A Family Tradition
Behind the Scenes at Keeneland with P.G. Howard Design
By Claire Ramsay
These are just a few of the audiences Patrick Howard of P.G. Howard Design has enjoyed in his career of creating floral arrangements.
If he was a namedropper (and he isn’t), you’d find George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Her Royal Majesty the Queen of England, ambassador Kelly Knight Craft, and Dolly Parton on the list of people for whom he’s designed florals. Add in countless delighted long term clients like Keeneland and a host of local horse farms, and you’ll realize how he’s cemented his status as a legend in Lexington.
Howard began his lifelong career working for his family’s company, Howard and Heafey, in their greenhouse “pulling weeds, potting, anything plant related.”
Working in the 100-plus degree summertime heat, he couldn’t wait to get his driver’s license so he could work his way up to an air conditioned van delivering arrangements.
Howard earned while he learned.
While delivering flowers, rush hour traffic could lead to the arrangements in the back of the van toppling over. He would then have to reassemble designs on the fly, “quickly learning how to put them back together — hence the beginning of a career,” says Howard.
“I will never please everyone, design is subjective.”
Howard knew that one day he would want to open his own business and establish himself, create his own identity. In 1994, he stepped out on his own. It’s a decision he has never regretted.
Opening a new business that directly competes with the family could, of course, lead to tension. But he says he was committed to not letting that happen.
In keeping the peace, he remembers, “The first thing I did was talk to Mrs. Alma Haggin about Keeneland and assured her that Howard and Heafey would do everything possible to maintain the history and charm of Keeneland.”
They did, and when the family business eventually closed, Howard was the natural choice to take over Keeneland’s floral design.
Each year, he designs, creates, and oversees the floral arrangements you see at the track — from those in the ladies rooms, to the TVG and NBC sports sets, dining rooms, and everything in between.
With high-profile clients and projects comes the significant possibility of something going wrong. One wedding Howard designed was outside of Keeneland on the absolute hottest day of the summer. The area was invaded by thousands of Japanese beetles. Howard was not planning on dealing with an insect plague on someone’s special day, but he took it in stride, and the wedding photos don’t reveal a trace of crisis.
Howard works with local artist, Robert Morgan, but he is inspired by classic artists as well. He mentions “Henry Faulkner and, of course, old masters such as Rembrandt, Monet,” adding, he was “fortunate enough to collaborate with Peter Max.”
If there is one floral trend Howard could do away with, it would be towering centerpieces. “They look great when you walk into the room, but when seated, all décor is above your head. Why not be able to see it and enjoy the evening.”
Howard is an early riser and finds that he can get his best work done before most people are awake and before the phones begin to ring.
Holidays and, of course, Keeneland Spring and Fall meet are his busiest times of the year. So those quiet mornings before the sun rises is his time to let his creative juices flow with no interruption. He admits to one extravagance, “fine bourbon and cigars.”
Does he have a dream? A stretch goal? He “would love to do the Golden Globes or the Oscars.”
This article appears on page 45 & 46 of the 2020 annual Beaumont Guide.
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