Floral designer driven by love and dedication

At Aloha Florist in Warrensburg recently, floral designer John Cleveland, dressed in a trademark Hawaiian shirt, gathered flowers from a cooler for an arrangement. A lot of people tell me they would love to come work in the flower shop, Cleveland said. It can be glamorous, but theres a lot behind the scenes that people dont know about. Flowers dont just come in and jump out of the box. Theres a lot of prep work. Cleveland stripped the bottom leaves off a piece of leather fern. This is the common fern most florists use, Cleveland said. Theres tons of different greenery out there. Took me awhile to get all the names down. Cleveland held up a handful of yellow flowers. You probably think this looks like the Goldenrod that grows on the side of the road, he said. But this is called Solidago or Golden Astor its basically Goldenrod. Cleveland paused as he was arranging the foliage. At first I wasnt into a lot of the woodsy stuff, because where I grew up, thats all I had to work with, he said. But I like the earthy tones and working with a lot of different textures. Cleveland snipped the leaves and stems off a bunch of white daisies and red carnations. These colors are nice for summer, he said. There used to be rules always use five carnations and three daisies not as true anymore. For a finishing touch, Cleveland added some ornamental wire to give the arrangement depth and pizzazz. Voila. The arrangement was complete in less than three minutes. Clevelands interest in flower arranging began when he was just a boy, growing up in North Creek. He collected wildflowers and designed centerpieces for special occasions. If his mother threw away old curtains, he would get them out of the garbage and use them for displays, he said. Instead of going to gym class, his coach would give him passes to go to the art room. I was always very artsy, he said. Cleveland attended BOCES trade school to study horticulture, but his father, a retired logger, did not approve. He thought a better profession for a man would be construction or laying blacktop. But Clevelands teachers encouraged him, saying he had a natural gift for designing flowers. Clevelands first real job out of school was at a floral shop in Staten Island. The man who owned it also owned the funeral parlor next door. There, Cleveland gained much experience designing arrangements. After two years, Cleveland returned to the Adirondacks, where he met his soul mate, he said, and after they married, he operated a floral shop from their home. He also worked from several other floral shops in town. But wherever he was employed, Raluca Sandler, a dentist in Warrensburg and a horticulture enthusiast, was his best customer. Hes the flower designer extraordinaire, Raluca said this week. Hes amazingly talented. Sandler is also experienced in floral design. She routinely worked over the years in her beloved flower gardens, both at home and at the office. During this time, she has won many awards from the local beautification committee and has been written up in books and magazines for her creative garden displays. Cleveland recalled how Raluca launched Aloha Florist in 2006, hiring him to be floral designer and help run the enterprise. I was just kidding with her one day, and said, Why dont you open a flower shop, and she said, Oh, I can do that! and Aloha was born. Cleveland said he enjoyed the business arrangement. Its great she lets me have full reign over what I want to do. Cleveland keeps up with all the latest floral techniques by attending trade shows and classes, he said. Some people still like the roundy-moundy cookie-cutter arrangements from the 70s and 80s especially older people, Cleveland said. Thats what theyve seen, what they grew up with; and whatever they want, thats what we do. But Cleveland said he prefers more innovative designs. Cleveland has won many awards for his creativity. He recently won Best in Show for his Moulin Rouge Christmas tree, sprayed black and decorated with champagne glasses, gold feathers, red balls, and a mannequin dressed as a cancan girl. I love what I do, Cleveland said. Its not work. I get here two hours early every day just because I love it Im so blessed.

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