The First Lady’s Luncheon – A Gathering of Possibility, Purpose and Beauty

Special Guest Blog written by Jill Brooke,

Like silk ribbons tying together floral bouquets, the tradition of the annual First Lady’s Luncheon is a gathering of possibility, purpose and beauty.

Recently held this year at Washington Hilton, and presented by the Congressional Club Museum and Foundation, the 105th Annual First Lady’s Luncheon honoring First Lady Jill Biden was even more special this year because so many were happy to gather together.

After all, the original purpose of the congressional club was to provide a non-partisan social setting for building friendship among the spouses of Members of Congress. In 1912, the Congressional Club held a breakfast to honor First Lady Nellie Taft which then became the First Lady’s Luncheon attended by every First Lady since its inception.

As is also tradition, Certified American Grown, the organization that supports farmers growing American flowers and foliage, once again supported the event with beautiful American grown floral, identifying a team of talented floral designers and volunteers to create incredible table arrangements, flower arches, displays and décor that enhanced the elegance of the event.

Table card next to floral arrangement

Photo credit: @bethcaldwellphoto

Chair Patricia Garamendi, wife of California’s Honorable John Garamendi,  gave lead designer Carrie Wilcox and co-lead designer Kelly Shore a peek at the art work her daughter had painted that was going to be given to First Lady Jill Biden.

“This painting became the inspiration and color scheme of the event,” says the Connecticut-based Wilcox, who participated in years past. “We knew we had to use purples, blue and greens.”

One woman presenting painting to another woman on stage

Patti Garamendi presenting the 2021 FLL inspiration painting to the First Lady
Photo credit: @marionmeakemphotography

Certified American Grown reached out to farm members of the organization from throughout the country to provide over “14,000 stems” for this lunch, including lilies, garden roses, gladiolus, tulips, lush greenery including dusty miller and silver dollar eucalyptus and pillowy antique hydrangeas, among many others.

Among the generous farms who donated their bounty were Florida’s Albin Hagstrom & Son and FernTrust, Virginia’s Bee’s Wing Farm, Harmony Harvest, Lynnvale Studios, Washington/Florida/California’s Continental Floral Greens, California’s Dramm & Echter, Glad-A-Way Gardens, Mellano & Company, Menagerie Farm & Flower, MOBIS, Myriad Flowers, Ocean Breeze Farms, Pyramid Flowers, Resendiz Brothers, Sun Valley Flowers, and Camflor. Additional partner support came from Syndicate Sales, Oasis Floral, DVFlora and Brix & Columns Vineyards.

Guests attending the event were greeted by the aroma of a bounty of flowers and foliage that the talented team of floral designers used to create flower arches and eye-catching arrangements that tickled the fancy of both sense of smell and sight.  The arches were perfect for taking photos and sharing the joy of gathering together again in-person for a wonderful event.

Blooming with baby’s breath, fragrant lilies and gladiolus standing proud, it became catnip for those gathered to take their photographs and Instagram moments, uniting people and providing a gorgeous place for conversation and connections.

The clicks of cameras as families and friends waited in line for their picture perfect moment made Wilcox, who will be the lead chair next year, realize the arch is an inspired idea that should also be a tradition.

The Floral Arch at the First Lady’s Luncheon
Pictured from Left to Right: Kelly Shore, Jill Brooke, Laura Dowling, Carrie Wilcox, Camron King
Photo credit: @bethcaldwellphoto

When the guests later gathered into the main room festooned with gorgeous centerpieces and chairs draped with color-coordinated pashminas, patriotic inspiring performances ensued including the United States Marine Corps band singing “God Bless America,” a tribal dance by Jeanvieve “Strong Heart Woman” Jerome and Lynkon Woodell encouraging a bountiful harvest, and Broadway’s Brian Stokes Mitchell singing “The Impossible Dream.”

Flower and foliage arrangements on tables

Photo credit: @bethcaldwellphoto

Ballroom set for luncheon

Photo credit: @bethcaldwellphoto

It was also notable, as Dr. Jill Biden mentioned in her heartwarming speech, that when the marines escorted all the congressional spouses down the introductory runway, female marines escorted the increasing amount of male spouses while the male marines escorted the female spouses. In fact, Dr. Biden was introduced by the nation’s first Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff.

At the podium overflowing with cascading American foliage and flowers, Dr. Biden, the daughter of a Navy Signal man, also discussed the importance of accepting vulnerability while overcoming obstacles, citing the death of her son Major Beau Biden from cancer. The luncheon benefited cancer research through the Prevent Cancer Foundation and as she said, everyone is touched by illness in some way and must find ways for compassion and comfort. Additional benefactors from the Luncheon include the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program and Feeding America.

FLOTUS speaking at head table cascading with flowers and foliage

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden speaking from the podium at the 2021 First Lady’s Luncheon
Photo credit: @marionmeakemphotography

Of course, flowers, are always a source of comfort when it’s hard to find the words. Furthermore, more than ever, flowers are a major crop for U.S. growers and as studies now reveal, more young people are seeking careers in sustainability and flower growing.

As Kelly Shore, noted, “as a designer who advocates on behalf of these American growers each and every day, I find it vitally important to dedicate this week annually to bringing our farmers’ beautiful product to our nation’s Capital to grace the tables of a wide audience that has the power to help create positive change.”

In fact, Shore and others are hoping that these efforts to raise awareness of diversity and abundance of American grown flowers and foliage will “one day see our farms’ botanicals decorate the desks, halls and tables of the White House and other federal buildings and grounds.” Certified American Grown is supporting the introduction in both the House and Senate of the American Grown Act requiring the display of American grown cut flowers and foliage in the White House, State Department and Department of Defense.

And at flowerpowerdaily, the hope is American grown cut flowers and foliage will be proudly used as well for weddings, birthday parties and any life event where flowers are, as always, a universal kiss to remind us that beauty and solace exist.

Incredible volunteers on the design team for the event included Deborah Trout-Kolb from “Tulips Floral Design Studio,” Hermon Black from “HB Fiori,” Lisa Ann Sharpen, Quan Gorbachevski from “Civil Centerpiece,” Sara Araujo, Tina Ahlberg from “Carrie Wilcox Floral Design,” Felicia Alvarez from “Menagerie Farm & Flower,” and Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (Georgia) students Madeline McDonald and Kira Buchner.

Group of floral designers posing with flowers

The First Lady’s Luncheon American Grown Volunteer Design Team
Photo Credit: @bethcaldwellphoto

The 2021 First Lady’s Luncheon was again a collaboration of so many people. Certified American Grown is honored to have played a role in bringing beauty and enhancement to the event, bring talented and creative designers together, and to be a part of a very special event that is a testament to having flowers and foliage as a part of joyfully bringing people together!

Ladies posing with gift bags and flower

2021 FLL guests leaving with floral arrangement and gift bags
Photo credit: @bethcaldwellphoto

To view our album of the design process and the luncheon, click HERE.



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