It’s 5 on a Tuesday morning. The sun has not yet risen, and most of New York is still asleep, but florist Lewis Miller and his team are already hard at work, putting the finishing touches on their latest masterpieces.
The LMD (Lewis Miller Design) folks began the night around 10, when they braved the unseasonable rain and fog to transport a snake of more than 5,000 peonies, garden roses and lilies from their NoMad shop to Rockefeller Center, where the 42-foot long garland was stylishly draped around the famous Atlas statue.
At 2 a.m., it was time to head to the next stop on their magical mystery tour of New York: The Crosby Street Hotel in SoHo. There, Miller and co. took on the 12-foot bronze cat, sculpted by Colombian artist Fernando Botero, that sits outside the lobby and welcomes guests. The florists used hundreds of Gladiolus blooms to turn the cat into a fierce skunk and then made their way to the third and final destination a few blocks north.
They arrived at the Astor Cube, otherwise known as “Alamo,” around 4 and began installing an array of purple, blue and red stems beneath the spinning sculpture. By 5:30, just as the early risers among us were snoozing alarms or heading to the gym, LMD’s laborious night was officially over – with gorgeous floral displays across Manhattan to show for it.
This week’s three installations, executed in collaboration with L.E.A.F. for its new initiative #NYFlowerWeek, are far from an anomaly for Lewis Miller and his staff. In fact, the New York florist has been producing these “Flower Flashes” since 2016, and, in that time, he’s arranged more than 50 creations at bus stops, trash bins and monuments around the city.
The initiative began both as a way of giving back and of challenging himself. “I am in the business of fantasy and flowers, but my services are for a select group of fortunate people,” Miller says. “I wanted to do something incredible and surprising with flowers for the everyday New Yorker.”
The first Flash, in October 2016, was at the “Imagine” mosaic in Central Park’s Strawberry Fields. “We had a ton of leftover flowers from a movie premiere event and we decided to go for it!” the florist recalls. He and his team constructed a halo of carnations, dahlias and mums around the famous mosaic during the early morning hours and were delighted to see how much people loved the installation. “It was a great moment and a sign of more great things to come,” Miller says.
Since then, LMD has done Flower Flashes roughly once a month. Irini Arakas, the florist’s Director of Special Projects, scouts the locations, and once the flowers are assembled from leftover and upcycled stems in the studio, she accompanies Miller, his floral assistant and a driver, who has the important job of driving the getaway van, to the spot for the install.
“We rarely ask for permission when we Flower Flash,” Miller jokes. “It’s much easier to ask for forgiveness.” The team always arrives at the chosen location at least 30 minutes before sunrise and works its magic in the dark. “We don’t like being seen creating out Flower Flashes,” he says. “The element of surprise and wonder is important.” When the flashes are finally complete, the guerilla florists tag the nearby sidewalk with “LMDxNYC” in a chalk spray paint that washes away with the rain.
“Flowers have an undeniable emotional history, linked to corsages for a high school prom or roses on Valentine’s Day,” Miller explains. “Our Flower Flashes are different in that they are unexpected – you find them covering construction sites, filling garbage cans, draped over a bus stop – but the feeling they evoke is the same.”
The florist likes to think of these urban displays as his gift to the city. “Our Flower Flashes are gestures of good will and fantasy … random acts of kindness and beauty for everyday New Yorkers,” he says. “Seeing something unexpected during your morning routine – it’s perhaps a chance to break out of the monotony of work life. Even if it’s fleeting, the beautiful disruption can change one’s perspective in a positive way.”
And while Miller and his team have luckily had no legal troubles with their Flashes, there have been a few disgruntled dog owners. “Our most popular Flower Flashes are in New York City’s iconic litter bins,” the florist, a dog owner himself, explains. “So, it’s really funny to watch dog owners get mad that they have to walk another 10 feet to the trash can across the street. They are totally impervious to the beauty of the flowers … they just want to know why they can’t throw away their poo bags!”
Over the last two and a half years, LMD’s masterpieces have elicited joy not only from those who happen to come upon them in the flesh but also from flower lovers around the world. Thanks to the power of social media and the corresponding “#LMDxNYC” hashtag, people from Brooklyn to Beirut can enjoy the beautiful flashes. The florist has garnered 122,000 followers on Instagram, and posts of his Flower Flashes receive hundreds of comments, where admirers share their praise and appreciation and, sometimes, even their own encounters with the installations.
“Working with them all day, I have become slightly desensitized to the power of flowers,” Miller notes. “So it is a real treat to see people’s reactions when they happen upon a Flower Flash.” LMD also encourages passersby to interact with the creations and even take a flower or two. “It’s an incredible thing is to see someone snap a pic of flowers from a Flash placed lovingly in a favorite vase in someone’s home,” he says. “This means that the flowers have had a first life (event), second life (Flower Flash) and third life in someone’s home.”
This massive and viral success has also enabled LMD to partner and collaborate with many leading brands and organizations. In honor of International Women’s Day, the florist joined forces with Old Navy to Flash all five of the statues of women in New York City, working through a fierce snowstorm on March 7, 2018, for the big reveals the following day. They also worked with Equinox to produce Flower Flashes at the Stonewall Inn and the NYC AIDS Memorial, where, for every photo taken and tagged with “#flowerflash” and “#poweredbypride,” a dollar was donated to the LGBT Center.
“The Flower Flashes have grown in scale, but the core message has always stayed the same,” Miller. says. “They are for the people of New York. Our intent is to make [them] smile. If I can elicit a positive emotional response with flowers from everyday New Yorkers on their way to work, then I have succeeded!”
LMD’s incredible magnum opera can always be tracked on the @lewismillerdesign Instagram, just in case you’re not lucky enough to walk by one on your daily commute, and for all of the L.E.A.F. collaborations, check out the #NYFlowerWeek map. Although the Astor Cube Flash will only be up on Tuesday, those at the Atlas statue at Rock Center and the Botero cat at the Crosby Street Hotel will be on display until late Wednesday evening. And if you really want to take your floral fever to the next level, Miller has partnered with the hotel to offer a Botanical Afternoon Tea, inspired by his favorite summer flowers.
Astor Place Cube, 149-179 E 8th St. – through June 11
Atlas statue, 45 Rockefeller Plaza – through June 12
Crosby Street Hotel cat, 79 Crosby St. – through June 12
Botanical Afternoon Tea – ongoing through Sept. 2; more here
Future Flashes – keep track via LMD’s Instagram