By Linda McIntosh
Nancy Clarke, known as the nation's "flower czar" for her work as chief floral designer at the White House, will speak March 4 at "Meet the Masters," hosted by the Village Garden Club of La Jolla at the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla.
Clarke, who served six presidents, will tell the story of her 30-year career at the White House in charge of designing floral arrangements for everything from official state functions attended by visiting dignitaries from around the world to private events for the president's family.
During the program, Clarke will re-create centerpieces from several state dinners at the White House, including the 2007 state dinner hosted by President George W. Bush for Queen Elizabeth II.
"Clarke was known for diplomatically blending the ideas and floral favorites of the nation's first ladies into 'centerpieces of power' for state dinners as well as the public rooms of the White House, the first family's residence and Camp David," said Kate Adams, publicity chairwoman of the Village Garden Club of La Jolla.
But with all the pomp and circumstance surrounding her work at the White House, Clarke's most cherished memories are connected with the friendships she made working with six presidents' wives and the White House staff.
"The most rewarding part of my career was the lifelong friendships I formed among the residence staff who keep the White House running every day, but even more, came with having worked with six exceptional first ladies who allowed me to express their style with flowers. I am also proud to have successfully managed 24 White House Christmases," Clarke said.
When the garden club approached Clarke about coming to La Jolla to speak, Clarke said she would love to.
"She said we're bonded by a love of flowers," recalled Barbara Pieper, chairwoman of the 2010 "Meet the Masters" program. The program will include a Q&A session with Clarke and a book signing of "The Living White House," which gives a historical perspective of the White House. The book includes photos of Clarke and a topiary she prepared for the Bush India state dinner, which she will re-create during the program.
Clarke started working at the White House in 1978 as a part-time volunteer assisting in floral design projects during President Carter's administration. She joined the permanent staff in 1981 under President Reagan and was named chief floral designer in 1985, a post she held until she retired last May. In 2006, Clarke received the coveted Award of Merit — Industry from the American Institute of Floral Designers.
Clarke led a staff of four assistant designers and at Christmastime directed more than 80 volunteers who brought their expertise to decorating the White House.
The demonstration centerpieces Clarke will create during the program will be auctioned off during the event to raise money for the Schoolyard Gardening Program, which supports gardening projects at schools throughout San Diego County.
The "Meet the Masters" program was first inspired by Adrienne Green, founder of the Village Garden Club of La Jolla.