Swift Current florist enjoys memorable time as float decorator at Rose Parade

Swift Current florist Poppy Parsons (at left) stands in front of the Explore Louisiana float with fellow Canadian florist Heather de Kok, who was one of three float judges at the 2024 Rose Parade.

By Matthew Liebenberg

The thrill and excitement of being a floral float decorator at the iconic Rose Parade continues to be a special experience for Swift Current florist Poppy Parsons.

She spent several intense days in Pasadena, California during her fifth opportunity to be a member of the floral design team for Fiesta Parade Floats, which is the most awarded float builder at the Rose Parade.

“It’s such a rush,” she said. “It’s a crazy four days, but there’s just nothing like it. You just can’t of experience that type of design and that type of work anywhere else in the world.”

Several factors contributed to the unique nature of each Rose Parade she attended so far.

“The floats change every year, the theme is different, the atmosphere is different and we get to work with different people,” she said. “So it’s a different vibe every year.”

It is also an opportunity to reconnect with people she worked with and became friends with in previous years.

“I have floral family around the world and I have float family in California that I get to see every year,” she said. “It’s always exciting to see all of them. It’s like a big reunion.”

The 2024 Rose Parade on New Year’s Day featured 40 floats as well as marching bands and equestrian units along a route of 5.5 miles (8.85 kilometres).

Parsons was part of a six-member floral decorator team that prepared the Explore Louisiana float entered by the Louisiana Office of Tourism for the parade. They were assisted by a large group of volunteers that grew to about 300 people on the final day of frenzied work to get the float ready for judging.

“Some hand us flowers when we’re going up onto the scaffolding, but mostly they’re doing what we call the seed work,” she said. “So they’re covering the mesh and the painted surfaces with chopped dried botanicals. They’re also doing all the water tubed flowers. So, all the carnations and roses and orchids for the decking. We assisted at the end, but that is their role to do that kind of work. We do mostly the larger floral design pieces.”

Her role as a member of the floral decorator team for the float was an opportunity to apply her floral knowledge and experience in a setting that required careful planning and coordination.

“The biggest challenge is where to design and when,” she said. “Some things we can do off float and attach later. Some things we have to just do on the float. So the challenge is just getting that coordinated and then working up on scaffolding and finding space to move and space to design and working in tight spaces. We’re all used to working together as a team. So, it’s not hard. It’s just lots of coordination.”

She worked on the Donate Life float in support of organ donation during her previous three years at the Rose Parade, which she really enjoyed. The tourism-oriented focus of this year’s Explore Louisiana float offered another perspective during the decoration process.

“It was great to try something new and different,” she said. “I was pretty excited to work with that really fun group of people and just sharing a different type of float, and trying to portray a different message to the audience.”

The theme of the 135th Rose Parade was Celebrating a World of Music: The Universal Language. It was a great fit for the Explore Louisiana float, because music, festivals and the Mardi Gras are integral to the state’s heritage.

The float had a Mardi Gras theme and the design elements included a Mardi Gras jester, fleur-de-lis (a reference to the state’s French heritage) and second-line inspired umbrellas, which is a New Orleans tradition.

A diversity of flowers were used to decorate the float, varying from roses and orchids to hydrangea, lilies, carnations and many other.

“There was a couple of different colours of roses on the decking and one was a really gorgeous purple,” she recalled. “The rest of the flowers just fell into place to suit the rose plate. Of course, always lots of tropicals. … The decking also included lots of Mokara orchids, which we don’t often see. That was really exciting to see orchids on the decking as well.”

Judging took place on Dec. 31 and the float trophy winners were announced the following morning before the start of the Rose Parade. The Explore Louisiana float won the Showmanship Award for most outstanding display of showmanship and entertainment. This was one of five floats built by Fiesta Parade Floats for the 2024 Rose Parade, and all of them were trophy winners.

This achievement provided additional excitement and satisfaction to Parsons when the award winners were revealed. Thereafter she watched with great pride when the Explore Louisiana float came down the street during the official parade.

“We were just overwhelmed by the beauty of it,” she said. “When you see it live in the California sunshine, rolling down Colorado Boulevard, there’s nothing like it. It all comes together out in the sunshine on the street for everyone to enjoy. It’s a moment of pride and joy to see all our hard work and the whole plan come together from start to finish.”

She was honoured to receive the invitation from Fiesta Parade Floats to be part of their team for the 2024 Rose Parade. She will not hesitate when asked to return for another year.

“I learn a lot and I give a lot too,” she said. “It’s sharing the joy of flowers. It’s knowing your skill and being able to give that back either here to the community of Swift Current and surrounding area or to the world on the world stage.”