- September 28, 2016
Betty Greenspan doesn’t watch TV. She doesn’t read the news, or keep up with trends or happenings online.
Instead, she likes her world a little more natural.
“I create my own reality,” says the botanical artist between sips of Bigelow tea steeped with mint she grew in her organic herb garden.
Greenspan has loved flowers her whole life, and she traces this passion back to all the time she spent in her father’s beloved Long Island garden growing up.
“I got a great energy sitting there — it felt good,” she says.
Spending hours upon hours surrounded by plant life calmed her, which would later give her the idea to combine her love of plant cultivation with her other greatest passion: healing.
Greenspan studied nursing, not botany, but throughout her more than 30-year nursing career, she has never lost her interest in the natural world. She first started working with floral arrangements as a member of The Garden Club of Brookfield (in Brookfield, Conn.), where she learned the basics of floral design with living plants and the occasional dried flower.
Later, she started taking horticultural interior design classes at the New York Botanical Gardens, which helped her become an advanced master gardener who won several floral design awards.
When she moved to Florida in 1991, Greenspan befriended creative residents who encouraged her to try silk flower design. She was hesitant at first, but once she started working with the new material, she discovered a flexibility that she couldn’t get working with live plants.
After a workshop at AmericasMart Atlanta where she made connections with several suppliers, Greenspan set up a home studio in her garage. She was hooked.
The rest of Greenspan’s story is a circle, and she’s currently back to where she started. She’s been in and out of several studios, had a booth at the Sarasota Farmers Market and opened two stores — one of which being the famed Little Shop of Flowers near Morton’s Gourmet Market — and now she’s creating at home and displaying her work at Blue Dharma Fine Art Gallery and Art of Ireland Gallery.
“My kids asked me what makes me the happiest and I said flowers, so they said go do that,” Greenspan says of why she’s come full circle. “I really have a passion for what I’m doing.”
Greenspan considers this phase of her life one of evolution, and that’s perhaps most noticeable in the style of her work.
What started as the traditional garden club method of live flower arrangements has morphed into something she considers much more artistic and often inspired by one of her favorite artists, Salvador Dali.
“Flowers make people happy. And I’m passionate about helping people and guiding them (to happiness).”
— Betty Greenspan
Greenspan’s silk flower designs are called permanent botanical displays, aka an alternative to live arrangements that utilize long-lasting elements such plastic, silk and resin to create pieces that will never die.
Although she’s been doing permanent displays since the 1990s, it wasn’t until this year that she began looking at her work as something that didn’t have to just mimic natural plant life, but instead takes on a life and meaning of its own. Greenspan creates unique shapes that give each piece its own movement and energy.
“I’m not stuck in doing things the way they’re ‘supposed’ to be, because I’m not doing the old-school traditional garden club stuff (anymore),” Greenspan says. “My imagination is allowed to come out, so I have the freedom to think outside the box.”
To help reinvent herself in this new artistic endeavor, she needed a new name. That’s when friend Su Byron suggested she name her venture Fusion Botanical Arts. She launched the company under that name in early June.
One element of Greenspan’s work that has remained unchanged throughout her evolution as a botanical artist is her belief that permanent botanicals are powerful tools for healing.
Greenspan works as a detox nurse at drug addiction treatment center First Step, where she encourages anyone interested to look into flower therapy as a means of healing.
There are many different types of flower therapies and remedies, but Greenspan’s favorites are color therapy and vibrational healing.
The botanical artist believes in the string therapy, what Merriam Webster defines as the theory in physics that “all elementary particles are manifestations of the vibrations of one-dimensional strings.” If everything has a vibration, she says, so do flowers, and those vibrations can give off a positive energy to people who are suffering.
Another concept she believes in, the seven chakras, couples with color theory in Greenspan’s concept of flower healing. Each of the seven chakras, the energy focal points within the body that help regulate human functions, is assigned a color. For example, the throat chakra that facilitates communication is blue, so she has made blue pieces of botanical art for people suffering with illnesses like throat cancer.
She’s also a meditator, so Greenspan suggests observing a flower’s color and then closing your eyes to meditate on the thought of that hue (and the emotion it elicits) as a means of relaxation.
Greenspan also did horticultural therapy (therapy through the physical action of planting things) with patients at her previous employer in Connecticut. This healing process helps people expand their perception and awareness of the world, she says.
It all might sound complicated, but Greenspan says the healing power of flowers is simple.
“Flowers make people happy,” she says. “And I’m passionate about helping people and guiding them (to happiness).”
Right now, Greenspan is focusing on both private and commercial sales of her designs, which are all one-of-a-kind (with the exception of the chakra flowers, of which she makes multiple).
Almost every creation takes a minimum of two days to complete. This is mostly because it takes 48 hours for the resin to dry. Resin is the clear substance at the bottom of every vase she uses for the dual purpose of resembling water and keeping the elements of the design glued in place.
Like most artists, she finds it hard to know when a piece is truly done, so she plays with her elements until she feels satisfied with how they’re arranged, Greenspan says. She doesn’t play by any rules unless she’s designing something for a customer that specifically wants it made according to feng shui principles, which she used to do quite often and wants to get back into.
“Just put it in a vase and let your imagination flow,” she says to anyone who’s interested in trying botanical art.
Each piece starts with collecting materials and finding the perfect vase to complement those elements. Greenspan says she combs local beaches and other outdoor areas for natural elements such as driftwood to incorporate into every piece because she doesn’t like to create anything without a living element.
Moving forward, Greenspan says she wants to do more work with interior designers, decorators and perhaps real estate agents to make closing gifts for their clients. She used to have customers who asked her to come into their homes and create a collection tailored to their various spaces, and she wants to return to this type of personalized work.
But really, all she can hope for in her future is a continued legacy of making customers happy.
“I just love seeing the joy it can bring to other people,” she says. “I’m not quitting.”