Carrie Glenn, now retired, was the flower arranger at Chez Panisse for 35 years. After decades of creating beautiful floral arrangements, Glenn has turned to a different art-form — she has written and illustrated her first book for children, Clever Cybèle, The Story of an Apricot (Apologue Press).
Chez Panisse founder Alice Waters is huge Glenn fan. “Her aesthetic influence at the restaurant is impossible to measure,” she said. “As an artist, she is deep and complex and inspirational — though I know she would be too shy to admit that!”
The book tells the story of an apricot and a small herd of snails. Waters describes it as “utterly charming. “I can imagine she will get invited to illustrate other books in the future; she is a master,” she said.
We asked Glen to tell us a little about herself and the book.
How did you come to be in charge of flowers at Chez Panisse?
I had a fine-arts degree in painting from the University of Iowa. I taught school in Illinois before moving to California and I had a store in Berkeley, Cedar Street Flowers, for 11 years. My work at Chez Panisse began before I had the store and continued years beyond, until 11 years ago. At the restaurant I changed the format from bud vases on the table to a large central arrangement big enough for everyone to see.
While I was there I did six arrangements twice a week, two in the dining room downstairs, one in the hall, and three in the café. I did all the the special events, designed light fixtures for New Year’s Eve, made special gift arrangements for diners and for special events, for people like Juliet Binoche and Natalia Makarova and many others.
What led you to decide to write and illustrate a children’s book after a career in flowers?
When I retired from Chez Panisse, my thought was that I had been born with an ability in art that I was not using and wanted to see where it would take me. I decided to write children’s books to give myself the opportunity to do the artwork for them.
What was the inspiration for ‘Clever Cybèle’?
I decided that my books would be about plants with plants as characters since plants have been such a big part of my life and I know many things about them that would ring true in a book. This book was inspired by observing the fallen apricots in my garden covered with snail tracks. So I imagined a story about a beautiful apricot who wanted to avoid being eaten by snails and what she could do about it.
The apricot is named for the daughter of a friend of mine. My thought is that there are many stories close at hand about the lives of plants that are real enough to inspire children’s observation of nature close by. Of course, all of my books contain some fantasy and the characters have human qualities.
The book is for children probably ages five or six and up and has to be read aloud by an adult, as they have some big words in them. But they are meant to entertain grown-ups who love plants as well. I hope the grown-ups will have a chuckle at some of the humor.
Alice Waters wrote a cover blurb for the book and told us about how much she loves it — do you still keep in touch with her and Chez Panisse friends?
I am part of the Chez Panisse family for life and keep in touch with many of them, including Alice. The wonderful thing about Chez Panisse is that so many of us see each other about town, and it is always heart-warming to see all those familiar faces. And there are so many of us and so many memories.
Do you keep a hand in flower arranging, or is your focus now on books?
Flower arranging is in the past, and I have more books to get out, all on flowers.
What’s next for you?
The next book is about a morning-glory family and is completed and ready for publication.
‘Clever Cybèle, The Story of an Apricot’ is available from Apologue Press, and copies are also being sold at Books Inc. and The Gardener on Fourth Street. Chez Panisse is holding a book party for ‘Clever Cybèle’ at the bar in the café on May 4, from 5 p.m to 6:30 p.m. Space is limited.