Learn the Art and Science Behind Floral Design
Floral designer Morgan Anderson elevates her botanical arrangements to artistic levels.
By Carly Scholl | Photography by Macy Lauraine
In Morgan Anderson’s home studio, curling ribbons of greenery and sprays of posies in every color intermingle with the tools of a seasoned industry veteran—snips, shears, tape, foam and vessels of all shapes and sizes. Like a sculptor with her chisel or a painter with her brush, the floral designer’s deft hands weave the long stems of waxy anthuriums between spiky dried palm fronds and bushy pampas grass. A few tweaks here and there and her living creation, a composition that is complex with color, texture, depth, light and shadow, is complete.
“Just as with many florists, my passion started in my youth,” the artist explains of her craft. “I would help my dad grow strawberries and plant things in our garden. We also had a family ranch in Wyoming where I would pick wildflowers every year. Nature just runs in my blood.” As Anderson reached adulthood, her early fondness for botanicals developed beyond just a youthful pastime and into an
academic career, a business and a calling. Today, she is pioneering a new image for floral design—as a true art form.
“Arranging flowers has traditionally been seen as more of a hobby that you can informally dabble in at home,” she notes. Historically, this skill, along with other such decorative endeavors as embroidery, weaving, sewing or china painting, were viewed at the bottom of the artistic hierarchal structure and deemed domestic “women’s work” unworthy of serious consideration.
But Anderson argues that floral design requires not only a strong grasp of aesthetic principles but also an understanding of the science of plants. By learning the intricate nature of the medium, in this case the biology of botanicals, one can better master their craft. Backed by this mission statement, she is currently striving to integrate this concentration into university coursework. “There are around 300 art departments and about 15 horticulture departments at colleges in the U.S., so there is a lot of opportunity to start bridging these two studies and creating a new area of exploration,” she asserts.
After obtaining her Ph.D. in horticulture from Texas A&M University’s Benz School of Floral Design—one of the only programs of its kind in the country—the Arizona native returned to her home state in 2016 and began The Flori.Culture, a bespoke business through which Anderson designs floral arrangements for small weddings and corporate events, but that also acts as home base for her other endeavors. “When I moved back, I knew Arizona State University had an art department, but I wanted to begin nudging them in the direction of incorporating a floral design concentration,” she recalls. Though it has been a slow process, Anderson now teaches two different courses at the school—The Science and Art of Floral Design, and Wellness in Floral Design.
“When I first proposed the coursework to the art department, the faculty wanted to learn about floral design for themselves,” she says. “The professors and I had an intensive week of working with flowers, which helped us to start talking about horticulture therapy, wellness and how being in nature can help us mentally, emotionally and physiologically.” In her Wellness in Floral Design class, Anderson teaches such theories as biophilia and ecopsychology to communicate to students the close relationship between horticulture and personal well-being.
As Anderson continues to develop a place for floral design in academia and share its delights with her community, she always remains true to the heart of her art. She notes that, “the more time we spend with nature—cultivating and conserving plants; growing flowers in a personal garden and then using them in designs—we not only improve our aesthetic, we nurture our own personal wellness.”
Morgan Anderson’s 4 Tips for Dinner Party Decor
The floral designer shares her tricks for creating a soiree centerpiece that is certain to stun.
1. Be inspired by your own garden or landscape. Take the time to go outside and incorporate cuttings from your yard. You can certainly buy fresh flowers and foliage, but mixing your local landscape into a design will make the decor much more personal. Citrus leaves, herbs, bougainvillea and palm fronds all make excellent additions.
2. Get creative with what you have. Those wooden cutting boards of yours would make a beautiful foundation for a centerpiece, or try incorporating that collection of vintage teacups you have sitting in a cupboard. You don’t need to buy new things, just look around your house and think outside of the box.
3. Don’t forget the candlelight. Whether it’s an intimate dinner or a big bash, never forget to use candles. Tuck a couple of votives around your cheese board or go old-fashioned with classic tapers in candlesticks. My favorite touch is to nestle a single flower at the base of any candle I use—it just always looks more luxurious.
4. Use unexpected colors. Right now, soft taupes and muted neutrals are really popular in floral design. Use desert sand, cacti, succulents and dried botanicals for base elements and, as we transition into fall, fill in with flowers and foliage in dramatic seasonal shades of deep red, apricot, ocher, maroon or eggplant.