Tammie Lawson’s flower-designing career stems from a flower shop job she had in high school.
“And it kind of just grew from there,” said Lawson, a UI employee for 12 years and senior floral designer for University Housing.
She said she realized early that she had a talent – and the patience – for making showy centerpieces and special-occasion arrangements.
“I enjoy things that move me to be creative and it’s always a challenge to come up with something different,” she said. “(Arrangement ideas) don’t just come to me; I need to get inspired.”
The high school job in Rantoul imbued her with the basics of cutting, processing and designing – and delivery as she used to serve stores near campus.
But before long Lawson decided to branch out on her own.
She started a wholesale business to serve local stores, and at one time supplied flowers for UI special events.
That changed after she took a position at the university as extra help while she was taking maternity time for her youngest daughter. She said she has never regretted her decision to work for the university.
“This place is a retail florist’s dream,” she said. “It’s like no other flower shop you’ve ever seen.”
One of the major differences, Lawson said, is the spacious flower preparation area inside the Housing Food Stores building that she shares with the university’s only other floral designer and a half-time plant-maintenance employee.
“Usually the arranging room is a little room stuffed in the back of the store – but not here,” she said.
The flower preparation space was once a food-service produce storage area and has ample room for flower-preparation and storage. An adjoining cooler room is roughly the same size and includes an ice-sculpting area.
The cooler room keeps fresh flowers fresh and keeps already-used flowers alive long enough to reuse them for other campus events.
“We recycle just about everything and reuse whatever we possibly can,” she said. “When we use flowers for an event one day, we freshen them up and use them for a breakfast or lunch event the following day.
“Some of these flowers will last for two days and we’re very good at getting the most use out of them.”
She said the entire University Housing catering system is designed to keep waste at a minimum and focuses on the entire team contributing to any event’s end result.
For example, the glass vases and marbles used in displays are all reused and regularly washed by student workers, “though we’ve all had to do that at one time or another,” she said.
“We work hand in hand and really have a good system,” she said.
Catering events are set up through an event planner system that allows clients to pick which services they want to include. In addition to regular university events such as graduation and football games at Memorial Stadium, University Catering serves the iHotel and Alice Campbell Alumni Center, among other campus venues. It also caters up to six outside weddings each week.
“Anything that’s catered through the university, we cover it,” she said. “Any time anybody books something, we’re there. They always want flowers to jazz things up a bit.”
The stadium events, which include decorating and serving 42 private suites, are a lot of work but enjoyable.
“There’s a lot of flowers that go into game day,” she said. “We pretty much know that if the order is orange and blue, it’s going to the stadium.”
Lawson said the pace of the work at the university is more “regular” than at a private shop because most university jobs are planned at least three weeks in advance.
“At a private shop, the phones are ringing off the hook every day for quick orders,” she said. “We don’t have that phone service and we don’t supply to the public. I don’t miss Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day at all.”
In addition to flowers, Lawson’s department also prepares balloon bouquets and specialty baskets sold to students at Ikenberry Commons.
Lawson said she continues to search for new inspiration and new floral varieties, which she does through reading and by taking an occasional class.
“New flower (varieties) are being grown all the time all over the world,” she said. “We’re always looking for something new in orange and blue.”
Lawson said the interior of her house is devoid of flowers, though she is fond of ornamental grasses and flowering branches, which she has outside.
“I don’t have one flower arrangement in my house; however, I do like some color on the outside,” she said.
Raising two daughters, ages 12 and 21, in her Paxton home, Lawson wouldn’t have much time to water indoor flowers, anyway.
She said she spends most of her free time at school events. Her creative outlets include card- and scrapbook-making, and watching HGTV.
“The weeknights are pretty filled up with school activities,” she said. “I really like being the team mom.”