Skip Navigation

Flower.Style35: PBS Host of Life in Bloom, and Luminary Floral Presence, J Schwanke Reminds Us That It’s Always All About the Flowers

From flower guru and award-winning author to national TV show host and producer—you name it, J Schwanke has accomplished it. A fourth-generation florist with over two decades worth of design and consulting experience, J has become a living legend, known in the industry for his knowledge and love of all things flowers. His commitment to education and entertainment has led to the rise of such businesses as J Schwanke's Life in Bloom and Fun with Flowers and J on uBloom.com. The TV show and online video series, respectively, offer a place for flower fans across the globe to convene and experience the fun of flower arranging, 24/7.

1. What is your idea of the perfect flower arrangement? Beautiful flowers arranged casually. The flowers should be the focus and not so much the design.

2. How did you get started in the floral industry? I was practically born at a flower convention—my parents are third generation florists. So, I landed dead center in the middle of the flower industry. You could say I was born for flowers!

3. If not a florist, what would be your fallback profession? I don't know if this is a fallback, since I don't see myself leaving the flower industry, but I’ve always been fascinated with zoo keeping. I love animals of all kinds and watch all the animal shows on TV.

4. What's your present state of mind? Thankful and filled with gratitude.

5. What is your most treasured possession? I have my grandfather's (aka Carnation Joe Green) flower knife and his "lily pollen picker," which he invented and hand crafted. These two items are in a dead-heat tie.

6. Where do you find inspiration outside the flower world? Music, art, old television shows, magazines, antiques, travel...it's an endless list.

7. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I would weigh 20 pounds less, and still be able to eat everything I love. It would be wonderful!

8. What do you consider your greatest achievement? Creating, developing and producing a national television show about cut flowers (which has been on the air every week since April 2019, for over 100+ continuous weeks and counting!).

9. What's one thing you would tell your younger self? I'm verbose. If I had that chance, I couldn’t say just one thing, but I've narrowed it down to four points: 1. When you find "something" special, embrace it immediately because things change every day, and that "thing" may not be around forever. 2. Look in the mirror every day and say "I love you" to the person you see. 3. Everyone has an angle. 4. Friends are not acquaintances—and vice versa. However, my younger self wouldn't understand any of this because I am young and haven't had experience, so it would be like talking to a duck!

10. What event or job has been your favorite? It was wonderful creating the Selection Guides for John Henry; however, creating my own national TV show is incredible.

11. What is your most marked characteristic? People always tell me "You're so nice." I think they’re trained to think something different—and I am a nice guy.

12. Who are your heroes in real life? Julia Child, Fred Rogers, Pat Doyle, Bob Ross—people that are trailblazers for kindness, creativity and love.

13. Who is your floral hero? Haskell Eargle. At age 14, he taught me how to make a beautiful casket spray at a NeMoKan convention. I also worked with him several times behind the camera, so he taught me how to photograph flower arrangements. Ever since then, he inspires me to make "pretty" flowers. It's an art to make it "pretty" and not mess it up in the process.

14. What is your favorite color? Overall, I would say green (although I don't look good in green, so I don't wear the color). As Leatrice Eiseman says, "your favorite colors change with your mood," so mine is ever-changing.

15. What is your favorite flower? Hard question. I love fragrant flowers, so my top three are rust-colored Freesias, stemmed Gardenias and fragrant Viburnum.

16. What would you call your style of design? "Pretty flowers based in color." Again, I'm an amalgam, so there's a bit of nearly every designer/mentor I've had in my design style. A dash of Haskell Eargle, Joe Smith, Phil Rulloda, Matt Wood, Barbara Hann, Judith Blacklock and Paula Pryke, to name a few.

17. What is your favorite tool for working with flowers? The color wheel. Leatrice Eiseman has taught me so much about color, and it's oftentimes the first element I consider. I've also been awfully fond of my Dramm compact pruner as of late. It conveniently comes in six different colors (I have all of them), so I work with the one that matches the arrangement I'm designing at that moment.

18. Who's on your playlist? Pianist Martin Denny (known as the "Father of Exotica"), Brazilian organist Walter Wanderlay (known for his bossa nova and lounge music), Bebel Gilberto, Nancy Wilson and The Carpenters. I like it eclectic. 

19. What's on your to-do list? Seasons four and five of J Schwanke's Life in Bloom. I'm on a roll!

20. What flower best represents your personality? Why? The carnation. It's dependable, comfortable and nice. It also comes in a wide variety of colors and stands up well under duress.

21. Who is your favorite artist? Mary Blair—American artist, animator and designer. And Mary Chalmers Brown, most famous for creating the Franciscan dinnerware pattern, "Starburst," among others.

22. What's the last book you read (and loved)? Recently, I gave a series of emotional intelligence seminars for Bank of America. While doing some additional research for the presentation, I discovered the book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, by Mason Currey. It was fascinating.

23. Any pets? Yes, Eleanor and Ladybird, the first ladies of uBloom. They are black and tan Cocker Spaniels, 12 and 8 years old, respectively.

24. Are you prone to routine or more spontaneous? I would say routine. For whatever reason, when I find something that I love, I will do it without fail until I can't anymore. I do like to find new things to love, so that sometimes occurs with spontaneity. But, if I find it and love it, it usually becomes routine.

25. How do you unwind after a long day? At the end of the day, Kel and I enjoy "Flower Cocktail Hour." We invented it, and it goes something like this: I make a "pretty" flower arrangement, we sit on the deck (weather permitting) or inside our home with the dogs, have snacks and cocktails, and discuss the day's events. We do this every day, even when we travel (sans the dogs). Flower Cocktail Hour serves us well to relax, unwind and recharge.

26. Favorite beverage? Dewar's Scotch, White Label.

27. What do you see trending in floral design? We must have flowers—finally! After what seems like a decade of waiting (due to the pandemic), people are realizing that flowers help lower stress, reduce depression, give a sense of accomplishment and make us happier overall. So, they are incorporating more flowers in their everyday lives.

28. What's out? 1. Tortured flowers (those that are wired, skewered, hung or overly manipulated). 2. Flower arrangements that are carelessly created. It’s important to educate yourself on some of the basics and only share information that is proven to yield good results. There are, unfortunately, many "professionals" giving bad advice.

29. What's your flower motto? "Make it pretty—please!"

30. What's your motto in life? "It's always all about the flowers!"

31. How would your friends describe you? I asked and the answers were: I'm kind and patient, a good listener and I don't judge.

32. What would surprise us most about you? I arrange flowers every day, without fail. I'm also a really good cook.

33. If you could invite three people to a dinner party, who would they be? Describe the centerpieces. I'd choose those I miss the most: my grandfather (Carnation Joe Green), my other "mom," Dorothy Swanson, and my wonderful friend, Pat Doyle. The centerpieces would include red carnations, stemmed Gardenias, green Zinnias, a few brightly colored Dahlias, tree peonies and Hosta leaves from the garden. Everyone would take a centerpiece home, and I'd set mine on my nightstand so I could wake up to the fragrance. 

34. What's your best advice to someone just starting out in the flower industry? Our job is to turn people's feelings into flowers. If we do our job right, we will be successful. Remember, it's always all about the flowers!

35. What did we forget to ask? What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow? (Fans of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" will understand.)

 

To stay connected with J and view more of his work, click on the links below.

J Schwanke Instagram | J Schwanke YouTube | J Schwanke's Life in Bloom | uBloom Website | uBloom Facebook

J Schwanke's Life in Bloom is presented and distributed by American Public Television. Check local public television listings to find out when J Schwanke's Life in Bloom airs in your area. The show is also available to stream for free via www.uBloom.com/LifeInBloom and the PBS App.