When Roses Meet Rembrandt: This Weekend, ‘Art Alive’ Returns to San Diego Museum of Art!

It’s back! The show that puts the “culture” in horticulture, Art Alive is taking place this weekend at San Diego Museum of Art. The exhibition will feature 120 inventive, seriously sublime floral interpretations paired with famous works of art.

You might remember our recap of last year’s festivities. Ryan and I are counting down the days: There’s the Bloom Bash party on Friday night and then the flurry of flower-related activities happening at the museum on Saturday (e.g. a lecture with noted Contemporary artist Jennifer Steinkamp) and Sunday (dig the Floral Master Class). And of course, a museum full of paintings interpreted by floral designers.

We’re especially excited to see how the rotunda will be transformed. It’s being designed by the intrepid Carlos Franco of Green Fresh Florals; his theme is “The Gardens of Alhambra: Heaven on Earth.” Think Granada, Spain, and its storied paradise: The installation will be offering up vibrant cascades of jasmine and bougainvillea, rose gardens, espaliered citrus trees, hedges in symmetrical maze formations, and boxwood topiary sculpted in the shape of Moroccan columns and archways. They’re also hauling in 12-foot-tall date palm trees for the occasion!

Carlos has been planning this wonderland for several months, and this week he and a crew of about 25 helpers are at the museum to make his vision a reality. Yesterday we stopped by the rotunda-in-progress for a preview…


Carlos Franco is creating an Alhambra-inspired paradise for this weekend’s Art Alive. Here he is inside SD Museum of Art’s rotunda-in-progress.




“It will be very plant-centric,” Carlos tells us by phone. This is his third time designing the space, and his most elaborate approach yet. “In the past people have tried to cover up the archway of the building. Going into the centennial of Balboa Park, we want to celebrate its architecture, which is very similar to the Gardens of Alhambra.”

For Carlos, who was raised here in SD, the rotunda brings together some key formative influences. “I’m dedicating the rotunda design to the memory of my grandmother, Flora,” Carlos says. “She’s the one who taught me everything about plants — through her garden, hiking trips, trips to Balboa Park. She used to take me as a kid to Balboa Park, and we’d go to the Museum of Art and she would show me the architecture and the artwork, and then we’d go over to the arboretum, and we’d paint. So I’m really connected to the museum and to Balboa Park. They inspired my love of nature.”

In addition to highlighting the museum’s Spanish-Colonial structure, Carlos will be recreating Moorish tiling with geometrically placed flowers: Button and china chrysanthemums and gerbera daisies (with the petals stripped off!) will be placed into diamond-shaped Moroccan patterns throughout.


Gerbera daisies, prepare to be de-petalled!



Carlos Franco’s ‘Art Alive’ Rotunda by the Numbers

175 pots of hanging blooming plants (roses, bougainvillea, begonias, jasmine, geranium, coleus, fuchsia, ivy, petunia, verbena)

120 bunches of various types of roses (cherry love, circus rose, hot princess, yellow rose)

175 bunches of ivy, passion vine and rose vine

300 boxwood bunches

200 bunches of yellow china and white china mums

8 date palms

16 conical cypress trees

10 rose trees

“The Gardens of Alhambra were built to reflect what heaven on Earth would be,” Carlos says, adding that the rotunda design will be multisensory — from the trickling sounds of fountains to the fragrant rose gardens (with park benches) he will be installing on the second floor. Also, an orchard of cypress, orange and olive trees will lead guests up to the entrance of the museum.

And that’s just scratching the surface! Here’s the emotional takeaway: “I want people to feel like they’ve gone to heaven,” Carlos says. “I want people be inspired and to feel like this institution is doing something wonderful. I’m doing this because I want to pay it forward. If one girl or boy goes in there and gets inspired by the art or by what I’ve created, and down the road wants to become an artist or a floral designer or a gardener, I would feel like I’ve done something good, to inspire someone else to be creative in their life.”



Water lilies

Waterlily cuttings last for weeks when kept in water. They open and close with the light.


The rotunda balcony was already perfumed with jasmine vines during our preview visit.

Art Alive Bougainvillea


Carlos is most excited about decorating the fountain at the center of the rotunda.

The fountain at the center of the rotunda will soon be completely ensconced in plants.



Lotus berthelotii, or Parrots beak

Lotus berthelotii, or parrots beak

Lotus berthelotii, or parrots beak.