Mercer University alumnus Canaan Marshall never imagined he’d become a florist, but here he is, traveling across the country to create masterpieces and loving every minute of it. His floral design skills can be seen in action now as a contestant on “Full Bloom,” which is currently streaming on HBO Max.
Marshall, a 2014 graduate from Mercer’s College of Professional Advancement, was asked to be on season two of the florist competition series and spent the month of March in California for filming.
“It was nine other florists from all over the country. We met in one place, and we battled it out to win $100,000. Everybody brought something different to the table,” he said. “It’s a journey, and it’s going to be a good time. You better get your popcorn.”
Marshall, a Macon resident and native, couldn’t reveal details or results of the show, but he said it was a great experience from which he made new friends and learned new ways of doing things and being creative.
His interest in floral design first was piqued at Macon’s Museum of Arts and Sciences, where he worked for 12 years. The museum is also an event venue, and he was intrigued by how the fundraisers and parties were hosted.
“The thing I really loved the most was the accessory of the flowers,” he said. “When you’re all dressed up and you’ve got your makeup on, that little earring can be that great accessory to show off your whole face. That’s what I think flowers are to the overall package. It was a great accessory for a party. I was like, ‘I can do that.’”
Florist Allison Lucas, whom Marshall calls his “Floral Godmother,” took him under her wing and taught him the tricks of the trade as she worked on events for the museum, and the two still team up often for floral projects.
“I love learning and pursuing something new because you’ve got to push yourself,” he said. “I started doing weddings, working full time and went to school full time. It was a lot of work, but it was the best thing I ever could do.”
He worked during the day and attended classes at night at Mercer, where Dr. Fred Bongiovanni, Dr. Margaret Eskew and Dr. J. Thompson Biggers were some of his most influential professors. Through his courses, he made connections and learned how to communicate effectively.
“Coming out of high school, I was wondering if (college) was really for me. My grandmother said, ‘You need this education. You need to learn what’s out there.’ I’m grateful I did it,” Marshall said. “I loved that journey through Mercer, and I think it really impacted my life.”
As he finished up his degree, a new chapter of adventures was just beginning. Laid off from his longtime job at the museum, he dove into his duties as the opening night party chair for the 2014 Atlanta Symphony Associates’ Decorators’ Show House & Gardens, a high-profile event that took eight months of planning and put him on the map in Atlanta. That same year, he founded Canaan Marshall Designs.
Today, he travels constantly to do floral designs for clients living everywhere from Georgia to Las Vegas to Dallas to New York to Indianapolis. His work has been featured in Southern Living, Modern Luxury, Flower Magazine, Traditional Home and Macon Magazine.
“It’s really truly (spread by) word of mouth. Your reputation is everything. You only have one time to do it right. There’s no redo,” he said.
Marshall has a team of 15 family members and friends who help him, including his assistant Keria Stewart, a Double Bear who connected with him through Mercer Innovation Center Director Stephanie Howard.
His favorite jobs are weddings and weekly fresh flower arrangements at clients’ homes. He does at least two of the latter every day.
“I love weddings because I get to see the bride in her happiest and go through the journey with the family,” Marshall said. “You have to be very personable. You have to know who they are. You have to know the process and how they’re feeling about different things.”
Marshall is known for his grand floral arrangements, and he loves making them pop through a vibrant color palette and the mixing of different elements. He incorporates a lot of roses, hydrangeas and greenery.
A lot of people think they aren’t creative enough to work with flowers, and Marshall wants to help them see that they can do it. He urged people to put their confidence in their project, not obsess over it and move on.
He wants to show others how to take flowers they’ve grown in their yard and bring them inside to enjoy. He hopes to one day come out with his own clipper line, coffee table book and how-to guides.
“I think there’s a lot more to come. I’ll just follow the journey and follow my heart,” Marshall said. “I want to show kids, follow your dream. Looking back on everything, I never would have thought in a million years that I’d be a florist, but it’s been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done in my life.”