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News / Life / Clark County Life

Vancouver sends its first float in 30 years to Portland Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade

'With Love, Vancouver' will be adorned with 4,000 to 5,000 flowers for June 8 event

By Monika Spykerman, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 31, 2024, 5:52pm
5 Photos
Megan Arambul, center, lead floral designer on Vancouver&rsquo;s Grand Floral Parade float, talks to Michael Walker, left, director of Vancouver&rsquo;s Downtown Association, and Linda Glover, former Vancouver City Council member and director of Divine Consign. The float is Vancouver&rsquo;s first in the parade in 30 years.
Megan Arambul, center, lead floral designer on Vancouver’s Grand Floral Parade float, talks to Michael Walker, left, director of Vancouver’s Downtown Association, and Linda Glover, former Vancouver City Council member and director of Divine Consign. The float is Vancouver’s first in the parade in 30 years. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

For the first time in 30 years, Vancouver will have a float in the Portland Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade on June 8.

“With Love, Vancouver” will cruise down Portland’s Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Lloyd Boulevard adorned with “somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 flowers,” said Fieldwork Flowers owner Megan Arambul, the float’s designer and lead florist. Arambul and volunteers will spend the next week applying red paint to giant metal apple shapes, and arranging and adhering thousands of blooms on every square inch of the float’s base.

“I want to make the most beautiful float,” said Arambul, 42, of Vancouver. “I’m really proud of Vancouver, and I love living here. There’s a feeling like ‘We’re all in this together,’ and I just want to share that.”

Vancouver hasn’t participated in the Grand Floral Parade for so long that no one interviewed for this story knew the exact year it last contributed a float. Samantha Smith of the Clark County Historical Museum confirmed that Vancouver’s high point came in 1960, when its Spanish bullfighting float earned the Grand Sweepstakes Award. Vancouver’s float tradition continued until 1994, but it did not contribute a float in 1995. Vancouver resident Ron Carr attempted to raise the money for a float in 2012, but fundraising efforts fizzled out in 2013.

Vancouver would have continued to be floatless if not for Arambul, who started dreaming about a Vancouver Grand Floral Parade float about a year ago. Former Vancouver City Council member Linda Glover mentioned to Arambul that Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle had (if you’ll pardon the pun) floated the idea.

“I was like, ‘I’m there. Sign me up,’” Arambul said.

The dream edged closer to reality a few months ago when the city of Battle Ground decided to sell its float chassis, ending its 69-year tradition of Rose Festival parade participation. Arambul was the only one to express interest in the float besides a nonprofit organization called Weird Portland United, said Mark Van Vleet, a Battle Ground resident who was housing the chassis on his property. It was worth about $200 in scrap metal, Van Vleet said, but it’s much more satisfying to see the chassis roll on into the future. In the end, Arambul bought the chassis for $300.

Next came the two-month-long application process, a team effort with city officials, community partners and Vancouver’s Downtown Association. Portland Rose Festival staff were extremely pleased to have their across-the-river neighbor back in the parade, said Glover, though Arambul’s unflagging enthusiasm led the way.

“The important thing is we had somebody that had the passion and had the talent,” Glover said. “She’s had float experience in the past. It just seemed like all the pieces were there and a lot of excitement, so we decided to move forward.”

With the chassis in hand and an assured place in the Grand Floral Parade, Arambul began a frenzy of planning and design.

Michael Walker, director of Vancouver’s Downtown Association, said Arambul’s giant-apple design surrounded by locally grown flowers connects directly to Southwest Washington and Vancouver history. Walker said he appreciates that the float is a simple, straightforward design without any animatronic elements, harking back to the first Rose Festival parades a century ago.

“We wanted an organic, grassroots float, which also represents the way the project came together,” Walker said. “It’s an exciting way to show that Vancouver is really experiencing a community renaissance. I see it as a generational stewardship thing, continuing these long-term traditions and passing the baton to future generations.”

The project is a complete labor of love for Arambul, who has closed her Vancouver florist shop for a week to work on the float. She said many individuals and local businesses — especially flower farmers — are contributing their time or donating flowers or other necessary labor to the project.

Arambul’s boyfriend — Ryan Zygar, owner of Tieton Built construction company — created the wooden platform that will support Arambul’s design. The community gathered last week at Fieldwork Flowers in downtown Vancouver to sign their names to the float and send it off to the Rose Festival float barn in Portland, where it awaits its floral finery.

Arambul said she is funding the majority of the project herself, to the tune of an estimated $20,000. That’s small change compared with some of the more complicated, animatronic floats like those in Pasadena’s Rose Parade, which cost a jaw-dropping average of $275,000.

The framing and painting of the welded metal apple structures cost roughly $6,000, Arambul said, because she wanted to make sure it was heavy duty and could tolerate a lot of jostling. She said she’s also ordering about $5,000 worth of flowers. To keep costs down, Arambul is using greenery cuttings from around the city of Vancouver, with the help of Vancouver Parks and Recreation.

“I want to make it happen and make it really big and beautiful and something to be proud of,” Arambul said. “It’s going to be a very lush, wild float.”

Arambul is also deliberately choosing highly scented flowers, such as freesia and rose geranium. She said she wanted powerful floral fragrances to “catch some noses.”

Weather has been a major consideration in Arambul’s planning, she said. Maintaining blooms’ freshness in a non-air-conditioned warehouse is a challenge, she said, as well as trying not to damage the blossoms when transporting them from place to place to make “these flowers look perfect for day of show.” She relies on flower-wrangling skills she gained over the last few years decorating the Portland Fire Department’s vintage fire trucks for the Grand Floral Parade.

Within a few minutes of talking to Arambul about the float, it’s crystal clear that “With Love, Vancouver” is an intensely personal project born from joy. Arambul moved to Vancouver as a single mom in 2020, and she said the community embraced her so warmly that she wants to give a heartfelt gift right back.

“I’m bringing beautiful things together,” Arambul said, becoming teary. “That’s not just flowers. It’s also farmers. It’s bringing the people together. It’s talking to everybody about celebrating something together in a city that’s taking care of us. It’s really moving me, the smile that it puts on people’s faces.”

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For those who’d like to make a donation or contribute to Vancouver’s float in another way, visit fieldworkflowers.com and click on the “Rose Parade” photo. Of course, the most satisfying way to support Vancouver is to show up to the Grand Floral Parade in person when it begins at 10 a.m. June 8 and cheer for the float as it rolls slowly by, leaving the sweet scent of roses in its wake.