The Dream of an Artist

By Valerie Vinyard

Entering Villa Feliz Flowers is a bit like walking into an enchanted garden.

Visitors immediately will notice two large stuffed teddy bears to the right. One is sitting in an old pre-school-sized wood and metal desk chair with the word “Adam” inscribed on the back slat in a kid’s scrawl. That “Adam” is Villa Feliz owner Georgeanne Fimbres’ grandson, who now attends the University of Arizona.

Large refrigerated glass cases display countless stems of blooming flowers. The riot of colors include orchids, zinnias and, of course, roses. To the left, shelves of glassware, greeting cards by local artists, gifts and plants are for sale.

Villa Feliz was opened in May 1971 in a storefront at Kolb Road and Broadway by Guy Fimbres, Georgeanne’s husband.

“It was his dream and he was a great artist,” Fimbres said, gesturing around the store’s walls where some of his paintings hang. “I loved his concept. When you look at gorgeous flowers, it really is art.”

Like her husband, Georgeanne studied and appreciated art. The Phoenix native moved to Tucson in 1952 at age 13 and attended the University of Arizona. She studied fashion, earning a degree in home economics – “that’s what it was called at the time” – and later a master’s in education.

Fimbres never thought she’d be running Villa Feliz – but when her husband passed away in 1993, she took control.

“I feel like his dreams are really here,” she said.

Now the shop has nine employees, including a driver for the shop’s daily deliveries. The vast majority of the flowers come from California, Washington, Oregon and Arizona.

In 1988, Villa Feliz moved from Kolb and Broadway to the El Mercado plaza, 6358 E. Broadway. The almost 1,300-square-foot shop is tucked around the corner from El Charro Café. During a recent visit to the shop, Fimbres brought out a Black Magic stem, one of about 35 rose varieties Villa Feliz carries. Impossibly gorgeous, the deep red rose was the size of a softball. Its $5 price seemed a small one to pay for such beauty. And it’s a price that hasn’t changed in 11 years, Fimbres said, noting that she can offer something for any budget.

“A lot of people stop in for just one gorgeous flower,” Fimbres said. “It doesn’t have to be a lot if it’s beautiful.”

Fimbres offers simple tips for preserving floral life to her customers. One is to recut the stems and change the water daily. She also recommends cutting the stems and laying the entire blossom under water to rehydrate. Fifteen minutes and the flower has a fresh start, she said. Customers often compliment Fimbres on the staying power of her flowers.

One of those customers is Katie Yaeli, the assistant GM at Red Door Spa in Tucson. She met Fimbres through her grandmother-in-law and first contacted Fimbres for personal reasons: She wanted Fimbres to do the flowers for her October 2010 wedding.

“I went into her shop and I told her what I was looking for, and she made me a bouquet right there,” Yaeli said. “I fell in love with it. She has the biggest roses I’ve ever seen and the orchids are so vibrant. Sometimes people say the orchids look fake because they’re so perfect.”

When Yaeli started working at Red Door, she immediately went to Fimbres. “She’s the best florist I’ve ever met,” said Yaeli, 26. “She works so well with our environment.”

Fimbres visits once a week to change the arrangements, which are throughout the spa at the Westin La Paloma Resort.

“The quality of her flowers is unlike any other,” Yaeli said. “It’s really hard to make flowers last in a spa environment – so she uses sturdier, more tropical kinds.”

A few months ago, a local farmer walked into the store and said he farmed flowers and wondered if she was interested. Fimbres was most impressed, however, with what he had to say.

“He said he was farming not to make a living, but to make a difference,” said Fimbres, who now carries some of his zinnias, dahlias, amaranthus and chiles.

Fimbres then pulled out a gloriosa lily from a small California farm and laid it on the table. The long-stemmed flower had delicately twisted pink and yellow petals and deviated in style from more traditional blooms.

Even in the uncertain economy, Fimbres remains dedicated to supporting charities – from Angel Charities for Children to Pima Council on Aging. She’s donated decor for fundraising galas for nonprofits like Tu Nidito and spectacular designs for the annual Bouquet to Art event at University of Arizona Museum of Art.

Interior designer Lori Carroll said, “There was this very contemporary painting that just inspired me. I knew the materials I wanted to incorporate for a floral design that would complement the art.’’ She brought her ideas to Fimbres who outdid herself. “It was an amazing piece of work,” she said.

“Georgeanne’s been a true delight because she listens and follows through and is one of the most positive professionals I have every run across,” Carroll said. They’ve collaborated for several years, including on flowers for the 30th anniversary celebration of Lori Carroll & Associates.

“I had a vision. She took my vision and ran with it. Tucson is fortunate to have someone who has such a passion for what she does.”

Another Villa Feliz advocate is Amy Hendrick, who has worked with Fimbres for at least 10 years, starting when she was an owner of Dakota Café. Hendrick sold the restaurant last year but remains its catering manager. She continues to use Villa Feliz for centerpieces and other arrangements during her catering events.

“Not only is her quality of work excellent, but I also think it’s her personality and how she works well with people,” Hendrick said. “I think it’s her attention to detail that makes her stand out.”

That attention to detail includes Fimbres pinning on every boutonniere and deftly arranging every flower just so in the wedding chain of command – from the flower girl to the bride.

Fimbres recently pulled out a candid photo of a bride-to-be turning in her makeup chair, a wide, delighted smile on her face as she sees for the first time the bouquet she’ll carry.

“What she can create and come up with is so beautiful,” Hendrick said. “When people want a florist for their centerpieces and their bridal bouquets, I refer them to her.”

It’s easy to see why.

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