Have You Ever Seen a Flower Flash?

Meet Lewis Miller, the florist behind the beautifully unexpected sights.
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Courtesy of of Todd Snyder

New Yorkers who come across giant unlikely floral displays on city streets can thank Lewis Miller, who creates “Flower Flash” pop-up arrangements on bus shelters, construction sites, subway entrances, and more around town. Unlike the anonymous pop-up artist Banksy, Miller is a well-known events planner and florist. After growing up in Southern California farm country, he studied landscape architecture, eventually moving to New York City and creating a firm that designs elaborate parties and galas. Occasionally he feeds the compulsion to create temporary floral displays that beautify unexpected sites. “It’s a combination of needing to push my limits—to see something I hadn’t seen and to connect with my craft,” he says. “The juxtaposition of putting something in an alley or trash can is a nice contrast to my usual work in tony environments—the chance to see something so unexpected and beautiful that is ephemeral and not long lasting.” Dividing his time between offices in Manhattan and West Palm Beach, Miller relaxes by working out and tending to his three border collies, Dutch, Tug and Fritz.

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Photograph by Don Freeman

Why did you switch from landscape to floral design?
Landscape takes too long; I like the spontaneity of floral. You create a party, and by midnight, it’s done and over.

Why are flowers a luxury? Have you bought them recently?!
They have a very short lifespan; they’re flown in from all over the world. It’s not like a food you actually need, it’s a rarity. They’re expensive—there’s no other way to phrase it.

What’s the biggest challenge flowers present?
They’re perishable and you’re always battling the elements—heat or cold, humidity or dryness. And they each require their own little tricks and techniques to make them do the thing they do best. Take the poppy: They must be cauterized with a flame to hold in their life force, and each one is encased in a fuzzy capsule that has to be peeled off by hand.

What’s the satisfaction of working with flowers?
You’re working with something so beautiful, and the possibilities are infinite. I like to transform a space and bring nature inside.

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Photograph by Irini Arakas Greenbaum

What initiates a Flash?
When I’m feeling it’s time to do one, I find a new location or something in bloom. There’s no schedule nor lead time—it must be a spontaneous combustion of things coming together.

But is it legal?
I don’t know if there’s a law to be broken, so I don’t know whether I’m breaking the law. I guess if I end up in the slammer I’ll know. But it’s an age of graffiti and people tearing down statues, and I’m doing this.

What’s the message of a Flower Flash?
It’s like any artistic endeavor, however you want to interpret it. Get away from your phone or device, look up, pay attention, see something beautiful and real, because it’s going to be gone in a flash. We need to get back to nature, to make that connection.

What mistake do people make in flower arranging?
They over complicate it, try to use too many color combinations and varieties. Don’t try to pull off a Flemish masterpiece, it’s only going to frustrate you. Stay with one flower, one palette. Eventually, you can experiment and do different things.

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Photograph by Irini Arakas Greenbaum

How are floral designers also storytellers?
Flowers are nostalgic. Everybody has some sort of association with flowers. In my line of work, I can take you back to your grandmother’s garden or the negative connotations of funeral homes. It’s like sculpting in clay or wood, you’re working with color, texture, movement, shape, form—you create a story, something nostalgic and old world, or something cutting edge—or something in the range of cacophony between them.

Where’s a site where you might like to do a Flash?
I’m a sucker for beautiful historic venues, so I suppose St. Mark’s Square in Venice. But part of the magic is where it’s not so beautiful: The best flashes are in gritty areas. I get just as excited in a raw, industrial factory yard covered in graffiti and pigeon poop.

What’s your favorite flower?
I tend to like the high maintenance beauties—the poppy, Japanese sweet pea, mimosa in winter. I always go back to my signature black and white anemone—it’s everything all at once, it can be old fashioned or modern and graphic, feminine and romantic, but also quite bold. A happy little flower with a dark center, so maybe it’s like me.

Isn’t it disappointing that your creations fade so quickly?
I guess I’ve had my heart broken a million times.

The print version of this article appeared with the headline: Meet the Designer.