Being a floral designer at the Governor’s Mansion may not seem like hard work, but self-described flower geek Beth Sebastian says otherwise.
“It sounds very easy but a lot of knowledge and research goes into it,” Beth, 47, says.
For example, some flowers carry cultural or historical context, and Beth has to avoid sending the wrong message when foreign VIPs and ambassadors visit the mansion.
In Germany, white flowers are associated with death, and only the royal family in Japan is allowed to use certain mums.
Designing and creating a variety of new arrangements also requires creativity and ingenuity.
“I have a pretty vivid imagination,” Beth says.
She’ll also move displays to different rooms and re-arrange them to get more use out of the same plants. She recently improved a foliage display for an event in the state dining room by adding white roses.
Floral arrangements also require maintenance, and Beth has to continually re-cut and recondition the flowers. She uses a preservative to keep the water free of bacteria and prevent cloudiness.
Beth says she’s been surprised when people tell her they don’t like fresh flowers because they die too quickly.
“If they were beautiful all the time you wouldn’t appreciate them. You’ve got to grasp the moment when they’re just at their peak.”
With proper care, fresh flowers can last up to two weeks, Beth says. She’s partial to roses and carnations.
Her workshop in the mansion basement is filled with sweet floral scents and bright colors including purple, green, yellow, blue and pink. She most often wears pink and carries pink shears to match.
Beth is so passionate about her favorite color that her home on Arlington Street is also pink. Her personal garden serves as a test bed for flowers and plants she hopes to use at the mansion and other properties.
Beth’s floral obsession began at her parent’s home – her father was a missionary with a love for growing day lilies.
“Mother told me to stop cutting all the flowers out of the garden and making arrangements,” Beth said.
She started exhibiting her own floral arrangements at age 8 and decided she wanted to have a career in horticulture.
She studied horticulture at Eastern Kentucky University and has 31 years of experience as a greenhouse manager and wholesale flower buyer.
Beth teaches workshops and seminars on floral arrangement. She also does private events and judges FFA contests. Aside from gardening, her hobbies include painting and pottery.
Beth has been at the mansion for 10 years, and before that she did retail work with silk and dried flowers. She decided to apply for the job at the mansion because she missed fresh flowers.
“I missed roses to be honest,” she says.
She’s worked under the Patton, Fletcher and Beshear administrations.
First lady Jane Beshear loves simple, classic designs and enjoys lilacs, Beth said.
First Lady Glenna Fletcher enjoyed both traditional and modern arrangements with roses and tulips.
First Lady Judi Patton liked “dramatic” and “sparkling” arrangements. Beth said she would use gilding and sparkle spray to fulfill Patton’s love for “glitter.”
“She likes things very sparkly. It was very fun to do dramatic things for her.”
Beth also receives suggestions from her gardeners.
“Even though they may be riding a lawnmower, they are gardeners at heart. They are very tuned into colors and shapes.”
Beth buys flowers from wholesalers in Lexington and then sketches designs for the arrangements. She also helps plan large events like the Derby and inauguration.
One of the most challenging duties is to design the Floral Clock arrangement – there’s only nine inches between the soil and the hands of the clock.
Her favorite event is the Celebration of Hope, which honors breast cancer survivors.
“Every year you hope to see the very same people and not any more. They are wonderful, strong people who have conquered or are in the process of fighting the disease. It’s uplifting to know a little bit of your work comforts them when their life is really difficult.”
Her biggest project was a 15-foot-tall arrangement several years ago. A team of six spent six hours building the display which was based on a large urn. She used common flowers like gladiolas and carnations to be cost-efficient.
The towering arrangement was displayed at a Celebration of Hope event and participants were allowed to take flowers home.
Upcoming events include the Easter Egg Roll, the Capitol Centennial Celebration, Derby and the World Equestrian Games.
“We start planning six months to two years ahead.”
A staff of 17 full-time and 19 part-time employees also assists Beth.
Together, they’re responsible for landscaping and more than 700 acres of state-owned land in Franklin County, plus other offices from London to Madisonville. There are also early hours for snow and ice abatement, which Beth is also responsible for.
“It never gets old,” she says.
“Frankfort Faces” is a series that highlights people from within the Frankfort and Franklin County community. Each feature follows one of the city’s most unique personalities and includes a story, photos and video, which can be found by clicking the TV icon attached to the story online at state-journal.com.