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Florists Rescue Their Spring Blooms For Public Installations During Pandemic

Springtime in Oregon usually means longer, warmer days, plenty of sunshine and bright, colorful flowers beginning to bloom.

But Gov. Kate Brown’s recent stay-at-home order due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 forced many of Oregon’s businesses, including flower companies, to temporarily close their doors and lay off their workers.

Jocelyn Kehrle is a florist for Mayesh Wholesale, one of the state’s biggest flower suppliers. She was one of many workers recently laid off and couldn’t bear to let quantities of flowers go to waste.

“I talked to my boss into letting me go in and just box up as many flowers as possible,” she said.

That’s when she contacted her friend Alyssa Lytle, the owner of the floral design studio, Color Theory Design Co., which also temporarily shut down.

“She said, ‘Come to the loading dock to get whatever flowers you want.’ And so that made me think, ‘What am I going to do with all these flowers?’" she said.

Alyssa came up with a plan to take the flowers Jocelyn provided, which otherwise would’ve gone to waste, and make beautiful installations throughout the city as a way to provide a nice break for people who feel stuck inside.

The result was Flower Tour PDX.

Alyssa reached out to her florist friends and devised a strategy to build those installations in different neighborhoods, including Gresham, St. Johns and Vancouver, Washington. 

“Each person decided their location in Portland. Other people did it outside of their home studios. Some people were familiar with had connections with other businesses,” Alyssa said.

Since the installations were outside, people could enjoy them from the comfort of their car.

“... you can just stay in your car and look at it through your car window as to not create like mass crowds running in and touching the flowers and being in close proximity to each other,” Jocelyn said.

The florists sent the location of their work to Alyssa, who then created a virtual map so that drivers could easily find them.

The flowers were only up for a few days before poor weather hit, but people can still take a virtual tour of the large-scale street art using #flowertourpdx on Instagram.

Scroll through the pictures you’ll see bright, colorful floral art carefully draped over light poles, bike racks and staircases. Alyssa installed her work outside her shop on Northeast Sandy Blvd.

“It started from the ground, kind of as though it was growing. Grew up the pole all the way to the very top of the where the pole ended,” She said. “We had a lot of oranges, pinks and whites. So we did an ombre effect, orange from the bottom, it gradually turned into pink, and then it turned into white.”

Fellow florist Cassidy Reinholdt, owner of Noble Floral Co., thought it would be a great way to help one of her favorite local restaurants on Portland's N. Mississippi Ave. She teamed up with Amy Atkinson-Barnes from Briar and Ivy, another floral shop.

“She and I both designed an installation on a light pole and on a little concrete bench area right in front of the Mee-Sen Thai Eatery. I really wanted to help them gain some business with the foot traffic of people coming to see the installation,” Reinholdt said.

“We did from the ground up and up a beautiful light pole with whites and purples and anywhere from roses to snapdragons to larkspur to leucadendron, everything.”

New social distancing guidelines mean most people should be staying home. But for Alyssa, Jocelyn, Cassidy, and many other florists, what mattered was that people got to have just moments of happiness on otherwise dreary days.

“Everyone in Portland has been greatly affected by this and it's not going unnoticed and we care about people and people being happy and just taking a little time to just relax and enjoy the flowers,” Jocelyn said.

Correction (April 1, 2020, 12:06 p.m. PT): This article has been updated to identify Alyssa Lytle as the event's coordinator.

<p>A close up of a white rose from a large flower installation wrapping up a pole and a sitting area on Mississippi Ave. in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, March 24, 2020. Noble Floral Co. designed and installed this piece as their part of the virtual #FlowerTourPDX, a movement by local florists to do something worthwhile with all the flowers that would not be sold due to business closures during the COVID-19 pandemic.</p>

Claudia Meza

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A close up of a white rose from a large flower installation wrapping up a pole and a sitting area on Mississippi Ave. in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, March 24, 2020. Noble Floral Co. designed and installed this piece as their part of the virtual #FlowerTourPDX, a movement by local florists to do something worthwhile with all the flowers that would not be sold due to business closures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

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Steven Tonthat, Claudia Meza