How Lewis Miller’s First Flower Flash Shocked the Streets of New York

It was a blooming success.

October 12, 2021
Known for bedecking the streets of Manhattan in enormous bouquets of colorful flowers, event and floral designer Lewis Miller reveals the backstory behind these memorable creations in his very first book Flower Flash (Monacelli). In the chapter we’ve excerpted below, Miller recounts the first Flower Flash that he put together in Central Park, describing how he woke up at the break of dawn while the city slept to construct the bold arrangement, and later observed as people oohed-and-ahhed over his work of art. As his book illustrates, Miller didn’t stop there. This piece was merely a starting point for what was to follow: dozens of spectacular showings to celebrate special days or when he thought his fellow New Yorkers could use a bit of floral support.
Flower Flash, $55. monacellipress.com.

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Gifting flowers to the people of New York City. It’s an idea that had been knocking around in my brain for a while. I love my job as a floral designer. My team and I create many lavish and memorable events for wonderful clients that not only stay with them and their guests for a lifetime, but also leave a lasting impression on us. To put it simply, I am in the business of fantasy and flowers, transforming key moments in my clients’ lives into magical, everlasting memories. But over the years, I began to feel unsettled. The reality was that no matter how exquisite the flowers I brought to these celebrations were, they were destined to be enjoyed by only a lucky few.
Miller’s very first Flower Flash was at John Lennon’s memorial just outside of the Strawberry Fields in Central Park on October 20, 2016.Irini Arakas Greenbaum
I felt a strong urge to do something for all my fellow New Yorkers, in a meaningful way that was true to who I am and what I do. It was during this period, in fall 2016, that Irini Arakas Greenbaum, my director of special projects, asked me what needed to change in order for me to feel fulfilled professionally. We discussed whether contentment can lead to complacency. In my case, yes! Work was busy, my team was amazing, clients were happy. But something was missing and I knew the answer lived somewhere in the idea of making a gesture of goodwill. I thought back to an experience I’d had walking home from work. I was leaving my studio and heading to the subway with an armful of peonies.
The flowers were on their last glorious legs, big and fluffy with blown-out petals. I noticed people staring, and they weren’t staring at me! They were looking at the blossoms, and I could see the sheer hunger in their eyes; these men and women were starved for beauty. Flowers had become like wallpaper or furniture to me. Working with them every day, I became desensitized to their allure and attraction.
A Flower Flash at the Isidor and Ida Straus Memorial Straus Park on the Upper West Side, November 5, 2018.Arakas Greenbaum
But standing on a crowded subway with these showstopping peonies, watching heads crane and turn just to catch a glimpse of these blooms . . . Recalling this, something inside me clicked. How better to counter my professional norm of throwing extravagant parties for my fortunate clients than by giving something just as gorgeous to the everyday New Yorker?
The Flower Flash was born.
The team participating in Pride Upper West Side on June 21, 2018.Arakas Greenbaum
Quickly and quietly working in the dark, my team and I created a psychedelic halo of flowers. I was nervous. Can you get arrested for beautifying a public space? By the time the flower installation was complete, dawn had begun to take shape and two curious park workers appeared. I held my breath and wondered if my Flowers for New Yorkers project would live and die in under half an hour, its only audience a squirrel and an early morning jogger. But that was not the case. Outfitted with a leaf blower and a broom, the Central Park staff began to lovingly sweep away the autumn leaves falling around our flowers and gave us their approval with a quick thumbs up.
Out of 150 historical public statues in New York City, only five depict real women. So when Old Navy approached Miller to Flower Flash these trailblazing women (and the Fearless Girl) on the eve of International Women’s Day, they could hardly say no. It was a true feat to conceptualize and execute these Flower Flashes in one night. Each statue presented challenges and, funnily enough, another important woman decided to make her presence known. The morning of this initiative, Mother Nature blanketed the city in several inches of snow, making for a very interesting install. Seen above, the Eleanor Roosevelt Memorial on 72nd and West End Avenue on March 8, 2018.Arakas Greenbaum
As we were packing up our supplies and leaving the park, I was amazed at how quickly a crowd formed. I had hoped for smiles, the kind that flash across a face when witnessing a moment of kindness. That was my goal, my vision: to create a positive, emotional response through flowers. And through social media, we saw the fruits of our labor and were instantly rewarded. We watched in real time as our idea was translated into hundreds of smiling selfies and photographs documenting the flowers throughout the course of the day. It was one of the most rewarding and gratifying “events” I had ever produced.
Unlike with my day job, there were no clients to please and no expectations to exceed, other than those I placed on myself. And unlike producing events, where the process can be lengthy and at times arduous, this random act of flowers was fast, freeing, and provided an intense dopamine rush. And perhaps the biggest difference was that it was made for all to enjoy, not just a select few. The final result was deliciously imperfect and served no other purpose than to bring a brief moment of joy to someone’s day.
A Flower Flash from Valentine’s Day 2017 on 53rd street and 7th Avenue.Arakas Greenbaum