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Pistil-Packin’ Mama

Photos by Elliot Shaffner

DOKHI MIRMIRANI makes it clear that her mission is to expand the way people envision floral arrangements. While she is well aware of the latest fads in floral design -- minimalist arrangements with freestanding stems or one rooted bloom in a shallow glass tray -- she is clearly not ruled by trends: "Don't look down on a carnation!" Mirmirani, who was born and raised in Iran and has lived in L.A. since 1974, merges a Middle East aesthetic with a Wild West sensibility. When she mixes exotic cut Thai orchids with homegrown field flowers, she is not only rebelling against the usual floral conventions, she's expanding the idea of what floral arranging is: to create illusions that evoke grandeur and emotion with no hierarchy between the fussy and the folksy. Her approach is distinctly alchemical.

Her goal is to create arrangements that appear to be living. She might wrap wire with moss, weaving in leaves and flowers, then layer blooms so that they seem to be growing.

Mirmirani, whose flair for drama was cultivated designing sets for the late theater director Reza Abdoh, also makes wedding centerpieces using no hardware in which structures and bases are made of living rose vines and are meant to be planted in the garden after the ceremony. Sentimental and eco-smart.

Opening a book by the famous Danish floral artist Tage Andersen, whom she cites as an inspiration, she flips past pages of arrangements where the containers are more eye-catching than the flowers, such as a baroque urn wrapped in ivy covered in silver leaf. The pictures prompt a riff: "I'm into sun colors right now -- marigolds are India! Turmeric yellow is so breathtaking that it's impossible to be depressed. I'm also mad about monochromatic floral arrangements. Sometimes I will use only foliage, from silverback to bare grass. It's not necessarily less expensive, but different and very long-lasting."

The ardor in her voice when she talks of color and texture could come only from the lips of a painter, which she is. She earned a biology degree at the University of Tehran and came to UCLA to further her studies in bioengineering, then, in a wildly romantic shift, transferred to painting and music studies at CalArts. The journey to flowers was practical as well as passionate: "I was in my last year at CalArts, and my country was in a war with Iraq, and my student aid had ended. My uncle -- who owned the Freeway Café and invented the avocado-bacon-cheeseburger -- suggested, since I loved flowers so much, that I open a flower shop."

The courtyard of her shop, Jasmine Blue, is filled with treasures that she uses in her arrangements: limestone planters, fountains and figures carved in Guatemala; an arrangement of pots found in India; scrap-wood planter boxes she buys from a local 91-year-old artist named Theo Packard. In her sitting room are shelves of antique candelabra and vases as well as handmade candles. Mirmirani is learning to weld her own iron structures so her arrangements can take on unlimited shapes. In the refrigerated room, she picks out a short-stemmed cabbage rose she bought from a neighborhood gardener and compares it to one of the hydroponically grown long-stems, which in comparison looks like it has been made by a machine. "The radiance when you buy them direct is completely different than what you get from wholesalers."

Jasmine Blue, 13826 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; (818) 986-0333.


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