Local florists came together to decorate the entrance to the Rotary Trail in Birmingham, Alabama.
Birmingham Magic City Arch Covered in Flowers
Credit: Courtesy Melany B. Robinson

On a Friday morning in early June, not long after a wave of protests against racial injustice had swept the country, I saw a post on social media that made me smile. A group of more than 30 florists from my hometown of Birmingham had come together to decorate the entrance to the Rotary Trail, a beautifully landscaped walking and biking path in the heart of the city. They had covered the 46-foot-tall iron scaffolding with thousands of blooms as a symbol of unity and solidarity with the Black community, in remembrance of victims of racism, and as a way to share something that was positive when the whole country was grieving. “I am just a florist, but I wanted todo something,” says Carolyn Chen, owner of Wild Things Flowers & Curiosities, who spearheaded the project. “It felt like the city really needed a big hug.”

So she reached out to Mary Cox Brown of Marigold Designs to form a plan, and when the two started contacting others in their industry, most people didn’t hesitate to help, even though their businesses had recently been hurt badly by wedding and event cancellations as a result of COVID-19. Pretty soon, there was a sense of purpose and excitement that rippled through the florist community. Three different wholesalers brought van loads of greenery, a local event company donated a scissor lift, and individual florists began sharing their plans in a long string of text messages and emails. “When I woke up that Friday, it felt like Christmas morning,” says Marie Lusain-Daniels, who has a full-service flower shop called Petal Pushers. “I was happy to do something to lift people’s spirits.” She told me she contributed amaranth and two varieties of protea, an exotic-looking bloom with pink, spiky petals that is said to be a symbol of diversity and courage.

Magic City Rotary Trail Sign Being Covered in Flowers
Credit: Katie Rousso

As word spread in Birmingham and beyond, people came from allover to see the breathtaking display, add some flowers of their own, and take pictures. It was a reverent crowd, and many of those who gathered had meaningful conversations, even as they wore masks and tried to maintain their social distance. I was out of town the day the project was finished and didn’t get to visit until Sunday evening, when some of the flowers had started to fade, but it didn’t diminish the impact. As the sun went down, a woman was photographing a beaming couple who had recently gotten engaged, an artist was painting a watercolor, and two teenage girls were contributing their own blooms to the mix. After weeks of anguish, heartbreak, and violence, it felt hopeful.

One thing I noticed was a gap in the arch of flowers, as if it hadn’t been completed, and I wondered if they had run out. When I asked Chen about this later, she told me it was intentional and that the florists believed it was an appropriate symbol of the work that still needs to be done. I thought that sounded about right.