Beneath the Roses

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Story and Photography by VERONICA AN

12:07 pm | October 18, 2015

Many people say that beneath roses, there are thorns but under these Rose Parade Floats you’ll find hard work, a float driver and a metal chassis. At 7:00 a.m. this morning, 4 floats took a test ride a down Raymond Avenue at the Rose Palace and float riders practiced the all important fire drill.

Today’s test drive was one of many that will take place almost every weekend until parade day. Among the float riders, drivers, technical crew and volunteers there is a tight knit community of roses.

Rebecca Gardner, a decorating chief, came out to watch the test drive today. She has been a decorating chief since 1983 but has been involved in the parade since 1971.

“I drove 6 or 7 years, I was one of the first female drivers,” she said. “Back then, then the floats were stick shift and you had to start them like a lawn mower,” she added. Gardner recalls her favorite Rose Parade memory as the time when a couple got married on the Huntington Hotel float she was driving in 1988. “It was very special,” she said.

Pasadena Now also had the chance to chat with 7-time Rose Parade veteran, Chuck Hayes, at Phoenix Decorating Company.

Each float consists of a reused metal chassis, painted foam and tons of floral materials and planning begins at least 6 months in advance. This year, Phoenix Decorating Company is responsible for 21 floats, including the opening float. The amount of work that goes into these floats is incredible and mostly done in the “float barns” under wraps.

Each year, the Tournament of Roses president picks a theme and this year’s parade will focus on “Find Your Adventure.” Many floats include real bicycles for people to pedal alongside the petals. “It’s a great energizer and the parade is something you can really set your calendar by,” said Hayes.

All the floats are one-of-a-kind designs that reflect the float commissioner’s values. “We like to push it out each year and give [the floats] a completely fresh look,” said Hayes. He adds that floats have become more elaborate and many now include bubbles, fireworks and moving parts in addition to their signature music and fresh florals.

Roses are, of course, a popular choice but other materials, like coffee grounds and sea grass give the floats depth. All the materials are applied by hand, starting in December. The local Kiwanis Club and the Petal Pushers do most of the floral work but anyone can volunteer to help make the floats come alive. Some decorators drive from as far as San Diego to participate.

“Many people don’t realize the magnitude of these floats. They’re awe-inspiring and there’s a great sense of pride that comes from working on them, “ said Hayes. Anyone can join the Rose Parade Community and make Pasadena bloom.

For more information on how to volunteer to be a part of the Rose Parade, visit