The Sweet Power of Flowers

Veranda's editor-in-chief Clinton Smith on growing up in the garden and the biggest mistake people make with flowers.

By Sarah Rufca Nielsen November 16, 2015

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Veranda editor-in-chief Clinton Smith stopped in Houston to sign his new book, Veranda: The Romance of Flowers.

Image: Ben Rose

Claiming Tyler, Tex.—the self-proclaimed "Rose Capital of the World"—as his birthplace is all the cred that Clinton Smith needs to be considered a flower expert around these parts. Smith is editor-in-chief of beloved home decor magazine Veranda, and he combed through nearly 30 years of beautiful bloom footage to compile the magazine's latest stunning coffee table book, Veranda: The Romance of Flowers.

Smith took a few minutes during his chic book-signing at Carl Moore Antiques to tell Houstonia about growing up in the garden and the biggest mistake people make when it comes to flowers.

Houstonia: Tell us about the decision to create a book about flowers.

Clinton Smith: This is the fourth Veranda book—the first was on beautiful houses, the second was outdoor spaces and the third was a collection of European homes—and we wanted to do another book, something non-home. What made sense for Veranda was flowers. They've been a big part of our brand since the very beginning—our founding editor, Lisa Newsom, she would put beautiful flower arrangements in the magazine and she'd give them the same amount of pages that you'd give a home feature, stories that would run six, eight, 10 pages long.

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So we have this amazing archive material, things that have been published before and things that ended up on the cutting room floor because when you shoot a house you take a lot of detail shots but you don't always use these beautiful flower shots. We also commissioned some new things for the book, which is always fun. It's a nice mix of old and new.

H: How did you go through all this material? Did you find any unexpected themes or patterns emerge?

CS: On our conference room table there were just mounds and mounds and mounds of images, so the challenge was how do we organize them. I have a passion for flowers, grew up in the garden, have a small library of gardening and floral design books, so I was trying to come up with a way  to package it that was different. We looked at all the floral books on the market and they were either divided by color or by season. If you look at any book, that's how they're categorized. We looked at arrangements and tried to figure out a way to personify them. Is it dazzling? Is it sexy? Is it chic? So we created five chapters: glamorous, bold, magical, contemporary and honest.

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Carl Moore Antiques commissioned a painting by artist Sheema713 to celebrate Smith's appearance. 

H: Do you have a favorite flower? There's a lot of peonies in the book.

CS: Peonies are a favorite of Veranda's, especially pink peonies. I like peonies, I like any pink flowers or red flowers or yellow flowers. People ask me that all the time, but I really don't have a favorite flower.

My favorite flower in the book, surprisingly, is a full-page peppermint colored carnation. It's probably the cheapest flower in the book, it's like 25 cents and we got it at the corner market. It's a happy flower and its often overlooked and people turn up their noses at carnations because they're everywhere.

It just dawned on me recently that there's no gladiolus in the book. I would say that's definitely a trend because you never really see them anymore, but now I'm on a mission to bring them back. 

H: It's funny you mention carnations because I was going to ask you if there are any bad flowers.

CS: I don't think there are any bad flowers, but there are flowers that don't work in a specific situation. I was at a dinner party recently and the centerpiece was this beautiful arrangement of white lilies, but they were so fragrant that they were overpowering—you could barely even taste the meal, almost to the point of giving you a headache. It's almost like someone spraying you down with a bottle of perfume. So I think that's an example of it not being a bad flower but being put in a situation that's not ideal.

H: What do you think holds people back from bringing flowers into their homes more?

CS: One of the things that was eye-opening for me about the book was how scared people are of flowers, how intimidated they are. I kept thinking if you're intimidated by flowers no wonder people get so stressed out about buying a sofa! People are really scared of buying flowers at the local market and bringing them home because they think they're going to mess them up and someone's going to come and tell them to re-arrange them. I don't know why, because in a week they're going to be dead. They really think they're going to do it the wrong way, and you honestly can't.

H: Do you have any tips to for where to start?

CS: I always say, go buy everything they have in one color. Go buy white carnations and white lilies and white tulips and white chrysanthemums and put them in a nice vase and they'll look like a million bucks. You can't go wrong. I think some of the most successful arrangements in the book are some of the more simple ones. I mean, we definitely love the ornate, over-the-top look but there's a lot of beauty in simplicity.

H: What does having flowers around the house mean to you?

CS: It shows that you care about someone. Even in a guest room, the significance of one little gerber daisy in a bud vase on a table, that has the same impact to me as a huge arrangement. It's just that extra step to say so-and-so's coming and I care about them, so let me recognize that. It doesn't have to be complicated. It's like pimiento cheese and crackers rather than a four-course meal. To me that sounds just as delicious.

H: Spoken like a true Texan.

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