Harvesting Designs: From Gardens to Grandness

In Clinton Downing, Home and Entertaining by Lola Magazine

Autumn, or fall as many of us reference it, is the third season of the year. From September to November, crops and fruits are gathered and leaves fall in the northern hemisphere. Southern ladies boast of the decadent harvest of their labor from their well-tended gardens. Game day tailgates rally football fanatics for feasting and fellowship alike. Tricks and treats bring out costumed cuties and creatures galore, each one hoping for a jack-o-lantern of sweet eats and much, much more. Pumpkin patches pop up abundantly around the town as it calms after a sizzling summer, and everyone can finally socialize without the humid heat.
I have many wonderful childhood memories of fall. I can remember the time and effort my mama placed into making costumes for my sister and I. Our household was on a strict budget so these costumes were never premanufactured. She would go the TG&Y and sort through the remnant bins to find just enough fabric. Not a scrap of material would go to waste. From clowns and Native Americans, to hobos and Holly Hobby, each took on a unique personality. Her passion for creating our patterns and bringing her visions to life were more than just a costume. With the sew of each thread, she would put her heart and soul into every stitch. They were garments of love and happiness, and all these years later she still has many of them safely archived away. There are times that I close my eyes and wish I were still in those days. Four decades later and I still love to create a memorable costume for All Hallows’ Eve.
As a multifaceted designer, I enjoy the floral design aspects of fall design. From the tradition elements to the clever little twists, creating a unique and inviting entrance along with a comforting atmosphere in your home is a true southern tradition, especially in Louisiana. The great thing about fall is the warm hues of colors. The opulent embers, crimson maroons, and fiery oranges mesh beautifully in creating designs. I love to create and design front door areas in unique ways. Many are adorned with potted mums, pumpkins, gourds, cornstalks and hay bales of many homes. They are transformed into breathtaking displays with nature’s gifts from God. The great thing about working with elements from nature is that there are no rules. Each branch or vine has grown as God has intended it. Each pumpkin or gourd has taken on its own unique shape. Each mum has bloomed with its intended hue. Each overgrown okra has its own unprecedented ridges. The uniqueness of each element brings out the beauty. Of course, it would be sinful in the south to omit the use of stalks of sugar cane and branches of cotton blossoms. Creating home decor with two of Louisiana’s greatest agricultural commodities adds a signature touch to many a southern ladies home.
In an area rich in agriculture, I discover how much I love to pull from nature in my designs. It goes beyond the lush backyard greens and variegated back of tree branches; I like to step into the farmer’s markets and use my imagination. It goes beyond the gourds and pumpkins in creating an arrangement; I like to incorporate an eclectic array of fruits and vegetables into fall for dinner parties, weddings and events.
While I say it goes beyond a pumpkin, that doesn’t mean that they are not beyond use in implementing a great look without making it too rustic. It’s more of a glamorization of fall. It is about taking the best that nature offers and making it chic. It is about taking away the harshness of the natural state and evolving it into something more polished. It is about taking from the produce section and producing forth an effortless floral design.
As with any great creation in floral arranging, I find it should take no more than thirty minutes. Maybe it just comes natural to me, but it is rather rare for me to place a flower, then stand back and second guess its placement. I learned design as a child growing up in the business. I sold my first arrangement at the age of twelve-years-old. A passion was created at that moment. I wanted to continue to create floral arrangements when given the chance to do so.
One word of caution in your fall designs: make sure you have proper protection between pumpkins and gourds and your furniture. The demise of their post-harvest lifespan could lead to a costly refinishing bill. It is wise to check them often or rotate them to prevent their bottoms from leaving a seedy mess and odor to contend with as well. If in doubt, throw it out.
As a rule, many people feel confined to designing or decorating within perimeters or guidelines. Great design doesn’t come with an instruction manual. The “throw caution to the wind” method works for me as a rule of thumb, though it may not stand true with every individual. Much of it comes down to “GGT”-God Given Talent. I believe that each of us has at least an inkling of creativity. Some just tend to second guess themselves or overthink the process. For some, less is more, while others will decorate every available surface in the home. The effect of creating a festive atmosphere becomes rather cumbersome. The clutter takes away the essence of the design. That half-off sale at Hobby Lobby has taken your home hostage. The décor becomes scarier than the ghouls and goblins. One could only hope that it would fall apart and find its way into the nearest post game bonfire.
Thirty-three years in, I still have the same great fondness for floral design. I would say that I break the rules in floral compositions, but have never allowed them to be a part of my philosophy in design. Being left handed, I tend to think differently than others. I also find that when God gives you nature’s beauty and blesses you with a talent, you are supposed to explore it to the fullest. You need to design in a way that makes you happy and represents your personality. It is a creative process of sharing your soul through your gifts. Design has so much structure, but I love the free flow effect.
Learning the design business from my parents, Ron and Jan Downing, gave me a great anchor as I went through school and beyond. It helped build my confidence and allowed me to take jobs in New Orleans, New York, and Dallas. In these three cities, I experienced the design world on a large scale. As I look back on that journey in my design career, I am grateful for the experiences of those days. They have helped me harvest my work to another level. It is said that we reap what we sow. If that is the case, I am sowing the seeds of love with each design.
As we leave the summer heat waves behind and move into fall, it’s time to settle in with a pumpkin spiced latte and continue reading the new issues of Lola Magazine. Just relax and enjoy the great fall season as we anticipate the arrival of “The Great Pumpkin” and the orange hues of a beautiful autumn sunset.

 

Written by: Clinton Whitney Downing

Clinton Whitney Downing is a man of many talents. He resides in his hometown of Monroe. He is a writer, floral designer, interior decorator, historical preservationist and fashion designer. After much travel, he has returned to his southern roots and his love of Louisiana. He is devoted to his community, lending his talents to various charity organizations. Much of his enjoyment in his life comes from spending time with his two rescue puppies, Cookie and Cooper. He is excited to be joining the LOLA team.