A steppingstone: During high school in South Bend, Ind., Jones worked for a flower store doing odd jobs. He went on to attend the American Floral Art School in Chicago. Moving to New York to study at Parsons School of Design, he wandered into a chic-looking flower salon on Lexington Avenue. Because he was living with relatives and his expenses were low, Jones told the owner he would work for free for six months. If the owner was satisfied, he would hire him. In three months, Jones had a paid position.
FOR THE RECORD:
David Jones: In the July 29 Business section, an article about West Hollywood florist David Jones misspelled the last name of philanthropists Bunny and Paul Mellon as Melon. The article and a subsequent For the Record item also misidentified Paul Mellon as Bill. —
On the path: A pivotal next stop was the well-known New York shop Judith Garden, "where I learned everything," Jones said. The work took him to the houses of Eleanor Roosevelt, Babe and Bill Paley (who built CBS), and philanthropists Bunny and Bill Melon.
His first trip to the White House was to arrange flowers for Mamie Eisenhower. He returned many times to work for other first ladies including Jackie Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, Betty Ford and Nancy Reagan. "For a little kid from Indiana," he said, "I have to pinch myself."
Flourishing: When he moved to California to start his own shop nearly 50 years ago, his East Coast clients introduced him to people in the entertainment industry. His list of customers expanded to include actors Elizabeth Taylor, Tony Curtis and Liam Neeson. "It was like a snowball," he said. "I had no intention of it being a big business." He arranged the flowers for a 1987 visit by Pope John Paul II to the San Fernando Mission and for Michael Jackson's funeral.
Fresh as a daisy: Running a floral business is more complicated than one would think, Jones said. Timing the opening of blossoms, keeping records and knowing where to go for various flowers are all crucial to success. Clients Jack and Mary Benny, both comedians, always threw a party in August, he recalled. One year, they decided it would be wonderful to have tulips, which were out of season. Jones had contacts in Australia who were able to ship the flowers in time. "Everybody was just gaga," he said, "to see tons of tulips out on their terrace for the dinner."
Cultivating lifelong clients: "Business-wise, I think that if you give great service, give great care, are understanding to what the client really expects, go overboard and only have the best products, you'll do well," he said. "My grandmother always said: 'If you want a diamond, you don't go to Woolworth.'" Customer service starts with how people are treated when they first call, Jones said. "A lot of businesses don't have the right people on the phone."
Challenges in the field: The contraction of the nursery business has meant fewer local growers, so Jones buys most of his flowers from Oregon and other parts of California. "The land here is more valuable for development than growing flowers," he said. Fuel costs present a financial obstacle to bringing in products from the far reaches of the U.S. and Europe, Jones said. "Shipping costs more than actual flowers."
Family tree: Jones' inspiration came from his grandmother, a concert pianist from Vienna who loved to garden and had thousands of varieties of flowers on her Indiana property and a farm in Michigan. The family's cutting gardens supplied the altar flowers at church every week.
Sustenance: "For me, my faith keeps me going," said Jones, who goes to Mass every morning. "I don't know how people cope if they don't have a faith."
Offshoots: Jones worked with Buffy Chandler on projects for the Music Center and has been involved in Downtown Women's Center fundraisers.
Outside the garden wall: Jones, who is single, has three Brussels Griffons and enjoys horses, the theater and bike riding. At 76, he recently put his building up for sale to pursue more garden design. "The whole ride has been like a fairy tale."