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Best Florist 

Greg Swenson

If you've attended an opening at the Elliot Smith gallery, dined at Remy's or Big Sky or wandered through one of the hipper establishments in downtown's loft-district oasis of chic, you've seen Greg Swenson's work. Swenson grew up in Champaign-Urbana and studied illustration in Chicago before moving back, broke, to central Illinois. A few days before Mother's Day, out of a job and in need of money, he stopped in at a mom-and-pop florist and offered to sweep the floors. "The guy liked what he saw and decided he could utilize my art background," Swenson says. "I learned the old-school way of doing things, saw a lot of the old styles from the '40s, the '50s." That was nineteen years ago. For the past half-decade, Swenson, who moved here in the early '90s, has toiled at Ladue Florist. While his colleagues continue in the old-school vein, Swenson's style has veered toward the cutting edge. To those accustomed to traditional floral arrangements, his work will come as a revelation. His creations are sculptural in nature, often involving branches he lashes together to form a three-dimensional armature in which he arranges flowers and greenery. The result is always unique, the effect stunning. "It's mostly letting the flowers tell you what you're doing," Swenson explains, plying his craft with the most basic of tools -- a folding knife, a pair of scissors, a pruner, his bare hands. "Not twelve roses sitting in a vase that you're expecting to see. Inspiration comes from driving down the road and seeing a vine climbing up a fence and thinking: How can I show that to somebody? You're going to notice the colors, the shapes, how they're massed together." He also likes to get a sense for the recipient's personality, so be prepared to open up if you call with an order. It only makes sense: Your relationship with your florist is a pretty personal deal. "You get to know a lot of things about your clients," Swenson confirms. "You hear about all their triumphs, and when they fight. The bad stuff too -- who's double-timing on their wife. When somebody dies, you help them through that too."

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