Laura Dowling’s best spring picks? In her neck of the woods, that would be flowering branches: forsythia, pussy willow, quince. “The architecture of the branches is beautiful,” she notes. Her favorite bloom? The orchid, a ladylike choice for the first lady of flowers.
Raised in the Pacific Northwest in a cottage near a rose garden, Laura Dowling later found herself headed to Washington, D.C. for a career in strategic communications. Along the way, she traveled to Paris, where romantic chateaus with overflowing urns and pretty topiaries captured her heart, which shaped her decision to become a florist.
When her husband, Bob Weinhagen, read that the White House florist retired, he encouraged his wife to send her resume to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. It wasn’t pink or scented, but it reached the social secretary. “That was a miracle,” says Dowling, whose new book is “Floral Diplomacy at the White House.” Her journey to win former First Lady Michelle Obama’s nationwide search for head floral designer took work. In the final round, she had four hours to design arrangements for the Blue Room, the Oval Office and a State Dinner. “I’ll never forget the door knob turning in the Map Room,” states Dowling. “The First Lady walked in with her entourage.”
Once selected, Dowling oversaw decor and flowers for everything from Super Bowl parties to the yellow roses former Vice President Joe Biden gave his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, on every anniversary. Her team delivered simple bouquets (pansies, daffodils or tulips) for the Obama girls’ bedrooms and table centerpieces emphasizing Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move (and Eat Healthy!) initiative. One of Dowling’s favorite techniques is to cover a container with a thin layer of sheet moss and hot-glue a bounty of miniature pears or other fruit (or veggies) over that. “Have glue gun, will travel,” says Dowling, who likes faux produce for longevity.
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