Q & A with Margot Shaw
Editor of flower magazine
Q. When did your love affair with floral design begin?
A. I used to be a “call-and-order-flowers girl” until recently. Five years ago my oldest daughter was married at our home in Birmingham, Alabama. We enlisted a wonderful floral designer named Sybil Sylvester. She made me realize how much creativity and visual expression goes into the art of floral design. Watching Sybil interview my daughter and work to depict her personality through the color and shape of the flowers was inspiring. I decided to intern and then worked for Sybil for three years and became completely enamored with flowers and floral design.
Q. What is your favorite flower and why?
A. Peonies. I really like what they look like in nature – they are so preposterously ostentatious. I’m really not, so it’s the other side of me – I’m extroverted but not showy.
I spoke at a garden club in Nashville, Tennessee and talked about a life struggle that I have been going through and how healing it was to be going into the flower shop everyday. Flowers embody beauty and light and are very comforting. You look into a peony the size of your hand – and you see the face of God. Flowers are multidimensional in my heart and my life.
Q. Did your mother and your grandmother love flowers as much as you do?
A. In Birmingham, Alabama there has been a huge floral presence for generations. My mother was not a flower person but loved beauty as did my father, and they influenced my aesthetic. My grandmother was a real Southern woman who loved flowers and loved men. She was very feminine and girly and elegant, a real flirt.
Q. Can you remember your first flower arrangement?
A. As an adolescent and young adult, I didn’t have much to do with flowers. I was a horseback rider and tennis player, always in jeans. One day I was over at my grandmother’s and there was a knoll covered in daffodils. I gathered a bunch and put them in a crystal vase that I found in the pantry. She came in and made the biggest deal about it – she saw this vestige of feminity and decorum and design and must have been relieved to know I wasn’t a complete tomboy. To this day, when I smell daffodils I feel a sense of well-being, approbation.
Q. What gardens inspire you?
A. I’m a huge fan of all things English, and a few years ago, my husband took me on a three week trip to England. We went from Gatwick to the Lake District by way of the Cotswolds. I shot 40 rolls of film, 36 of which were pictures of flowers and gardens. My favorite location was Rosemary Verey’s house and gardens in Bibury. Looking back, I think this was something of an indication of my “budding” love of things floral.
Q. Does your husband give you flowers for special occasions?
A. My husband Gates sent me flowers when we were courting. He loves to pick wildflowers and bring them to me. We were reminded of this as we were watching the movie Sense & Sensibility, where one of Marianne’s suitors brings her hothouse flowers, and the other brings her wildflowers. She much prefers the wildflowers – and Willoughby, the suitor who brought them! More recently, Gates gave me a Christmas gift by sending me to Paula Pryke floral design school in London. At that point, I had been working for Sybil for about a year – so my husband realized I was serious about my passion for flowers and floral arranging. Gates surprised me with a book about Paula Pryke with an e-mail from Paula welcoming me to her school. I am blessed to have such a devoted husband who believes in me and has been the inspiration for my launching this magazine.
Q. What are your favorite ways to arrange flowers now?
A. I like to use all kinds of containers, formal or informal. Recently, I used some L’Orina sparkling French berry lemonade bottles to arrange Ilex berries. They were simple organic arrangements that worked because the label on the bottle is red. On a more elaborate scale, I recently participated in the Art in Bloom exhibit at the Birmingham Museum of Art, where paintings were interpreted in floral arrangements. I picked the landscape painting “Nymphs and Fauns” by Camille Corot. I used a wrought iron bird bath from our backyard as the base and had a piece of mirror cut to simulate the stream. I then cut wheat grass and positioned it on either side of the “stream” and used kale for the trees and safari sunsets, lucadendrons for the nymphs and calla lilies for the fawns. In the painting, there is a beautiful sky with subtle yellows and pinks, so I painted bubble wrap with a “pinky maize yellow” color and stuck it in the back. As a final touch, I had Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun playing on my ipod in the background and covered the wire with a vine. That event was a pivotal one for me, in that it gave me confidence in my vision and aesthetic as a flower enthusiast and as an artist.
Q. If you could personify your family members as flowers, what would they be?
A. My husband Gates is a dogwood. He is really super southern, loves the outdoors, is thin and wiry yet elegant. My oldest daughter Westcott would be a daisy because she is really bright and simple and lovely and down to earth. She is a no frills, outdoor girl. Elizabeth, my middle daughter is an intellectual and kind of a hippie – so she would be a Freesia. They have a really pungent fragrance, but are really bright, beautiful, and fluid when they are in bloom. They come in different colors, just like Elizabeth’s different moods. And my youngest, Hansell – would be a tulip. She used to be really closed, but is really open now. When she opens up she reminds me of a tulip that is wide open and hasn’t dropped its petals. There is nothing more beautiful or graceful.
Q. What about you? What flower would you be?
A. I know it sounds trite, but I think I am a rose. Possibly because of the thorns and yet the beauty – I have had a lot of thorns removed, but there is a sweetness about me. My husband Gates tells me I am sweet, anyway.
Q. What inspired you to launch flower Magazine?
A. About four years ago, after three years of working in floral design, I noticed that there were no magazines on the stands for people like me.
I then did further investigation with friends and colleagues and found that there is a strong demand for a quarterly publication that will educate and inspire flower enthusiasts while showcasing the many talented floral professionals within this thriving, diverse industry.
Q. How do you envision flower Magazine’s appeal to your readers?
A. I guess you could say I am trying to democratize flowers and floral design. It’s too much fun for people to be intimidated as I was before. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to diminish the value of formal training or ikebana. You have to know the rules, and then know how to break them. Floral arranging is sophisticated and it does take training. It helps to have a great eye, but you have to learn the basics. I’m hoping that experienced floral designers will enjoy the magazine as much as budding designers like me. For example, in our first issue, we’re doing an interview with Cornelia Guest, whose mother “CZ” was a real style icon in the sixties and was a master gardener, author and socialite. The thrust of our interview with Cornelia will be the “new flower arranging” which will appeal to novice arrangers and experienced designers alike. In every issue of flower, we will feature “Mimi’s Mechanics” where Mimi will break down how you do the arrangements. In short, I want the magazine to be empowering and inspiring and look forward to hearing from our readers about what they want to see in future issues.