At a mere 10 years of age, Mark Held was chosen to create centerpieces for the picnic tables at summer camp. Today, he dresses the tables of Hollywood’s most glamorous galas and weddings as the principal designer and co-founder of Mark’s Garden. Since Held and his partner, Richard David, opened the shop in 1993 in Sherman Oaks, California, they now oversee an empire that employs a multimillion-dollar annual floral budget for blockbuster events like the Emmy Awards, the Golden Globes, and the famed Academy Awards® Governors Ball. Mark’s Garden is also the floral shop of choice for Hollywood’s elite and is responsible for designing countless celebrity weddings. The dynamic duo sat down with flower to discuss the secret to their overwhelming success.
flower: Mark and Richard, I understand you just finished the flowers for the 84th Academy Awards® Governors Ball. How did it go?
MARK HELD: It was completely different this year, because it was a lounge setting rather than a seated dinner. Rather than having 130 centerpieces and additional arrangements, it was all small pieces—for side tables and coffee tables. Our challenge was to make it really interesting and unique. We tried to make the arrangements like little pieces of art, and I think it worked out really well. Everything in the room was very neutral whites, silvers, and taupes–so we used all red flowers, and it really gave the room some punch.
That sounds beautiful. What types of flowers did you use?
MARK: We used a variety of red roses, red cymbidium orchids, red and black calla lilies, and red amaryllis.
It must be stressful to design flowers for such a high-profile event. Is there one Academy Awards® Governors Ball that you remember being particularly challenging?
MARK: A few years ago we were doing floral chandeliers made out of white orchids. It was all done on lifts and just went on and on all night. It was a difficult installation and a logistical challenge. Any time you are working on a lift 25 feet in the air it’s hard! Another year we did a Louis Quatorze theme, and I had to rush to the airport very late one night to pick up [a shipment of] butter-colored roses. There is always something to deal with when it comes to the Oscars, because logistically it is so difficult—the delivery, the security, and so forth.
I can only imagine! So tell me, how did you get started working with flowers?
MARK: I started working in a flower shop as a salesperson, and eventually I started helping out in the design area. It was a matter of chance. I discovered I had an ability to design. There are so many ways to get into this business.
Tell me about the beginning of Mark’s Garden.
RICHARD DAVID: Well, it was crazy; it took off like a shot. Mark already had a following, and he had the idea to create the English garden basket. It was so different from what people were doing then. We started the business in 1993, and at that time they were doing this very sparse, contemporary look. Mark had the idea to do this rather lush, English garden basket look. People had never seen so many flowers at one time in an arrangement, and they had never seen many flowers at one time in an arrangement, and they had never seen many of the flowers we were using. We started using different varieties, and we were mixing in greenery and flowers others were not. It was phenomenal. We couldn’t keep up with the phone calls.
A happy problem! There is often a Hollywood element to your work, employing props or mechanics usually associated with the film industry. Does working closely with this industry add an aspect of drama that wouldn’t be there if you were based elsewhere?
Mark: Yes I think it does. If I were designing in Aspen, for example, things might be much more organic. But many events we do are designed for the camera or for video, which is something I have to consider in the design. Also, I think my background in theater has definitely played a role in the events we produce. A wedding ceremony is set up very much like theater, isn’t it? I think successful events have theatrical moments, dramatic moments. For example, what is more dramatic than the doors of a church opening to reveal a bride as she starts down the aisle? And these moments are heightened with music and flowers–beautiful flowers.
Are there certain flowers that hold up better on camera?
Mark: Yes, on camera you want to use something that will last. We usually have to create duplicates. The hearest thing about [designing flowers for a set] is that they’ll shoot a scene, and then they’ll want to come back a month later and reshoot, so we have to try to match our design. We always take pictures so that we can do this if needed. You just have to get as close as you can. And of course the bright lights are a factor in color choice.
Sounds tricky! What flowers do you work with most often?
Mark: We use as awful lot of roses. Many people think roses are temperamental and not hardy, but in reality they are rather hardy–at least the South American roses are. The roses from Ecuador and Colombia are strong, big headed, and hold up well. I like to use those for weddings, because when we have to start working several days in advance, we want to deal with replacement as little as possible. I also like roses for weddings because so many of them we do are outside, and we need something sturdy for exterior gazebos that can hold up in the sun.
Well, Mark’s Garden is certainly known for it’s fabulous weddings. Have there been any you found especially challenging?
Mark: They are all challenging in different ways. Some have no budget, and some have a small budget. But we strive to make those small-budget weddings just as beautiful. I remember another wedding we did in Central America, and we couldn’t get the flowers until we paid a ransom for them! There’s often stuff like that –showing up at the airport in the middle of the night with cash if you want the flowers. There’s always something to deal with for each event, but the important thing is that it doesn’t show.
Richard, do you have a favorite design of Mark’s?
Richard: I still love the English garden look for which we are known. We kind of veered away from it for a while, as some tastes were changing a few years ago to a more contemporary, structured look: monochromatic flowers tilted in the vase with things submerged in water. Very frankly, I got tired of that. I love the fact that we’ve gotten back to the English garden look.
Any favorite projects?
Mark: For me, putting together our book, Fabulous Parties, was two exhilarating weeks. The concept was how to combine flowers with food–how they interact. Each chapter is a recipe for a particular type of food and matching decor that we think would be great with a contemporary Mexican menu. It’s about how flowers and food can play together.
Richard: For me, it was not a “project” per se. but I always loved working with Elizabeth Taylor. We miss her. She entertained a lot and hosted wonderful parties and dinners. She loved our English garden look, so we were able to experiment with it using different approaches to color and varieties of flowers. She was delighted each time. We did a lot of parties for her, and we created each one around a different color scheme. She loved violets and purples and bright, vivid hues. We created one look for her that we called the “Technicolor look” a combination of bold hues–bright red, bright orange, hot pink, bright yellow, deep purple, lime green–so that everything popped. Her favorite flower was lily-of-the-valley, and she loved little nosegays and peonies–and of course wild violets.
What a fabulous experience! You know, it seems that Mark’s Garden is always ahead of the trends. Where do you find inspiration to keep your aesthetic fresh?
Mark: We constantly attend theatrical productions here in L.A. and in other cities, as well as visit museums, gardens, and try to travel as much as possible. All of these things open our creative horizons. I was in New York recently at the Frick and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I liked to go there just to get my brain balanced. you have to look at great things to be inspired. Any place I go I am looking, seeing, and learning. And it’s always fun to visit other flower shops and see what they are doing. Sometimes we’ll find something new and say. “Where can we take that?”
Always thinking. Richard, you really keep the business alive and thriving despite the economy. How do you keep it all running so smoothly?
Richard: First of all, you learn from experience, You realize very quickly that preplanning is everything. You have to order the proper amount of flowers, and you have to be meticulous about ordering products well in advance. You also need to have the people to implement the design ready to get to work. In reality, it is a lot of hard work, but everybody pitches in. Sometimes we have close calls, but we always manage to meet the deadlines. For many events, like weddings, guest arrive at a certain time so you have to be ready no matter what.
Yes, no margin for error. Is there a secret to the success of Mark’s Garden?
Richard: It’s not a secret. We just keep working hard to turn out the best possible and most creative product. The “secret” is in the creativity.