Keili "KC" Summey began her love affair with plants in high school, where she was a member of the National FFA Organization at Arizona Agribusiness & Equine Center - Paradise Valley Campus.
In October 2020, Summey launched KC's Floral Designs (KCSFlorals.com) to honor her grandmother. She moved KC's Floral Designs to North Peoria in August 2022.
Summey loves the power that flowers have to lift spirits. "Studies have shown that flowers trigger our 'happy emotions'. Having them around is a natural way to improve our mental and emotional health."
KC's Florals offers "Coffee + Flowers" to locals to further that flower power every Friday. They partner with Mamacita's Homemade Goods and offer $25 fresh flower bouquets delivered to your home or office. "By bringing flowers into your space," Summey says, "it automatically causes a small shift in your mindset and approach to life. We call it That Flower Feeling."
Summey had a chance to prove her flower chops in the National Battle of the Blooms, a Chopped-style floral competition hosted by the renowned Mayesh Wholesale Florist out of Los Angeles and Miami.
In the first round, Arizona competitors had 30 minutes to design from a bucket of surprise blooms they unwrapped at the start of the competition. Summey won and moved on to the national competition.
"As an Arizona native, I wanted to showcase the beauty of the Arizona desert in my design," Summey explains. Before the competition, she worked with The King and the Flower, a local artisan pottery maker, to curate a custom Southwestern-style vessel. She also carried along some rolling Tumbleweed she found to use instead of toxic floral foam.
When she arrived at the competition and revealed the surprise blooms, it was mostly tropical blooms!
"This allowed me to pay homage to my Polynesian roots, and I was able to truly create ME in a vase."
The 5,000 voters understood Summey's vision, and she took home the Grand Prize.
Summey draws inspiration from the Southwest. “The Arizona desert is full of texture and unique elements,” she says. “This is exactly the vibe I like to bring into my designs.” She incorporates unexpected ingredients into her designs—succulents, citrus, nopales and tumbleweed.
“Take a wooden kabob skewer with a little hot glue and stick it into the end of succulents or cacti. This gives you a stem so you can use them in arrangements.”
Summey forages local plants and wildflowers, careful not to take more than 10% of the plant. She recommends desert blooms like globemallow or textured elements such as pampas grass and tumbleweed. She also uses olive trees, eucalyptus and acacia.
Summey explains that 80% of flowers sold in the U.S. are imported. “When you buy blooms from your local farmer or florist, you support someone’s passion—a family-owned business.”
Shopping locally means fresher blooms. Flowers shipped from abroad are dry packaged for days, only getting water when they arrive at the grocery store. However, when you buy locally, the blooms are usually cut fresh and immediately placed in water, meaning they last longer.
“Our rule of thumb is to shop local blooms first, then fill in the rest,” says Summey.
Spring is the perfect season for Arizona blooms. In May, you can find campanula, snapdragons, sunflowers, scabiosa, larkspur, statice, gladiolus, roses and more. KC's Floral Designs works closely with several local growers, including Johns Plant Adventures (@Johns_Plant_adventures) in the East Valley.
Summey encourages sustainability in the floral industry. All the flowers that go into a big wedding or event are thrown away at night's end. Summey hates the thought of that kind of waste. To support her desire for a more sustainable industry, KC's Floral Designs partners with Floranthropy AZ, a non-profit organization that gives wedding/event flowers a second life by donating arrangements to local senior facilities and hospitals.
“We know that flowers are a natural mood-booster,” explains Summey, “so it’s a perfect way to give back to the community.”
Summey works hard to utilize bio-degradable mechanics instead of toxic floral foam. The green foam contains microplastics, formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals, making it bad for water supplies, landfills and our lungs.
KC's Floral Designs uses water tubes in designs or soaks moss to help keep stems hydrated. Summey explains this makes the flowers last longer than with floral foam.
KC's Floral Designs hosts private classes for anyone who wants to learn more about sustainable floral designs.