Local Florists Help To Decorate White House

George Griffith (left) and Tom O'Brien, co-owners of the Flower Barn in Westmont, will be featured today on the Home and Garden Television network for their work in helping to decorate the Whte House for Christmas.

Viewers tuning in “White House Christmas 2006” today on Home and Garden Television might catch a glimpse of The Flower Barn’s co-owner, George Griffith.

They also will see some of Griffith’s artistic creations in the president’s home.

Griffith, 70, spent a week in Washington with about 30 other volunteers, decorating the White House for this year’s holiday season.

“The theme is ‘Deck the Halls and Welcome All,’ ” Griffith said at The Flower Barn on Millcreek Road in Westmont.

“It’s a great, great privilege to do it. No matter how many times you are there, everybody is just in awe of the space.”

Griffith would know: He and his business partner, Tom O’Brien, 72, have been volunteering with White House decorations since 1981.

That’s when first lady Nancy Reagan wanted a water lily display for a state dinner.

“Water lilies close at night,” said Griffith, who is not related to the author of this story.

“What our work involved was to cut and treat them to retain their openness at night.”

The method developed by horticulturists Griffith and O’Brien required hypodermic needles to inject solutions into the plants. Getting those needles into the White House was challenging during Reagan’s War on Drugs, he recalled.

After a full day arranging the display, the men were back at their hotel and were surprised by a message from the White House: They had been invited to breakfast at the vice president’s residence.

“That’s how we got to know Barbara (Bush),” O’Brien said, who was the wife of then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.

“She always referred to us as ‘The Water Lily Boys,’ ” Griffith said.

The Flower Barn owners have volunteered for White House Christmas decorating duty ever since. Employees do a great job operating the Westmont shop when the owners are away, Griffith said.

Decorations are overseen by the first lady, who chooses the theme and has final say over the display. Creativity is a group effort by the team of volunteer expert horticulturists and decorators.

“Every year is different,” Griffith said.

This year’s display features a red and silver motif, using thousands of plastic and glass balls, peppermint sticks and ribbons, Griffith said. Last year, it was dried and fresh flowers.

First lady Laura Bush takes an active role in the project, Griffith said.

She brought her own decorator and a group of her friends to help out.

“She’s there with us all the time,” he said. “She does get involved. Not all first ladies are like that.”

Official White House photos of this year’s creations are at www.whitehouse.gov/holiday/2006/index.html.

Looking back, Griffith recalls Nancy Reagan as “very hands-on” decorating for Christmas, while Barbara Bush was friendly and available, but offered little input.

“Hillary Clinton was very involved, and (President Clinton) was always around,” Griffith said. “It was a very relaxed atmosphere. It’s different now, but I think it’s a different time now.”

Volunteers are fed daily, and they are guests at a banquet at the end of the week.

The annual project involves an enormous amount of work, with volunteers spending up to 14 hours a day at the job. One team was assigned the tedious work of attaching wires to the thousands of Christmas balls used; others assembled the balls into the shapes of trees.

Climbing ladders and scaffolding, others arranged 21-foot-tall evergreen garlands to frame numerous fireplaces.

A total of 17 fresh Douglas and Fraser firs were decorated.

“White House Christmas 2006” will air at the following times on Home and Garden Television:

• 8 p.m. today.

• 12 a.m. and 6 p.m. Thursday.

• 8 p.m. Sunday.

• 12 a.m. Monday.

• 5 p.m. Dec. 16.

• 7 p.m. Dec. 18.

• 9 p.m. Dec. 24.

• 1 a.m. and noon Dec. 25.

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