Gerry Arial's flowers have made their way into the hands of prime ministers, monarchs — and at least one pope.
"I've had an amazing career. I've been so fortunate. I've designed flowers for nearly every head of state in the world," says Arial, who has been arranging bouquets at The Silver Rose in downtown Ottawa for nearly four decades.
This week, however, marks the end of the O'Connor Street shop: the 70-year-old told CBC Radio's In Town And Out this weekend that, even though he still loves the craft, it's time to take a much-deserved retirement.
Arial started working with flowers when he was only 12 years old. As a young man, he apprenticed in the Netherlands, absorbing the knowledge of "world champions" and then bringing their expertise back to Canada.
In his early 30s, Arial opened his first shop in the Chateau Laurier hotel, where he soon got two major commissions: a state dinner attended by the German chancellor, followed by a ritzy gala attended by none other than Frank Sinatra.
For the Sinatra gala, said Arial, he went all out, spending $10,000 of his own money to create the perfect atmosphere He even begged the Chateau Laurier to let him use their dishes and cutlery, in exchange for providing the hotel with free Christmas decorations for the next two years.
"In my heart, I knew that — if I did it — this was going to be [my big break]. Because there were so many people coming to this event that were people I would love as clients," Arial said.
"Most people didn't even eat. They just wanted to dance, because they couldn't believe the atmosphere."
A curse — and a gift
In 1984, Arial said, he arranged the flowers for Pope John Paul II's boat ride down the Rideau Canal.
He moved to his current space on O'Connor Street in 1996, and cut back on some of his accounts so he could focus more on the intricacies of floral design.
In 2010, he was put in charge of the decor at the Museum of Nature during Queen Elizabeth II's visit to the capital.
"Some people say it's a curse to be so particular about everything. But I think that's been a gift for me. Because I see everything. I walk into a room, and I see everything right away."
'I live in heaven here'
That attention to detail is part of the reason so many high-profile clients seek out Arial's talents, said Sheila Anderson, who's worked with Arial for the past 13 years.
"He's very personable. He takes every piece that he makes to heart. He puts his whole heart into it, actually."
The Silver Rose's last day is Friday, and Arial says closing the shop wasn't an easy decision — even though he can't remember the last time he's taken a vacation longer than two weeks.
He won't be going far, however, as the red brick Centretown building is also his home.
"I'm going to miss my clients. I'm going to miss the interaction with everybody, and the beautiful flowers," he said.
"I mean, I live in heaven here. I come down every morning and there's flowers everywhere."