Rose Parade Secrets

A look behind the fantastic floats of the Rose Parade with head petal pusher, Lyn Lofthouse.
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Depending on the number of platforms and on-float arrangements, more than 60,000 roses come together to create large floats in Pasadena's annual Rose Parade. 

Photo by: Image courtesy of the Pasadena Convention & Visitors Bureau

Image courtesy of the Pasadena Convention & Visitors Bureau

Depending on the number of platforms and on-float arrangements, more than 60,000 roses come together to create large floats in Pasadena's annual Rose Parade. 

No matter which teams are going head-to-head on the field, the best part of the Rose Bowl for any garden enthusiast is the Rose Parade. A Pasadena, California institution, the Rose Parade began in 1890 and attracts approximately one million people per year.

The Rose Queen and Grand Marshal are always an attraction—past grand marshals include President Herbert Hoover, Bob Hope, Walt Disney and John Wayne—but the stars of the show are the parade floats filled with thousands of roses. We spoke with Lyn Lofthouse, floral decorator at Phoenix Decorating Company, the biggest float builder in the Rose Parade, to find out where the roses come from and what happens to them after their 15 minutes of fame is up.

Too busy building floats to count how many petals she purchases overall, Lofthouse gets greenery from sources all over the world, but receives the majority of her roses from Ecuador. "They have a good growing season this time of year and the flowers are huge," she says, adding that she doesn't specify varieties. "When I call a supplier and tell them I need 75,000 red roses, I know they're going to pull as much as they can to fill my quantity." 

Color is higher on her list of priorities: "We get roses in every color, from red, pink and yellow to purple and lavender, and different shades within those colors. I might have four different color shades of pink. I don't use the dyed colors, like blue or black. They're interesting, but not very pretty."

Lofthouse says one large float could have as many as 60,000 roses—each in its own rose vial full of water to keep it fresh—with a supporting cast of gorgeous greenery that comes from Holland, New York, the Midwest and up and down the California coastline. "We use Gerberas, carnations, orchids and things you'd see in a garden, like snapdragons, delphiniums and Canterbury bells. We also use pampas grass and buffalo grass, plus dried materials."

Phoenix is a full-service shop that builds floats for companies like Wells Fargo, eHarmony and American Honda. They design, construct, paint, decorate and get the float through the parade, only to bring it back and tear it down. 

"When the floats come back to our building, we disassemble them and have a crew who throws the roses away," Lofthouse says. "We've had companies who've tried to salvage the petals for potpourri, but they're pretty dead by the time they get back here."

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