Bradenton winter snowbird Jerry Bonvissuto leads a delightful double life. In Florida, he volunteers as a merchandiser at the nonprofit thrift shop The Exchange (formerly the Woman’s Exchange). In the spring and summer, he is the full-time floral arranger for a couple who live in a grand Northeast U.S. estate—so grand that the 35,000-square-foot main house sits on 300 meticulously landscaped acres.
“Wherever she walks in this house, there are flowers,” says Bonvissuto about his employer. “It’s not just one arrangement; there are six or seven arrangements in a room. She gets bud vases on her trays for breakfast and lunch, next to her bed, in her bathroom. It’s like Downton Abbey and The Great Gatsby rolled into one.”
A retired longtime special education teacher who also worked in flower shops for 16 years, Bonvissuto says flower arranging is his hobby “and therapy.”
“They’re wonderful people,” he says about the couple. “It’s a joy to go to work every day.”
A staff of gardeners plants tulips, peonies, daffodils, gladiolas, zinnias, sunflowers, dahlias and hydrangea. “All I do is pick them,” Bonvissuto says. For his flower arrangements, he chooses from a couple hundred Baccarat, Lalique and Tiffany crystal vases.
Fresh flowers adorn Bonvissuto’s own home in Bradenton, too—small bud vases filled with baby gerbera daisies, mini orchid plants, Peruvian lily, little succulents and mini carnations in his kitchen window and on his nightstand. “It makes me feel happy,” he says.
Make It Bloom
Tips for arranging flowers in your own home.
Utilize Metropolitan design: all one kind of flower—mounds of peonies, for example—but different colors and varieties.
For inspiration: Visit flower shows and look at magazines.
Incorporate nature with local greenery: branches, for example, and lilac or forsythia as fillers. “I get flax and ferns, foxtail ferns FedEx’ed to me every week from [the couple’s] Florida home,” says Bonvissuto.
Consider where the arrangement will be displayed. If it’s on a dining table, use a lower container for an unobstructed view; if it’s on a sideboard it can be tall and showy. Will it sit on the grand piano, to be seen from all around, or against the wall and seen from one direction? Regardless, Bonvissuto says, “The rule of thumb is one and a half times the height of your container.”
Never put any leaves under water. “You want to strip your leaves,” he says. “If you don’t, you get that green slimy water.”
And don’t throw away that little pack of preservative that comes with your flowers. “It helps flowers last longer and keeps the algaecide down,” Bonvissuto says. (He uses Crystal Clear.)