By Becky Chan
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Only beauty exists in this war. Floral wars feature local floral designers battling against each other at this year’s Northwest Flower and Garden Show. Designers have 45 minutes to create arrangements, while teaching the audience about floral design. The annual Seattle show runs Feb. 7 to Feb. 11 at the Washington State Convention Center. Rizanino “Riz” Reyes, a well-known local horticulturist and designer, will be competing at 3 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 9. To keep his mind off the competition, Reyes will also be on the 2 p.m. panel discussing one of his favorite flowers, the lily.
Competing in garden shows is nothing new to Reyes. In 2013, a large show garden he designed, “The Lost Gardener,” won several awards, including The Founders Cup for best in show. How did a young Filipino immigrant become an internationally renowned plants man? The journey began when Reyes immigrated with his family to the United States from the Tarlac and Pampanga province of the Philippines. Reyes was 7 years old. The family settled in Shoreline, where Reyes attended public schools.
Growing up in the Philippines, Reyes always admired plants while living on a fruit plantation managed by his father. Arriving in the United States, Reyes often headed straight to the produce and flower departments, while shopping with his family. He learned the names of the new and strange flowers and yearned to learn more. He entered his first competition at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show when he was 13 with some plants he was growing. He equated it to competing in “a fair where you win blue ribbons and such.” The following year, at age 14, he competed in a design and display category meant for small organizations. His entry, ‘Reflection of Culture,’ showcased plants from the two cultures he straddled —the temperate Pacific Northwest and the tropical Philippines.
A typical Asian family with high expectations, Reyes’ family wanted him to focus on math and science. When he learned horticulture means “the art and science of plants,” he realized his parents would acquiesce and let him pursue his passion.
Reyes studied at the University of Washington (UW), graduating in 2006 with a degree in Environmental Horticulture and Urban Forestry, minoring in Botany and Dance.
While at UW, he studied abroad in Sichuan, China, where he met notable plant collector Dan Hinkley, with whom Reyes went on collecting trips. At 21, Reyes obtained a business license and started RHR Garden Plants & Exotics, later becoming RHR Horticulture.
Reyes honed his skills as a horticulturist, working 8 years for the UW Botanic Garden’s Center for Urban Horticulture. He was also on the horticultural committee at the Seattle Chinese Garden during its inception. He helped with the first planting of the Chinese Tree Peonies from Luoyang for its Peony Festival. In 2015, Reyes accepted a full-time position as garden manager for Portland-based McMenamins. The company was restoring the former Anderson School in Bothell and needed a designer to landscape the property. Reyes transformed the once sterile grounds into elaborate gardens, which he continues to maintain.
Reyes cited the book “The 50-Mile Bouquet” as an inspiration that led him into floral design. He realized growing a wide range of plants in his own garden lent itself to sustainable floral design and art, an important practice among horticulturalists. With that, he delved into growing flowers and teaching with the UW Farm. He also began creating floral arrangements for events, such as weddings. Reyes believes hard work permits him to follow his heart. He hopes to inspire more young people, “especially people of color, be involved with interacting with nature and learning about the environment.”
He said, “Before I knew what horticulture was, I was already enthralled by flowers, their beauty and also their ability to make people smile and be happy… It’s amazing what plants and the natural world around us can teach us humans. If there was one lesson I could give to an aspiring gardener, it is to try growing a plant you’ve never heard of. Research and learn about where it came from and learn its story. Now if everyone did this, can you imagine what a beautiful world this could be.”
Becky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.