Tara Carlson describes it as “wanting to do something a little different in the floral world,” talking about the driving force behind her, and colleague Lindsey Busch wanting to come out west from Minnesota to decorate South Pasadena’s float taking part in the annual Rose Parade.
The pair has worked on seven straight city entries, including the latest – “Spark of Imagination,” – that will roll down the 5.5-mile Colorado Boulevard route in Monday’s iconic spectacle.
“It would have been an eighth year had it not been for COVID,” insisted Carlson, owner of Sweet Pea’s Floral in Woodbury, an affluent community of roughly 90,000, about 20 miles from downtown Minneapolis, 10 from St. Paul, where she operates the shop alongside Busch, the store’s manager.
Both Carlson and Busch are floral designers and being apart of the Rose Parade experience helps in the their design certification and accreditation, yet it plays only a small part in why they like traveling to South Pasadena in December.
“It’s just a lot of fun being part of the float,” noted Busch.
After hearing about a friend’s Rose Parade experience of working at a commercial float builder site one year, Carlson and Busch decided to look into the opportunity, yet wanted more low-key, intimate surroundings when they discovered South Pasadena as the perfect fit following an online search.
That first year, joining a friend, they spent much of their time at the city float’s worksite, under a giant tent behind the War Memorial Building in the 400 block of Fair Oaks Avenue, applying seeds “and just fell in love with it,” Carlson recalls. “It’s amazing that this happens.”
A year later, Carlson and Busch made the trip alone, which has now become a yearly ritual. The friendly people they met, coupled with doing something more along the lines of their work back home was enough to schedule a second trip. “After we did a lot of the seeding that first year, we wanted to do flowers.”
Their wish was granted. Once they got a taste of working their magic with flowers, witnessing the judging of how floats win awards, Carlson calling it, “The whole process, we were immediately hooked.”
Now the two are accustomed to the departing the artic-like weather of Minnesota this time of year and changing up the norm.
“I think it kind of inspires us,” said Carlson, saying their California getaway is unique, different and a nice break from usual weddings and holidays, which are popular and everyday occurrences with their flower business. “We get here, and it’s so different that what we do at home. It kind of revives our creativity to see something different.”
Seeing it up-close-and personal, and the inner-workings behind the scenes, Busch said, “It’s neat how the community comes together to be a part of it all. It just doesn’t happen with one person. It happens with a bunch of people and you rely on everyone to do their part. I think that’s pretty cool, being a part of the bigger picture.”
Over the years, their venture has become a business expense, explained Carlson. Costs associated with airfare, food and lodging can run up a bill as high as $6,000 for the two. Both say much of what they learn by being around the thousands of flowers, and those working with them, makes for good business once they get back in the shop at home.
Much to their surprise, this year, the two florists got some major help from South Pasadena Tournament of Roses’ Committee, which found a family in town to host their stay. John and Peggy Vandercook, active in the local community, both playing a key role in the parade, are housing them in the days ahead of the parade.
The Vandercooks have their own notoriety in the big event welcoming in a new year. Peggy, a longtime pooper-scooper in the parade, recently recruited her husband to do the same, and together they were more than happy to provide accommodations to the out-of-state visitors.
“They’re great in saving us money,” said Carlson. “It has been very helpful with our costs.”
Carlson quickly answered “the people,” when asked what she gets most out of working on the South Pasadena float. “The last night (decorating), the push at the end is insane (to finish it) and so gratifying when it’s done, tears of joy,” she said. “It’s like, ‘wow, we got it done.’ That part is really cool to see.”
Inside Sweet Pea’s Floral are a couple of keepsakes – a rabbit and raccoon – from South Pasadena’s 2022 Rose Parade float – “Sky’s the Limit – which were delivered last October by SPTOR’s Decoration Chair Janet Benjamin and her husband Rob, the co-construction chair, during a visit to Minnesota.
“They made a road trip to come see us,” said Carlson, “so the characters are on display in our store.”
As a way of saying thanks to Carlson and Busch for their seven years of service on the South Pasadena float, the twosome will join another longtime volunteer, Carrie Russell, on board the city’s float dressed as mice in lab coats during Monday’s Rose Parade.
The city’s latest edition depicts a science fair, featuring a crazy house, plenty of cranks, twirlers, spinning gears, a goofy clock, and wild action as giant text books – science, atoms and chemistry – are stacked in close proximity to the three mice.
Part of the ritual of coming out to the South Pasadena float site for Carlson and Busch is getting a new tattoo each year. Fittingly, their newest, mice characters placed on their ankles, will help them to never forget the experience of taking a ride of a lifetime in view of millions watching on television and thousands more bundled up on the sidelines viewing it live.
“It’s a way to remember the time here,” said Carlson. “Oh yes, it’s kind of fun.”
Although they didn’t get much of an opportunity to experience sunny Southern California with an abundance of rain this trip, they still said it was nice to escape the minus 40 weather with the wind chill factor the day before they departed Minnesota.
“It’s cold,” said Carlson. “We’re glad to be here.”
Now that are, they’re making the best of it, putting long days into making South Pasadena’s float the best it can be.
“We’ve always watched it on TV and said, ‘That would be cool to do,’” said Busch. “We wanted a new adventure, something different to do.”
For Carlson, the seasons surrounding the floral business can be what she calls “mundane” with Valentine’s Day following the holidays, prom season not long after, weddings in the summer. “It’s the same thing year after year,” she said. “This kind of breaks it up. People don’t realize the amount of work that goes into decorating these floats.
“It was almost like a bucket list that first time,” she added. “We just wanted to try it, and then it sucked us in like glue.”