Arranging A Beautiful Business

Linda Dela Cruz
Wednesday - September 10, 2008
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Patricia Middleton at work at Volcano Orchids

Red roses, yellow sunflowers, green orchids and brightly colored daisies radiate among a wide variety of flowers that are the heart of Patricia Middleton’s shop, Volcano Orchids, which specializes in customized floral arrangements for celebrations, funerals and other occasions.

“I do everything fresh,” she explains. “Something is growing somewhere in the world. If you want it, I will find it. I’ve prided myself in pirouetting on a dime for people. They call me and say, ‘Pat, I need this.’ And it is always in a small window of time.”

Middleton, who supplies flowers to Foodland, Don Quijote, Safeway, Longs, Marukai and Hawaiian Airlines, says the trendiest flowers these days are hydrangea, super-green roses, deep-brown flowers with streaks of red and anything with green. Vibrant-colored vases are also a hot ticket.

She ships flowers out and also imports them from the East Coast, West Coast, South America, Africa and New Zealand.

“I do love to support the local growers, but sometimes they can’t keep up with the demand,” she says. “When possible, I like to use the local flower because it is much nicer.”

The retail division of her business, the Funeral Wreath Shop, is where she helps families with flowers during their especially vulnerable time of grief with flowers for the casket, wreaths or other floral designs. With a deep understanding of how precious life is, she lives by the motto, “You have to seize the day, and live each day with enthusiasm and joy.”

One of Middleton’s most recent arrangements was for Duane “Dog” Chapman. They ordered a flower arrangement, but something happened to it. They called back immediately for a replacement, saying it was needed right away. So a replacement bouquet was sent.

“They didn’t tell me they were shooting this, so the arrangement I made was a little different,” she recalls. “Then they told me that it was for the shoot, so I had to go down there and fix it up to make it almost identical to the other one I did, so it could match the shots they had previously done. It was kind of trying, but it was fun.”

Before she majored in agribusiness at the University of Hawaii, Middleton, a Kaimuki High School graduate, hadn’t had much experience with flowers or farming. She started growing orchids on the Big Island in 1977, where she named her company Volcano Orchids. She eventually sold the farm, then asked other farmers to ship their plants to her in Honolulu.

As a businesswoman, one of her foremost concerns is taking care of her employees, which number from seven to 13 depending on the season.

“It is a money challenge to support all the people who work for me,” she reveals. “Because of the cost of doing business, it affects what I can give my employees for a 401k for retirement. With these times, that is the biggest challenge. I hope to make enough money to give them back a little bit of profit, because they put out. I’m here because they are here. I want to give more to them. We have gettogethers, we have dinners and we do fun things. I know they work hard and they are very loyal.”

When she’s not working in the shop, Middleton enjoys golf and catching up with her three grown daughters, Shay, Vail and Cobe, and her four granddaughters. To give back to the community, she donates to the Blood Bank of Hawaii, and belongs to the Pearl Harbor Rotary Club. Her current project is finding donations of slippers for Aiea Elementary School students who don’t have shoes.

Although she works with flowers all day, Middleton says she never gets tired of them.

“I am a woman and I still appreciate the thoughtfulness,” says the Moanalua Valley resident. “When someone asks me, I say women love flowers and women love chocolate.”

Things she looks forward to in the industry’s future include hybridizing fragrance back into roses. She also hopes there will be sustainability in the future where there will be lots of wide-open spaces and people will still be in the floral industry with a watchful eye on taking care of the environment.

“Working in the flower business is really satisfying because you make people happy,” says Middleton. “What is better than that? What a job!”


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