An eye for color
She’s led a colorful life already at her young age, but it pales in comparison with the vibrant hues Mary Pat Swartsley is now arranging into fantastic creations at Fancy Plants in Vail.The room Swartsley works in is filled with delicate blossoms, bold sweeps of color and cerebral arrangements rather than the sirens or constant chatter of children she used to know. But as the new owner of the Fancy Plants flower shop in Crossroads Mall, which first opened in 1981, Swartsley is enjoying her new, serene environment even though most days are anything but peaceful. Although a preternatural calm and tranquility does pervade Fancy Plants, be assured that Swartsley and her colleagues are engaged in a never-ending swirl of activity to make sure clients have the most heavenly arrangementson this corner of earth.In fact, Swartsley says she has had virtually no time to even sit down since she took over the shop a couple of weeks ago; she has been so inundated with requests.During that time she has been immersed in floral arrangements for weddings and graduations, dinner parties and grand soirees for the Bravo! Colorado Music Festival as well as their more intimate, in-home musical evenings and bouquets to cheer hospital visits. And, that’s all in addition to the daily, over-the-counter sales.The past experiences that eventually led Swartsley to Fancy Plants are as varied and rich as a bountiful English garden. Prior to moving to Vail, Swartsley taught special education, as well as in secondary schools in the Denver school system for seven years, before trading in her books for firefighting gear.For eight years Swartsley then served as a paramedic with a fire department in Colorado Springs. She had previously been certified in Emergency Medical Training (EMT) while serving on ski patrol in Summit County, when she worked with its search and rescue unit."About 80 to 85 percent of calls to fire departments are medical emergencies," Swartsley explains. "Running into blazing buildings was a new skill I acquired."However, a back injury that has never fully healed sidelined her after a fire hose, which came loose from a fire truck, smacked her during a training exercise.For six months, Swartsley headed a Health I training class at Swedish Medical Center in Denver, until nostalgia overwhelmed her as she listened to the enthusiastic stories told by her students about their medical emergency experiences. She decided it was time for a change."I was looking for something when I saw the ad for Fancy Plants," Swartsley explains. The shop was up for sale. "I had been wanting to get back to the mountains. Here I am."Although Swartsley is new to Vail, she is familiar with the mountains of Colorado. Originally from Oregon, she first moved to Summit County to "be a ski bum" and then ended up joining the ski patrol at Copper Mountain and A-Basin before moving to Denver to utilize her teaching degree."I just forgot to go home," she says, half-joking and half-serious.You might ponder how a background in firefighting or teaching would translate into flower arrangements. But Swartsley assures there is a commonality in creativitybetween the professions."As a firefighter and paramedic, and as a teacher, I got to be creative but it was more problem-solving," Swartsley says. "Now, I get to be creative with colors. No two arrangements are the same."Besides, what better preparation could a flower arranger have to deal with a vast array of floral demands from clientele than catering to the diverse needs of a room full of children? And who better to bring a calm assuredness to any floral emergency than someone who has already run into burning buildings and saved people from the brink of death?But perhaps Swartsley’s greatest qualification for her new career is simply her love of flowers."I love to garden, and my home is always filled with house plants," Swartsley says. "I have always loved flowers."She is also intimately familiar with the world of retailing in fact, you might say she was born and raised to it. Her father, a pharmacist, ran a pharmacy with a large gift section while she was growing up.Purchasing an already established business has its definite pluses. Swartsley has inherited several house accounts, such as regular orders for floral arrangements from local banks and businesses, maintaining the flowers for Crossroads condo owners and providing some of the most prestigious resorts in Vail including the Sonnenalp Resort and Manor Vail with flowers. She and her team of one full-time employee and a part-time delivery person are responsible for maintaining all the planters in Crossroads Mall and along East Meadow Drive. Fancy Plants also delivers floral arrangements from Vail to Cordillera. The shop is the only wire service in Vail Village capable of wiring floral orders to other locales, and it is the only FTD florist in the valley."I am definitely slipping into a very nice situation," she admits.But Swartsley is sure to infuse the business and her arrangements with her own artistic style. Come this fall, Fancy Plants will sport not only a new coat of paint, but a new look as well, designed to encourage more walk-in business. Swartsley plans to expand the gift section of Fancy Plants, with an appealing, unusual selection, so customers can not only take home a delectable bouquet but the perfect gift as well. In addition, the flower shop will offer new hours, remaining open on Sundays, as well as Monday through Saturday, during the winter season a first for Fancy Plants.Swartsley not only strives to provide the loveliest, most desirable floral arrangements for any occasion, one of her fondest desires is to get to know her new neighbors in town. She urges people to drop in and say "hi" and introduce themselves. After all, shouldn’t there always be time to stop and smell the roses?To order flower arrangements, you can contact Fancy Plants at (970) 476-4493, or fax the shop at (970) 476-7482. And, if you mention you saw this article, Swartsley will include a 10 percent discount on your next floral order.
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