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The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Colonial Arrangements – Rooted in History

flowers

By Karen Gonzalez

T

here is a secret hiding place in the basement of the Williamsburg Inn. It is filled with flowers.

Few people know that the Williamsburg Inn floral design studio is down there. Three full-time staff persons create hundreds of floral arrangements in the tiny rooms. Most have been arranging floral art for Colonial Williamsburg for over 20 years. Clearly a labor of love, they sometimes work 14 days straight to keep pace with the crowded event schedule and hotel properties.

Clark Taggart, floral designer and manager, is responsible for continuing the Williamsburg style – and he’s passionate about the legacy. Taggart makes sure the arrangements that are placed throughout the hotel and guesthouse properties coordinate with the fabric and architectural elements in both the Inn and the Lodge.

“Louise Fisher began the tradition when she moved to Williamsburg in 1933,” Taggart says. “She started working as a hostess at the Raleigh Tavern and brought flowers from her own home garden to decorate the tables.”

The arrangements were impressive and she was soon given the title of floral curator. She researched and studied 18th-century prints and primary sources to develop the now well-known Williamsburg style, which reflects colonial influences without attempting to re-create actual arrangements from the era.

She was the first designer to use fruit in her arrangements. Fruit brought from Jamaica would have been available in colonial times, and in fact, Fisher is believed to have been the first to use oranges, apples and pineapples, which are now commonly displayed in large floral displays and Christmas decorations.

"We have over 75 years of flower arranging in the Williamsburg style."

- Clark Taggart.

Fisher insisted that only fluted bowls, posey finger vases and pitchers be used as containers. These were popular during the 18th century and provided a colonial touch.

Following Fisher came Edna Pennell, Libby Oliver and now Taggart. “We have over 75 years of flower arranging in the Williamsburg style,” Taggart says. Each curator has stayed for more than 20 years, creating a well-established floral design reputation that is recognized worldwide. Successors have added their own personal touch while carefully maintaining the distinctive Williamsburg style.

John D. Rockefeller’s original vision and desire was to support the local Williamsburg florists. In 1985, a Colonial Williamsburg department was established to handle the volume of flowers needed to supply the historic area, offering more internal control over the look and design of the flowers.

The work of floral designer Clark Taggart and his team of florists is evident throughout the Inn from the moment guests enter the lobby. Trained at the National Trust of Scotland’s Threave estate, Taggart’s ingenuity and sense of style add elegance to every hallway and public space, reflecting the colors of the Inn and themes of the seasons.

The traditional Williamsburg style is prevalent in the furniture, upholstery, wallpaper and subtle decorative touches throughout the Williamsburg Inn.

“Just look at the Poet’s Laurel, which is echoed in the drapery treatments in the Inn lobby, as well as the architectural elements in the furniture,” Taggart says. “We have tried to incorporate history into the flowers in the hotels. You will never see orchids in one of our lobby arrangements because we only feature flowers that are seasonal and are growing in our own gardens at that time of year.”

"...we only feature flowers that are seasonal and are growing in our own gardens at that time of year.”

- Clark Taggart.

“Selecting a signature flower for each of the hotels is important. For instance, the rose is the signature flower for the Inn. Because it is our national flower, it is also very formal and ties in well with the décor of the hotel,” he says.

Creative “tablescapes” incorporate globes, maps, flags, feathers – anything that reflects the theme of the event. “Where else would you have resources like we have here?” Taggart asks. “When they started the construction on the Anderson Armoury, we decorated the tables with wood shavings, bricks and mortar. During the Antiques Forum, we will tie in leather, wooden pigeons, slipware -- all representative of items in our collections.”

On holidays, such as Mothers’ Day, hotel and dining guests receive a traditional red rose. White roses are placed in every bathroom and on every room service tray for the Lodge and the Inn. Typically Taggart and his team will place about 500 roses a week.

Christmas is an especially busy time for the floral studio. Small potted Christmas trees are placed in each of the 700 rooms with a small tag explaining the history of the Christmas tree in Williamsburg.

How often do they change the flowers? “We do a weekly change-out of the floral arrangements in the public spaces of all of the hotel properties, as well as the five VIP houses. Additionally we maintain fresh flowers at the president’s house.” said Taggart. “We also service the two golf club houses, the Woodlands Conference Center, the Governor’s Inn as well as the 28 colonial houses. “

“I have made arrangements for everyone from Tina Turner to Margaret Thatcher. In between, we have serviced kings and queens from Queen Elizabeth to King Carl Gustaf of Sweden, the Bush family, the Reagans, the Clintons and Barbara Streisand.” Taggart says.

The distinctive Williamsburg floral style lives on in Colonial Williamsburg and around the world. Through Taggart and his team, hotel guests will continue to enjoy the tradition honoring the rich heritage of Louise Fisher and the floral designers before him.