ERINN TILLMAN, Flower Designer
I spotted Erinn in a crowd at a barbecue party. It was a scorching Summer night in Little Rock, and while most guest were fussing about the heat, she was cool and collected, standing tall, like a true valkyrie impervious to the elements. Something about the way she held herself – a combination of confidence and welcoming, laid-back vibes – made me approach her and introduce myself. We instantly bonded over our love for all artistic pursuits, including flower arrangement.
A practical and determined woman, there’s no project she can’t tackle and no craft she can’t master. A curious mind that needs to be fulfilled by dabbling in all kind of creative endeavors. She agreed to join my collaboration with Elizabeth Bloom and turned our gathering into a magical evening.
I invite you to explore her love for fresh flowers and her appreciation for the natural cycle of life. I invite you to experience flowers the way she does; taking in all the sensory cues, being in the moment and feeling alive.
Where does your love for flowers come from?
My grandmother's garden. She lived about a mile from the beach in Southern California, and she had a gorgeous garden right outside her house with marigolds, petunias and a beautiful bougainvillea growing up a trellis. She would go out to the garden every morning with her sunhat and a watering can, and diligently water her plants. I must have been seven years old, and I would sit outside and watch her.
I remember this one time noticing the buds on a beautiful green bush. I asked her why this bush was not flowery pink and purple like the others, and she explained to me it only blooms at certain times of the year.
Later that year, I was at her house when this bushy plant was in bloom. My grandmother called me from the garden “Come here Erinn Lyn, you need to smell this.” I ran outside and put my nose in that flower and it was like magic. I remember thinking, how can something smell so beautiful? It was a gardenia plant, and I will never forget it. From that moment on, I waited every year for that gardenia to bloom.
How is that memory connected with how you see flowers today?
When I first encountered that gardenia, I wanted to cut all the flowers and save them because it only boomed every so often, but my grandmother explained to me that you can't cut all the flowers off, that you can only cut so many and it has to be done at a certain time. She taught me that the most beautiful part is just watching it bloom. She helped me connect with the idea of the natural cycle of life; gardenias bloom, then the flowers fall off and it dies, but it comes back and regenerates itself. My love for fresh flowers and my appreciation for their natural cycle comes from that experience in my grandmother’s garden.
Why is it important to you to acknowledge and respect that natural cycle?
I love local fresh cut wildflowers, and I believe they should be in their natural state when we get them. We should not try to extend their life artificially by storing them in a dark room in a factory and spraying them with a shellac so they can be shipped across the country, practically frozen, to be brought back to life again in another dark room somewhere. Some people think that’s great because they last for weeks, but they are missing the point.
Nothing stays in a permanent state, especially flowers. We should simply appreciate that moment when they bloom just for whatever amount of time that might be, and when they die naturally over time, that’s just part of the beauty of it.
What do you like the most about working with fresh farm flowers?
I love natural flowers and I particularly appreciate farm grown flowers because I know that someone took the time and heartache to grow them, and they are now passing that on to me in the hopes that I can handle them with the same care and appreciation they did.
Fresh flowers smell and look different, the color is different, and I love that they have imperfections that make them beautiful. They are not manufactured, they are organically grown and there’s a freshness and liveliness to them that you can’t ever get when you force nature into an industrial process. Farm-grown, fresh flowers are organic, in every sense of the word.
What do flowers mean to you, what do you get from them?
Flowers are living memories. We all have a certain flower that reminds us of somebody or a particular place we love. Flowers have the power to bring people together when they are a shared experience. They can connect you to other people in a way that’s simply magical. In a sensory way, flowers make you feel alive because you are aware of being in a moment. They can bring you into a time and a space. In that way they are similar to when you eat something that’s perfectly done and it hits your tongue and you can taste it and smell it, and you experience this feeling of joy. I think both food and flowers have the ability to encapsulate moments, create joy and make you feel alive.
Erinn Tillman, Flower Designer
Photography by yours truly