Local floral designer's dream comes true

Rick Johnson grows all the flowers he puts into his bouquets


Rick Johnson always wanted to be a gay floral designer. Now, after retiring from being the Coordinator of the County’s Noxious Weed Control program for 33 years, he is one.

Rick grew up on a farm in Rochester. As a young teenager, one of his duties, assigned by his father, was to bury the cows that fell over dead from eating tansy ragwort – a weed famously toxic to livestock. So it is no wonder he had a passion for controlling noxious weeds. He was good at it; as a Weed Board Coordinator, he won a national award from the National Invasive Species Council.

But even before he started that job, he says, “I dove into plants and created my own little world to survive.” He lived in a time and place when being gay meant being in the closet – and in an emotional straightjacket in that closet.

When he came out to his mom, she said he was going to hell and that he would be written out of the family will. His parents have passed away, but even now, most other family members don’t speak to him. “I don’t even drive through my hometown,” he says. “It just hurts too bad.”

In the early years of his career, he remained closeted until he was threatened with blackmail. He refused to be blackmailed, and came out anyway. This was in the 1980s, when attitudes were changing, but slowly. Somehow, he managed to keep his job.

He was dedicated to that job. He says, “It kept me alive; I felt useful and effective. And I met wonderful, strong surrogate fathers.”

At home, his fabulous garden was part of a Garden Rhapsody Tour in 1996, and over his working life, it just kept getting better.

Creating his dream

In 2016, when he retired, he earned certification as a Floral Designer by attending the Portland Floral Design Institute.

His own style is exuberant, joyous and a little wild. He is fascinated by all he has learned about colors, and likes bold, innovative combinations. His specialty is large bouquets for holidays, parties, and events that require no more than five or six bouquets. He doesn’t do elaborate weddings or prom corsages.

“When the flowers are in my hands, I’m not thinking; I’m painting,” he says.

“The flower arrangements you get will be yours alone; there will never be others like them,” he vows, “and it will be made from whatever is in bloom when you order it.” He guarantees you’ll never have a fresher bouquet.

All his flowers come from a deer-fenced garden of 20+ raised beds. Like all gardeners, he learns more every year about what thrives, what lasts, and how to manage pests, diseases, mildew and watering.

Growing flowers for arrangements presented new challenges. He had to let go of growing flowers he liked that were not long-lasting. He had to hunt to find exactly the right sweet peas and the right colors of delphiniums. Year by year, he continues to refine what works best.

His flower garden has big fir trees nearby on both its east and west sides, so it gets about six hours of sun a day. He’s happy about that. “These flowers have to really reach up for sunlight, and that gives me longer stems,” he says.

Rick is also part of a small but expanding community of local flower growers. “More people are taking a risk and jumping in. It’s a tight, helpful community.”

And he’s an evangelist for all of them. Buying locally grown flowers rather than those imported from California, South America or Europe promotes sustainability, ensures freshness, and helps the people who grow and sell them thrive.

“I am happy,” he says. “This is what I wanted: a business with flowers and people, and to be useful.”

You can see photos of his arrangements on his website, and on his Instagram and Facebook pages.

Jill Severn writes from her home in Olympia, where she grows vegetables, flowers, and a small flock of chickens. She loves conversation among gardeners. Start one by emailing her at  jill@theJOLTnews.com 


5 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • SheriB

    What a beautiful story! I'm definitely sad though about Rick's earlier years.

    I hope to be able to see some of these arrangements soon!

    Friday, August 4, 2023 Report this

  • SecondOtter

    I used to work for Rick. I have never met a kinder, more compassionate person in my life. Working for him was always a day with laughter...and learning. His sense of humor and wry take on things always made going to work a thing to look forward to.

    After he retired, I had him make a floral arrangement for my spouse, who loves flowers. It came out perfect.

    I do remember the harassment inflicted on him by his superiors, people who supposedly had their jobs due to their abilities. They, instead, used it as a platform to target Rick with their hatred for someone who didn't conform to their biased ideology. To people like that, remember what Karma says: "I saw what you did."

    I am glad Rick has found his happy place, his niche.

    As an addedendum, I used to work in a flower shop. Folks, most of those flowers you buy from a florist come from Columbia, not here in the US. They've been dead a week by the time they get to the US. The boxes they were shipped in also had a lot of bugs in them, and I don't mean tjust tiny little aphids. Ever seen a cockroach the size of your pinkie finger? And those fancy roses you pay a ton of money for? We stripped off 90% of the petals to get that tight little bud. The fact that Rick is growing his own flowers means that they're fresh, locally grown, and most of all, pest free.

    Good on you, Rick.

    Saturday, August 5, 2023 Report this

  • waltjorgensen

    Go, Rick! Thanks for sharing the planet with me.


    Saturday, August 5, 2023 Report this

  • Drutty

    Yeah Rick, well done! Your beautiful bouquets are a work of art! Thank you for making this world a better place.

    Sunday, August 6, 2023 Report this

  • PegGerdes

    So delighted that we get to experience Rick's talent and hard-won joy! Wonderful story about local resource and resilience.

    Wednesday, August 9, 2023 Report this