Published 2:21 am Saturday, September 26, 2015


Forty years ago, dried flowers were the thing.

It was before the advent of silk arrangements, and all faux flowers were plastic.

“Most were plastic pink roses,” Alan Cotton said. “Fabric flowers were just coming out. In the beginning, they were made from silk and were rather expensive. Then people started experimenting with what they could do with nylon.”

Cotton, who’s owned Alan Cotton’s Florist for 40 years this month, still likes working with natural greenery cut from the yard, the field, or the woods.

This week, to celebrate 40 years, he had a dried flower workshop. The group went through the process of drying flowers, and will gather again in three weeks to construct a wreath from the zinnias, greenery, magnolia pods and pine cones they processed.

In 1975, Cotton had just graduated from Auburn with a degree in ornamental horticulture.

“I thought I had to have a flower shop,” he said. He purchased Peterson Flowers Shop, then located across South Cotton Street from the current Alan Cotton’s Florist.

“South Cotton Street was popping then,” he said, adding that it was home to a grocer, doctors’ offices, a drug store, and the Green Front – then the only liquor store in town.

So how did a fresh-out-of-college horticulture student afford a business?

“The bank loaned me the money to buy the building and the business,” he said.

Many things have changed in 40 years. Weddings got much bigger, but have trended back down. And the choices for flowers are way more diverse.

“Back then, carnations, mums, daises, roses and glads were just about it,” he said. “They were all grown in the United States and trucked across the country.”

The demand changed in 1976, when the bouquets presented at The Olympics were made from tulips.

“People started asking for tulips,” he said. “And the suppliers started getting them.”

Now, many of the tulips are shipped rom Holland; and roses come from Central America.

“Now, you can get anything any time of the year, shipped in about two days.”

Holiday expectations also are different. Forty years ago, he said, he might have had two orders for a dozen roses on Valentine’s. These days, he is just as likely to have 100 orders. It is his busiest day of the year.

Like weddings, funerals have trended down.

“Every funeral had 40 or so designs,” he said. “They had to be in place beside the casket before the family arrived.”

These days, less emphasis is placed on funeral arrangements, he said.

When computers came onto the scene, he couldn’t imagine they would have an application in a flower shop. But when their doors open at 8 a.m., there usually are three or four electronic orders already waiting.

“They’re usually placed between 11:30 and 3:30 a.m.,” he said. “People are up, or wake up and think about it.”

Even though flowers and trends have changed, Cotton said he still sells emotion. There is something special about having flowers custom arranged and delivered just for you.

“My mother cries every time I send her something,” he said. “Some people don’t care what kind of flowers they receive, just that somebody ordered them for them.”

And after 40 years, the biggest thing that’s happened in his business is that he hired Angie South, who within a year became his wife.

“Norman Hobson told her I needed some help and she stopped by.”

About year later, in 1978, they were married.

“She’s been by my side ever since,” he said.