If you’re one of the many Americans whose New Year’s Day tradition is to watch the annual Tournament of Roses Parade on television, you may have seen some of Keith White’s designs.
For the past 13 years, Keith (AIFD and from Houston, Texas) has celebrated the New Year in Pasadena, California as the FTD Education Team, Lead Designer VIP Entries. Sponsored by FTD, Keith lavishly decorates the VIP vehicles that transport parade dignitaries in petal-perfect style. Pete Samek AIFD will be joining Keith this year.
Like thousands of others—including hundreds of well-known floral designers from across the country—Keith is up at daylight and works far into the night to bring the parade to life. The color, texture and fragrance of fresh flowers and floral materials are creatively designed to make this event memorable.
Keith shares some of the tips and techniques he’s learned while designing at the Rose Parade.
A New Year’s Day tradition
Photos: Keith White and Matthew Meier
Last year, Keith was busy decorating the Tournament of Roses VIP Entries with an abundance of gorgeous fresh flowers. He says his inspiration comes from “the parade theme, grand marshal selection, vehicle chosen and of course the personality of the person designated to each vehicle.”
For those working on actual parade floats, the challenge is that every visible inch must be covered with fresh materials including flowers, grasses, seeds, nuts, grains, fruits, vegetables, bark or paint made from blended floral material. For many volunteers, it feels amazing to work alongside a focused mass of people intent on creating an immense form of beauty that can be driven down the boulevards.
Keith’s responsibility doesn’t focus entirely on the beauty of the flowers. “The priority is that all decorative materials are secure and, most importantly, the cars are protected. Some of these cars can be worth a million dollars plus or be the only one like it in the world and each must be driven down the boulevards with the decorations intact for miles!”
Adding to the challenge, this must all be accomplished in a short window of time during the holidays.
A “Never on Sunday” tradition
With Jan. 1 falling on Sunday in 2017, the Rose Parade will start at 8 a.m. PST Monday, Jan. 2, instead. This follows a “never Sunday” tradition that has been observed since 1893. Here are photos from the 2017 parade Keith sent after this article was first published!
According to the Rose Parade website, when New Year’s Day fell on Sunday in 1893, the events were moved to the next day so that horses hitched outside local churches wouldn’t be frightened and disrupt the worship services. While horses aren’t a concern today, the tradition of respecting church services continues.
What’s Keith’s secret?
Photos: Keith White and Matthew Meier
“All the actual mechanics used are a trade secret that has been passed down to me,” Keith explained. Darn! He can’t tell us the first step, but he does share many useful design tips with us.
“Each floral foam piece is carefully placed and secured to different tie points on each car,” he says. “There is not an exact science to the location of each tie point.”
“Oasis contributes product to make this all happen each year,” says Keith. “I could not be confident that the designs are secure for two hours on the parade route without the use of Oasis products!”
Approximately 1,500 to 2,000 stems of flowers are used on each vehicle. The style, vintage and size of the vehicle helps Keith to determine which Oasis products he needs to select as mechanical aids.
What are Keith’s favorite products to work with?
Keith also shares an example of what a standard order of Smithers-Oasis products for a parade might look like and how he preps those products.
- For Large and Small OASIS® Casket Saddles, the floral foam is plastic wrapped and secured with a cage to save steps in design prep.
- OASIS Bricks and Blocks are covered in netting before placement.
- The new backing of the 36″ RAQUETTES® Holder is easy to cut to the exact length needed for specific designs.
- OASIS® Floral Foam Spheres can help to create dimension and can be used as hanging accessories. In fact, the extra large sized 16″ OASIS® Floral Foam Sphere has a rod inside for hanging.
- OASIS® Mache Wreaths can be attached to wheels or spokes, used to create logos or simply used as an accent shape.
These same techniques can be used for many other design applications.
The parade comes to life
If you love flowers, watching or working on the annual Tournament of Roses Parade is an exciting way to start a New Year.
When asked what he likes best about the experience, Keith replies, “My favorite part takes place at sunrise on parade day. You suddenly see all of the designs and floral work come to life outdoors in the natural light.”
Whether you work on Tournament of Roses Parade entries or enjoy watching the impressive event on TV, what would you consider your favorite part?