Kiana Underwood arrived from Iran as a teen with dreams of becoming an envoy, and a degree in diplomacy led to a job as a Hoover Institution researcher at Stanford. But it was in nature—and the memories of her grandfather’s Iranian garden—that she became an ambassador of beauty, with Tulipina and Color Me Floral, ($30, Chronicle Books). The Burlingame resident is now bicoastal, with a home in upstate New York with a greenhouse, garden and teaching space. Devotees can still take flower-arranging classes online ($49 per month) or enroll in her two-day master class in Tokyo Dec. 5 through 6 (from $1,000).
How surprising was your career shift?
If you asked me 20 years ago, I would never have imagined what I do today. I wanted to travel the world and have always been fascinated with other cultures.
What do your clients like?
The Bay Area is saturated with events, and Californians are sophisticated people—they like arrangements that aren’t typical hydrangeas in a slender vase. Clients in Woodside and Palo Alto like back-to-nature style, and they love the idea of organically grown flowers. I’ve done work for companies like Apple and Facebook, but it’s often a bunch of men with little appreciation for garden-style design—they want to go with that modern, techie look.
What do you wish people would request more? Color. The arrangements I create for photo shoots and classes are very colorful, but for weddings, people gravitate toward neutral colors. That is boring.
Will your new gardens be inspired by your grandfather? Certainly. Iranian culture is very flowercentric, with primroses, hyacinths and geraniums. I love unusual kinds of tulips like the ones you find in Dutch masters arrangements, and I love ranunculus.
Tips for holiday florals?
I have always loved using fruit, like little pumpkins, dates, persimmons or branches. Introducing fruit in a centerpiece embraces autumn.
Originally published in the October/November issue of Silicon Valley