” It seems clear to me that flower festivals are needed now more than ever. LEAF has proven that if you’re willing to pick the roses, the people will come to smell them. People long for nature, to be outdoors, we’ve just learned to live without it. Safe to say once you allow yourself to be immersed by beauty, the sensory overload is enough to make anyone reconsider the beauty that surrounds them day to day, or perhaps realise that it’s missing. In a city with so much to offer, it’s about time that mother nature takes a priority over skyscrapers.