New owner brings flair for arranging to Olson’s Flowers

Since 1926, the stately Bligh building on the corner of Northeast High and Court streets in downtown Salem has been the home of Olson’s Fine Flowers.

Ken Haseltine took over the shop in October 2021 and has brought some novel changes with his brand of floral artistry. Dodging in between the steady stream of bouquets in the midst of being created and sent out for delivery for Christmas, and buckets of flowers being carried in for selection, he spoke about his 40 year journey to Salem from California and how he worked his way up to being a certified Master Designer (Salem’s only), and being featured on Lifetime Television’s Wedding of a Lifetime as the featured florist.

Anna Schneider works hard alongside Ken Haseltine creating Christmas bouquets at Olson’s flowers during the Christmas rush on Tuesday, Dec. 20 (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)

Haseltine’s career started when he was 17 and worked for the Liquor Barn in California designing gift baskets. He thought they looked tacky, and when they received an order for a local bank, Haseltine went to a local library, did some research, and did a floral wine basket design. The rest, as they say, was history.

When Haseltine was 19, his parents helped him buy his first store.

“I know zero about accounting – so that was a short adventure,” Haseltine said.

He was involved in a bad automobile accident 10 years later and had to spend a long time in a wheelchair recovering, which made working in florist shops difficult as access was prohibitive. 

While working in Santa Rosa, California, he was presented with an opportunity to buy a shop in foreclosure for $2,500, and then turned that shop into a multi-million-dollar venture when a very exclusive restaurant opened nearby, and the wine industry boomed. Soon, Haseltine was designing flowers for clients like the Mondavi wine family. However, the housing boom and the dot com industry collapsed, and Haseltine decided to sell the shop and move to Salem with his husband in 2004. He was in the miniature dollhouse business for over 10 years until the Chinese market imploded. 

Chris Bogner helps make sure flowers get to the design table at Olson’s Florist on Tuesday, Dec. 20 (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)
Finished bouquets on the delivery board at Olson’s Florist awaits the delivery van on Tuesday, Dec. 20 (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)

In 2019, Haseltine decided to get back into floral work and he started to work for the owner of Olson’s at the on an intermittent basis. When the owner finally decided to quit and sell the business, Haseltine bought it and took over in October 2021. He supports the Oregon Flower Growers Association, and sources as much local product as possible. When sourcing flowers from Latin America, Olson’s only buys from Rainforest Alliance Certified Farms.

Haseltine gets up at 4:30 a.m. on Mondays to go to the Portland Flower market to purchase the freshest flowers possible for the shop. He also enjoys designing one of a kind made to order floral artistry for local clients, providing unique products like Korean wrap bouquets (akin to origami wrapped around a dozen roses) to complete design for quinceañeras. 

Olivia Oxford shows off one of the many carefully created Christmas bouquets for sale in Olson’s Florist on Tuesday, Dec. 20 (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)
Buckets of Alstroemeria flowers await the designer’s hands at Olson’s Flowers on Tuesday, Dec. 20 (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)

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Laura Tesler has lived in Salem, Oregon for 20 years and is originally from Flint, MI. Laura has been an underwater photographer for 15 years, and is an avid scuba diver. Topside, she has been taking photographs since age 12, and currently works on assignment for the Salem Reporter, and full time purchasing land for fish and wildlife habitat in the Willamette Valley. Laura attended Oregon State University, and has traveled extensively all over the world and the United States.