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Floral Designer Gives Cars in Parade a Dutch Treatment

Times Staff Writer

When the clock strikes midnight and 2003 reaches Pasadena tonight, Rose Parade organizers will be too busy lining up floats along Orange Grove Boulevard to celebrate.

As usual, they will have already raised glasses at 3 p.m. -- the precise moment that the new year hits Holland.

This synchronizing of the world’s most watched floral parade with the capital of the world flower markets is the work of a Dutch flower designer named Els Hazenberg.

A resident of Aalsmeer, the Netherlands, Hazenberg and her husband, George, are nonetheless Pasadena fixtures. For the last 25 years, they have traveled to Pasadena right after Christmas to provide the parade a specialty service organizers say they haven’t been able to find domestically: decoration for the classic cars that the Tournament of Roses president, the Pasadena mayor and the grand marshal ride in the parade.

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“Artistically, she is quite capable, really one of a kind,” says Don Murphy, who chairs the Tournament committee that supervises the official cars. “I’ve told the Hazenbergs that as they get closer to the point when they may think about retiring, they need to take another florist and teach them the art of affixing the flowers to the cars.”

Els Hazenberg was living with her husband, a professional orchid grower, in Aalsmeer, site of the largest flower auction in the world, when a floral designer friend invited her to the Rose Parade in 1977. She was both awed by the spectacle and intrigued by the possibilities of the official cars, which were then draped in conventional flower blankets.

She asked parade officials if she could come back the following year and decorate the vehicles in a Dutch fashion, and they agreed.

“The idea was to give the parade a European touch,” she says. “And to do so in a way that doesn’t damage the cars.”

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Hazenberg, with the assistance of her husband, creates not blankets but elaborate floral arrangements for the cars’ exteriors. To keep the heavy arrangements from flying off, she takes several blocks of floral foam, soaks them in water, wraps them in green moss and ties them firmly onto parts of the car with electrical cords. Not only does the foam prevent the flowers from scratching the car surfaces, but the water inside helps keep the flowers fresh.

For her first 15 years, Hazenberg’s fee and her flowers were provided by Dutch flower growers. FTD now sponsors her work. She tries to make half the flowers on the car roses, mixing in a healthy supply of tulips, carnations and other varieties.

This year, she is decorating four vehicles, including a 1967 fire engine for the parade president, a 1939 Packard Derham once owned by Juan and Evita Peron for the grand marshals, and a 1952 Chrysler Imperial for the mayor of Pasadena.

Each car is typically dominated by a certain color of flower. Hazenberg has been known to advise the dignitaries who ride in the car what to wear so they match her arrangements.

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The Hazenbergs arrive in Pasadena on Dec. 26 and work 12-hour days through Jan. 1. At their first parade, the couple took a break at 3 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on Dec. 31 -- midnight at home -- to toast the new year with a small bottle of wine and a little Dutch cheese.

The party has grown modestly since then, with a few dozen parade officials coming by. There is wine and cheese and oliebollen, a doughy Dutch delicacy with raisins and powdered sugar.

“It’s become a tradition over the years,” Hazenberg says. “With all the work there is to do with the parade, it’s a good idea to stop for a few minutes and celebrate.”


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