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Owner Of Wicker Park’s Asrai Garden To Judge On ‘Full Bloom,’ A Competitive Floral Arranging Show From HBO Max

Asrai Garden, founded in 1999 in Wicker Park, sets itself apart by a devotion to wild and natural flowers. "No one was doing this type of thing when I started," owner Elizabeth Cronin said.

Elizabeth Cronin is the owner of Asrai Garden in Wicker Park and in West Loop. She co-judges an HBO Max show called "Full Bloom."
Hannah Alani/Block Club Chicago

WEST LOOP — From the “Great British Bake Off” to “Project Runway” to “Steampunk’d,” TV shows pitting people against each other in a series of competitive, niche tasks are all the rage.

The latest addition to the genre, HBO Max’s “Full Bloom,” will focus on competitive floral arranging. And there’s a big Chicago connection: Longtime Wicker Park florist Elizabeth Cronin will be one of the judges.

Cronin, the owner of Asrai Garden, 1935 W. North Ave., will judge eight hour-long episodes of competition floral work.

The series — which will be produced by the same company behind ABC reality golf competition “Holey Moley” — is expected to air on HBO Max next year, Deadline reported.

HBO Max is a new streaming service launching next year, according to HBO’s website.

Cronin will judge the competition alongside Maurice Harris, the owner of Los Angeles-based Bloom and Plume. Simon Lycett, a celebrity florist, will host the show.

While Full Bloom will likely thrust Asrai into the spotlight, it won’t mark the shop’s first TV debut.

Credit: Asrai Garden/ Facebook
The popular Wicker Park boutique Asrai Garden is set to open its second location in the Fulton Market.

In the early 2000s, MTV’s “The Real World” filmed in a home on North Avenue across the street from Asrai Garden.

Cast and crew members filmed inside the garden shop. At one point, an Asrai staffer and a “Real World” star communicated from across the street by writing messages on signs in the buildings’ respective windows.

What sets the Asrai Garden shops apart — and perhaps what intrigued HBO — is Cronin’s devotion to native plants and natural-looking arrangements.

“No one was doing this type of thing when I started,” she said.

Cronin’s arrangements celebrate the “wild” look of flowers, often including prairie greens native to Illinois or taxidermied insects.

In addition to flowers, Asrai sets itself apart from other shops by including a thoughtfully curated selection of products, such as essential oils and home decor, Cronin said.

Both of these approaches — wild, natural flowers and curated complementary products — were a steep departure from the typical flower shops of the ’90s, Cronin said.

In describing her approach to floral arrangements, Cronin referenced the “Dutch master” philosophy of keeping things natural.

While she has many favorite kinds of flowers, Cronin said she has a particular affection for Queen Anne’s lace and its siblings in the Ammi family.

“I want to make a massive display of weeds,” Cronin said. “I think that’s beautiful.”

Cronin grew up on the Northwest Side. Her mother worked as a nurse at St. Mary’s hospital in Wicker Park.

As a child, Cronin hung out in Wicker Park. She often ate at a Polish diner underneath the “L” train tracks. She also took many trips to the Chicago Botanic Garden, where she attended children’s workshops on gardening.

Credit: Asrai Garden/ Facebook
Asrai Garden in Wicker Park.

As a young adult Cronin lived in Wicker Park and worked in a floral shop, followed by a brief stint making flower arrangements for events.

When she was in her mid-20s she decided to open Asrai Garden. The name was inspired by the Brian Fraod book, “The Dark Crystal.”

“Wicker Park has always felt like home,” she said.

Asrai, which opened in Wicker Park in 1999, will celebrate its 20th anniversary on Dec. 1.

To celebrate, the store’s larger second location in Fulton Market, 309 N. Morgan St., will host a ’90s Wicker Park-themed celebration at the Ace Hotel and other nearby businesses.

RELATED: Asrai Garden To Bring 1999 Wicker Park To Fulton Market For Boutique’s 20-Year Anniversary

The party runs Nov. 30-Dec. 1 and will include pop-ups from long-shuttered Wicker Park favorites including Earwax Cafe, the Lava Lounge and Jinx Cafe.

“There’s not much left in Wicker Park that feels super special,” Cronin said. “There’s just a few of us left.”

Today, Cronin lives on Chicago’s South Side in Kenwood, where gardeners like herself are “taking it all back to the prairie” by planting native plants along the lakeshore.

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