Sharrai Morgan was in charge of one float and assisted with another float that appeared in this year’s Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, but for the local florist, this was …
Sharrai Morgan was in charge of one float and assisted with another float that appeared in this year’s Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, but for the local florist, this was far from her first rodeo.
Morgan, the owner of Holly’s Fine Flowers in Port Townsend, first took part in preparing a float for the Rose Parade eight years ago, and was at it again just last year, but this year marked the first time she was in charge of one of the floats’ floral teams, in what she pointed out is one of the most-watched parades in the United States, along with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
“I was a flower design team float leader this year for the Fiesta Parade Float Company, and my main float was the Chipotle-sponsored float with farm inspiration,” Morgan said. “Its name was, ‘Cultivate the Future of Farming,’ and it won the Grand Marshal’s Award for Most Outstanding Creative Concept and Float Design.”
Morgan and her shop’s lead designer, Andy Mabra, also assisted the design operations and Emerald City sections on the Kaiser Permanente-sponsored float, with “The Wizard of Oz” theme, whose name was “Courage to Reimagine.” It won the Wrigley Legacy Award for Most Outstanding Display of Floral Presentation, Float Design and Entertainment.
Morgan cited her induction into the American Institute of Floral Designers, more than a decade ago, with helping her make the connections that got her involved in the Rose Parade.
Morgan noted that AIFD membership requires a florist to demonstrate “professional design excellence,” and her accreditation carries with it the responsibilities of educating her fellow florists and the general public, with somewhere between 180 to 250 florists testing for AIFD accreditation each year.
As for the Rose Parade, Morgan explained that it has employees on the clock all year long, working on areas ranging from concept art and designs to the mechanics of building frameworks and welding.
However, Morgan elaborated that much of the work can’t proceed until at least after Thanksgiving, since it concerns “intricate details” that can’t be settled until other decisions are made.
“We have to work with farmers and growers for our products,” Morgan said. “Especially if there’s been a cold snap that year, you might be looking at having only 30,000 red Freedom Roses, rather than 50,000.”
The floral team of which Morgan is part typically heads down to Pasadena on Dec. 26, the day after Christmas, and according to Morgan, their work doesn’t stop until 8:30 a.m. on New Year’s Eve, in time for judging to kick off at 9 a.m. on Dec. 31.
“You go from getting about five or six hours of sleep a night to about two hours of sleep a night by the end,” Morgan said. “It’s all shoehorned into such a short window because you can’t really do a lot of floral work until the last minute, to make sure the flowers are fresh.”
Morgan cited the florists’ professional knowledge and experience as essential for them to transform flowers into works of art, by creating specific lines, colors and levels of depth to the flower arrangements, but she hastened to extend credit to the less skilled volunteers, ranging from Girl Scouts to church groups, who ensure that every surface of the floats is covered with organic material, including seeds.
“You have to play Tetris with your body, to work within the physical space afforded by the scaffolding,” Morgan said. “It’s like giving birth. I came away with a tired back and fingers so swollen that I had to take off my rings. Not even a single inch can be bare, whether you’re covering it with flower petals, crushed oregano, pepper or onion seeds. Fortunately, you have a whole team behind you.”
Morgan confessed that finally seeing the floats complete can be an emotional moment, “because you’ve been in the trenches with your flower family,” but in a sense, such labors represent the culmination of her life’s interests.
Morgan’s family stressed the importance of knowing how to do for themselves, whether it was fixing their own cars or making their own corsages, and her grandfather was a lily breeder with what she described as “an immaculate garden,” which she came to regard as her personal “fairy garden.”
“I applied to work at Holly’s when I was 15,” Morgan said. “I applied five times before I was hired at 17, and that was 21 years ago. By the time I turned 18, I was working as a flower designer.”
While she’s had hiatuses from Holly’s, including for training in floristry, retail and marketing, Morgan kept coming back, and finally bought the shop a dozen years ago.
“I bought it right before the economy crashed, so the first couple of years were bad,” Morgan said. “But I needed to feed my soul.”
Indeed, one aspect of working in the Rose Parade that Morgan cherishes is the ability to work on a “less limited” scale than her day-to-day business, which she still loves coming home to, after the parade is done.