Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Flower Finds: A burst of color at the Broad Street Market.

Rather poetically, in November of last year, the west end of the Broad Street Market suddenly looked as if summer had shown up half-a-year early.

Credit goes to D. McGee Design Studio, the embodiment of Dolores McGee’s lifelong love of plants. Her stand is now the first thing market-goers see as they enter the courtyard end of the brick building at the market.

“It’s surprising the number of people who come through the doors and say, ‘Wow! Look at all this color! What are these?’” McGee said.

With an arresting display of buckets brimming with vibrantly colored blossoms and greenery, the stand is hard to miss (or resist). As we talk, she shares a colorful and particularly formative experience she had as a child.

“I was lying on the ground in my grandmother’s garden, gazing up through the flower heads waving atop their long green stems,” she said.

The beds, she said, were exploding with irises in blue-violet, dazzling yellow and peach, juxtaposed with white dahlias and zinnias.

In addition to her grandmother, McGee credits former market flower vendor, Margaret Kocevar, and a few other people along the way, for nurturing her love of horticulture.

“My grandmother was really the key to my interest, and I ignored it for decades,” McGee said, laughing. “I think you tend to do that—especially my generation. You tend to not look at the things that make you happy. You look at the things that will make you money, without realizing they don’t necessarily make you happy.”

Following the more traditional track, McGee pursued an HR career that spanned 25 years.

“I mean, how far removed is that?” she said.

But, during this time, she took dozens of horticulture classes—from botany to biology, plant ID, soil development, landscape design and sustainability, to name just a few.

“Had I been smart about it and taken them all from one institution, I’d have another degree,” she said. “But I still had fun.”

Gradually, McGee began sharing her knowledge and love of plants with the world, eventually branching out to events, workshops, weddings, a range of custom floral design. Through this, she slowly built a client book via mostly word-of-mouth referrals.

Along the way, she took classes at Longwood Gardens and attended conventions and seminars to bolster her knowledge of the mechanical elements of elaborate floral design—think 10-foot arches composed of greens bedecked with dangling tendrils of aromatic blooms and exotic varieties of orchids. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can spot a custom-ordered, miniature version of this sort of thing sitting at McGee’s stand, waiting for a lucky customer to pick it up.

As her knowledge base grew, so too did her creativity. In the early days, McGee admits it took some time to hit her stride and really develop a signature style.

“I tried to mimic the FTD thing, and that didn’t really work for me,” she said. “But then I started doing what I wanted, and people really loved it. Then my imagination just sort of went wild.”

Since opening, her biggest challenge is one common to many fledgling businesses— figuring out what and how much to stock.

“It’s one thing to do events,” she explained. “You know exactly how many flowers it takes to do x-number of bouquets, centerpieces, etc. But figuring out what people who come to the market will buy? Sometimes what I think will sell just sits there—like red roses!”

She quickly gestured towards a bucket where a few unlucky blooms still lingered, days after Valentine’s. So far, she’s discovered, it’s the more exotic, unusual, varieties that seem to most consistently strike the fancy of market-goers.

For awhile, development and logistics surrounding set-up and the opening of the stand took the majority of McGee’s focus, but she is gradually getting back into doing workshops and events, which present a great potential for the creativity that she loves.

In addition to all this, each year, she conducts a number of educational presentations for horticulture groups throughout the area. Sustainability—specifically around diminishing the effects of storm-water runoff, preventing soil erosion and combating non-permeable surfaces—is her sweet spot.

“That’s my thing,” she said, grinning. “I am very committed to this effort.”

So, amid the splendor, what are her favorite flowers?

“Tropicals,” she said, without missing a beat. “I love tropicals. They are so wonderful to work with.”

People tend to assume, she explained, that orchids and other tropical varieties are extremely delicate.

“But they aren’t really, especially if processed and handled properly,” she said. “And many of them will dry well—maybe not to their livehttp://www.dmcgeedesignstudio.com. form—but to something that is usable and just as lovely as when they were alive.”

McGee Design Studio is located in the brick building of the Broad Street Market, 1233 N. 3rd Street, Harrisburg. For more information, call 717-756-0503 or visit www.dmcgeedesignstudio.com. 

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