05.04.23 Plant People

Georgia Hilmer: Growing up in New York City, what were your formative encounters with nature like? Do you have early plant memories that have shaped your sensibility?

Liza Lubell: My mom always had plants in the house and often had her hands dirty. Plants, dirt, and flowers were all very familiar in our city home. I spent a lot of time in Central Park and Riverside Park growing up and was enchanted with the seasonality of New York. My mom always motivated me and my brothers to get outside. I recall experiencing the thrill of early spring from a young age. I think all the concrete helped me appreciate nature: without an excess of it, each moment amongst plants felt precious, special, and cherished.

So much of your job is educating clients about the less visible but highly consequential aspects of floral and event work. A lot of wasteful industry conventions are built to maximize expediency and cost-saving. I’d imagine it would be difficult or scary at first to speak frankly about the added expense and effort being environmentally conscious requires. Was that your experience? How have you built the confidence to live your principles?

Our society tries to downplay and hide what labor costs. I’ve tried to do the opposite by highlighting what labor costs and paying people a living wage. I can’t say it’s felt scary to talk about. A lot of my confidence has come from educating myself and really digging into my own values. I suppose it also comes from a deeper knowledge that the shift I’m pushing towards with floral and event sustainability and labor cost awareness is needed. The reason I named the company Garbage Goddess was to put the word “garbage,” the thing we’re all trying to hide from in every literal and figurative sense, smack in everyone’s face. If we look right at it, we can’t ignore it. I’m still figuring it out and tweaking things internally, but I have real trust that the work we’re doing is critically important. I believe we can really make a substantial change to this industry during a time when it’s truly irresponsible to ignore the climate crisis we’re in.

How do you think about balance – aesthetically and emotionally – in your work?

There are many times that I have to push past any kind of balance and work exhausted, over-caffeinated, and without being able to see the people I love outside my job for big chunks of time. But I can do that because I know my life and work overall exist in balance. If there are a few months that are bananas, there will be another few months at another point in the year where I will have space. I am passionate about my businesses, but I’m not a workaholic and I don't glamorize that way of existing. That’s not the norm for New York City, but I think a lot of my life has been about questioning norms. Having time to live, whether that’s taking a walk, going on a trip, having a dinner party, whatever, that’s what being here in a body is all about. I actually don't think I would be able to do a job that didn't allow real balance: time to just be, time to play, rest, and sit.

How do you think about the boundaries between “natural” and “artificial” in your work?

A big part of my floral design work, especially with events, is to connect people back to plant matter, back to the actual earth. Beautiful flowers and their colors, scents, and shapes draw your attention. That attention is an opportunity. Within that opportunity there is the possibility to connect and to care — that is where shifts happen. Yes, we are often making magical dreamworlds that aren’t found in nature and bringing flowers inside. But isn’t that why we have house plants and cut flowers in the home — to bridge the divide between natural and artificial? To remember, in a way.

Do you live with plants? Do you bring work home with you?

I definitely live with plants and I like to bring flowers home with me from time to time. I rarely have layered arrangements at home like the ones I make for work. Instead, I like to have a big bunch of one thing; tulips, daffodils, and lilacs en masse are some of my favorites.

What are some rituals you have around plants?

Watering my plants is a bit of a ritual. Taking the time to check in on them, tend to each one, see what they’re needing. Nothing too complicated but a bit of a meditation.

What are some cycles that define your job?

My work is largely dictated by the seasons. April through November is busier and December through March is slower. I’ve always enjoyed this flow. Winter is for hibernating, recharging, traveling for respite, and summer is for running around and doing everything.

You host an annual retreat called Puravida Peartree, designed to help people tap into their creativity through play with flowers and food. How has visiting Nosara, Costa Rica year after year shaped your relationship to nature? What insights do you bring back from those trips?

Nosara is my soul medicine. Being steeped in the power of the jungle and the vastness of the ocean day after day is like a cellular reboot for me. That place brings me back to simplicity, to understanding what “enough” is, to a profound desire to take care of our home, to our interconnectedness. Nosara has become my somatic home base; I haven’t yet found another place where I somatically understand what feeling embodied is. I am so grateful to be a guest on that land and I try to put the teachings and care I receive towards some kind of good. It may sound simple, but being able to be barefoot and touch actual earth day after day for an extended period of time seriously connects me to the truth that we are nature and that nature isn’t something outside of us.

What are the different flowers speaking to you especially lately? And the perennial classics?

The perennial classics for me are hellebores, tulips, fritillaria, daffodils, and all the blooming branches. March through May is really an exciting time on 28th Street, where the flower market is. Everyone has had some rest, is energized, is excited about winter ending, and is getting back into the work groove. The weather is a bit unpredictable — it might snow, it might rain, it might be 70 and sunny — and summer is still something to look forward to. I love this bursting and anticipatory time.