Flower power | VailDaily.com

Flower power

Cassie Pence

Preston Utley/Vail DailyA Secret Garden buys fresh flowers from all over the country. These dahlias are from local grower Paul Spark of Palisade.

VAIL – What’s Susan Rapson’s secret to happiness? Love your job.Rapson owns A Secret Garden, a floral and gift shop in Vail Village. She celebrated 10 years of business Sept. 1, and her enthusiasm for floral design hasn’t wavered a bit in the decade. When talking about changing trends or her customers, Rapson’s eyes sparkle, and her smile spreads wider across her face. Her expressions are more like those of someone fresh out of the starting gates. She loves her job and everyone who shops the store can feel it.”I am so blessed,” Rapson said. “I’ve only had two jobs my whole life.”Rapson, whose maiden name fittingly is Gardner, moved to Vail in 1973 and became a fourth-grade teacher. She had always helped her mother in the garden and began designing flower boxes around town for extra money. After working 20 years as a teacher, Rapson said she was ready for a change.

“I always thought it was such a glamorous job to own a flower store,” Rapson said.And that’s exactly what she would tell the previous owner of A Secret Garden, which was then named Blossoms and Bric-A-Brac, every time she shopped at the store. “I would tell him, ‘If you ever want to sell this place …,'” Rapson said.One day the owner called up Rapson and told her to bring over her checkbook. He was ready to make a deal. So they negotiated a price and Rapson bought the business in 1995. Changing the name was easy, Rapson said. “The Secret Garden” was the book she would read to her fourth-graders. She and a friend thought up the shop’s slogan while on a road trip: “Fresh flowers and gifts for lovers of the garden.”From where to order to how to build a bouquet, Rapson had to learn the business from scratch. She hired floral designers and learned by watching them. She read trade magazines to keep up on trends and while on vacation, she would visit other flower shops. Rapson decided from the beginning that service would be her niche.

“I pride myself on great service,” Rapson said. “When I hire people they need to understand that the people we help are most important.”Fresh flowers make up 65 percent of Rapson’s business, and the other half is gift and accessories. Rapson creates flowers for a lot of weddings and said she loves working with brides. If they do 60 weddings, Rapson said, every one is different.”Floral design has evolved,” Rapson said. “We’re not doing roundy, moundy bouquets anymore. We’re seeing lots of hot colors, like pink, orange and red. Wedding bouquets will have berries. More brides want trailing bouquets, cascading style, which is kind of old fashion.”Rapson recently designed a very contemporary wedding center piece that featured several white phalaenopsis orchid blooms stacked in a 36-inch cylinder vase. She then artfully wrapped aluminum wire between the blooms. Each centerpiece cost $900.”One of the best things about this job is handing a bride her bouquet, and she breaks into tears because she’s so happy,” said Dana Lupiloff, who’s worked for Rapson for five and half years.

“It’s a very happy business,” added Erika Ferrapy who started at A Secret Garden six months ago.In addition to weddings, Rapson designs flowers for private homes, parties and events. She has a client in Beaver Creek that orders 600 roses every three days to fill her home when she’s in town. Rapson also creates custom silk flower displays for a lot of second homeowners.”Silk materials are so realistic now, it’s a good choice,” Rapson said.A Secret Garden’s interior is filled with gifts and greenery. Curry willow intertwined with green sparkly netting hangs from the ceiling. Stone birds fly on shelves, and decorative bulbs covered in beads and feathers hide in corners waiting to be discovered. Fruit trees brighten tables and self-absorbed party hats inspired by Victorian-style candy containers add a sense of fairy tale to the shop. Browsing through the store, it’s easy to feel like Mary Lennox, the little girl from the book “The Secret Garden.” In the tale, the locked-up garden captures Mary’s imagination and brings her happiness. After 10 years, Rapson understands perfectly what A Secret Garden can do for the spirit.

“I don’t know how people live without flowers,” Rapson said.===========A Secret Garden100 E. Meadow Dr.476-2241

http://www.secretgardenvail.com===========Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 618, or cpence@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado