Flowers Make a House a Home

InteriorSliderby Marene Gustin
Photos by Yvonne Feece

Need to freshen up your abode and grounds? Why not take some tips from award-winning floral designers on how to decorate with flora, both inside and out? At the recent Houston Galleria Primavera Fashion Show, all three major floral and garden awards were won by members of Houston’s LGBT community. Glenwood Weber took Best of Show and People’s Choice Award, A.J.’s Urban Petals took home the award for Best Overall Floral, and Best Overall Garden went to Erin Spencer and her business and life partner Marjory Hawkins, owners of Theme Designs Studios.

There's beauty in simplicity: Glenwood Weber has some excellent ideas that won’t break your bank. Left page: a few of his floral arrangements.
There’s beauty in simplicity: Glenwood Weber has some excellent ideas that won’t break your bank. Left page: a few of his floral arrangements.

Keep it simple when adding floral touches — and other tips from Glenwood Weber

Can’t afford an interior decorator and new furniture, or don’t have the time to spruce up your home with fresh paint and new carpets? Don’t worry—sometimes the simplest little touches can make your place look new for spring. Glenwood Weber of Glenwood Weber Design has some excellent ideas that won’t break your bank.

Weber should know his business—he’s been in it a long time. “All my life!” laughs Weber.

Or, pretty close to it. Weber, born and raised in Corpus Christi, rebuilt an old lawnmower with his dad when he was nine. Next thing he knew, he had a thriving lawn-mowing business in the neighborhood. Then his dad bought a greenhouse, and young Weber started growing tulips to sell to H-E-B. “I put myself through college doing that,” he says. College was Texas A&M University, where he studied horticulture and floral design. He got hooked on floral design after attending his first floral show in New York City.

“I wanted to design gardens, but also design floral arrangements for events and homes,” says Weber. So he eventually opened his own business, Glenwood Weber Designs, where he and his eight employees do both. The single, forty-seven-year-old lives upstairs from his Montrose business. He plays piano and owns two beautiful dogs: a seven-month-old yellow Lab puppy named Dahlia, and a three-year-old Cairn terrier named Jueves (Spanish for Thursday, the day he got him). “We love nothing better than to cuddle up in bed and watch Sex in the City reruns,” Weber says.

Glen2And yes, he does have a beautiful garden that he enjoys tending, and he says that if you have even the tiniest piece of dirt, you can plant flowers that can be used to decorate your home. “The easiest way to spruce up the indoors for spring is if you have a flowering vine, passion flower, Clematis, or sweet pea,” he says. “Just cut a few blooms and put one each in a shot glass. Put three glasses across a bathroom vanity or kitchen windowsill.”

Voilà, instant festive décor.

Weber also suggests planting high-producing flowering or fragrant plants such as hydrangea, roses, gardenias, or a Japanese Glen3water iris. “With those blooms you can put little bunches in glass vases and make a collage of them on a table.” Weber suggests hitting Ikea for inexpensive glassware for your designs.

“A long line of vases with cut flowers makes a great design for a dining room table,” Weber explains. “It’s elegant and stylish, inexpensive, and really the easiest thing to do.”

Perhaps even easier is Weber’s tip of just clipping a stem off a bush to use as foliage along a fireplace mantle. “You can decorate with potted plants indoors, too,” Weber says. “But be aware that they have a date stamp. People tell me they don’t have a green thumb because their plants die. You can get a nice indoor plant at any grocery store in town for twenty dollars, and if it lasts for a month, you’ve gotten your money’s worth.”

Glen1So just go buy another one. He suggests ferns and potted herbs as nice touches that will last longer than flowering pots.

Weber looks for something a bit more unique than “grocery-store roses” when doing floral designs. “This time of year, I like working with lime green as a color,” he says. “I’ll work with grasses and succulents. For a flower, he thinks a pink heart (a hot-pink version of a Wandering Jew) produces wonderful decorative blooms.

Of course, if you don’t have a garden or your own window boxes or herb pots, you can still buy cut flowers and greenery and display them in simple glassware, vases, or whatever’s on hand to perk up your abode.

Oh, and don’t be afraid of the orchids you see for sale. No, they won’t last forever, but they are beautiful, and Weber says they are actually easy to care for. “Stick it in a decorative pot,” Weber says, “and just give it an ice cube once a week.”

Glenwood Weber Design
805 Hyde Park Blvd.

Marjory Hawkins (l) and Erin Spencer
Design duo: Marjory Hawkins (l) and Erin Spencer, winners of the 2013 Best Overall Garden award at the recent Houston Galleria Primavera Fashion Show.

But What about the Garden?
Tips from Theme Designs Studios and Patiogate

If you’re lucky enough to have that backyard garden, you’ll want to hear from Erin Spencer of Theme Designs Studios and Patiogate.com, the winner of Best Overall Garden at Primavera 2013. Spencer and her business and life partner, Marjory Hawkins, love the outdoors.

“We have open windows and doors at our West Houston home looking over the backyard,” says Spencer. “We love to entertain family and friends with cookouts. I have a fire pit and two grills. A sample menu might be a big rib eye with squash, broccoli, and asparagus. I love to grill vegetables, and Marjory is a baker. She makes great cakes.”

The couple met twenty-four years ago at a nightclub in Florida and have been together ever since. Spencer is an alumnus of North Carolina A&T State University and worked as head landscape designer for International Paper’s 25,000-acre township in New Hampshire. Hawkins has a strong horticultural background. She started as a designer and wgrower (45,000 flowers per season) for seven golf courses with clubhouse tournament events. Since that time, she has created and installed foliage and floral packages in over 300 restaurants, hotels, casinos, corporate offices, golf courses, and hospitals nationwide.

In 1993, the couple started Theme Designs Studios in Houston. “My family is from Texas,” Spencer says. “We came here to work at Landry’s properties and loved the city. It’s filled with the most dynamic people I’ve encountered anywhere. If you’re talented, they don’t care what color you are or who you sleep with.”

The duo has designed outdoor spaces that make your head spin with beauty: the Kemah Boardwalk, Rainforest Cafes worldwide, and even the famous white tiger lair based on the ruins of an ancient Maharaja’s temple at the Downtown Aquarium.

And they do some fabulous residences with water walls, floating ball fountains, swimming pools, and outdoor kitchens. But they’re not intimidated by tiny outdoor spaces. Spencer says even a small yard can be a retreat from the world with the right design. “There are degrees of grandeur,” says Spencer. “Decide what you like and get rid of what you don’t. If you don’t like it now, you won’t like it later. Make a list of what you want. I have a list for our backyard. I’m still working on it.

Winning view: one of Theme Designs Studios’ colorful front yard landscapes.

“For do-it-yourselfers, I’d say take that list and make a scrapbook, clip photos you like and download pictures from the Internet, make sketches and doodles. Take measurements and, if you can, get some graph paper and plot it out.”

Love to entertain outdoors? Then start out by defining your entertainment area. As Spencer says, form follows function. Do you need a table for four or twelve? Also consider whether you’ll want cooking items, water treatments, or maybe a pergola.

Oh, and where will you get all these things if you’re creating your own perfect garden space? Well, for the DIY set, Spencer and Hawkins have started a second company. Patiogate.com sells everything from fire pits to that pergola, which comes as a kit that you build complete with red cedar slats and hardware to create the perfect patio shade.

They also sell faux rockwork, wood-burning and electric fireplaces, outdoor kitchen appliances, and lighting. Some of the most popular lighting details are the Tempest torches—twirling towers of flame that light at the touch of a button.

So what are you waiting for? Planning and creating your very own outdoor getaway will be fun. Just don’t forget to invite us to that first backyard cookout.

Theme-Designs Studio
8712 Beverly Hill Street

A.J. Benys Jr.
Business is his hobby: A.J. Benys Jr. offers clients a seasonal spruce-up to keep outdoor areas looking fresh.

You’ve Got the Garden Built, Now What Do You Plant?
A.J. knows

A.J. Benys Jr. started A.J.’s Landscaping & Design, Inc., in 1982, while still a student at Texas A&M University’s landscape architecture school.

“I’ve always loved plants and working outside with nature,” says Benys, a native Houstonian who spends his down time in his own garden at the Upper Kirby home he shares with his partner of six-plus years, Thomas Stringer, who happens to run one of Benys’ three businesses. Besides A.J.’s, Benys also owns Garden Expo Wholesale Nursery and the award-winning A.J.’s Urban Petals that does floral design for events as well as garden design, flower sales, and gift and home décor sales.

“I guess business is my hobby,” laughs Benys. “I used to love water sports, but as I get older, I like to bike more, especially on the beaches by our Galveston home.”

One of the services A.J.’s Landscaping & Design offers clients is a seasonal spruce-up. “A lot of clients tend to do their own yards and gardens,” Benys says. “But you can get behind on your pruning and planting, so we’ll come out every spring and fall for a spruce-up.”

AJ2By June and July it’s probably too late to prune much, and you’ll need to be selective about what you plant in the heat. Benys suggests the hardy and beautifully blue periwinkle, the sun-loving moss rose, and the colorful and aromatic lantanas.

Seasonal plants will last anywhere from two to six months, says Benys. But here’s an idea that you can use to spruce up your yard and garden anytime of the year: potted plants. “You can use potted plants as indoor or outdoor accents,” says Benys, whose Urban Petals sells a variety of pots and decorative containers.

“For outside, the best are made of clay,” he says. “Plastic sweats and causes root rot. But for indoors, or say a balcony AJ3that won’t support heavy pots, we also sell polyresin pots. They can be designed to look like terra cotta or porcelain pots and containers.”

Benys says pots can be great for vegetables, greens, or flowers. But whether you’re planting in the ground or in a pot, Benys says your first consideration should be whether it is sunny or shady. “That’s what will determine the kind of flowers you want to put there,” he adds.

As for his own garden at home: “I like to mix pastels to go with the peachy color of the house where the front yard is shady. The backyard gets very hot in the summer, so I do a lot of tropicals there for this time of year.”

So there’s your advice from some of the best in the industry. Whether indoors or out, make use of flowers, greenery, accents, and amenities for your home and yard this summer.

And then take time to stop and smell the roses.AJ1

AJ’s Landscaping & Design
1223 West 21st Street

Marene Gustin is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.


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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.

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