At Christmas, perhaps more than at any other time of the year, house decorations take on a special meaning and importance.

The tree, the wall decor, the items sitting on the tables and even items sitting on the floor are designed to enhance the spirit of the season.Today, dried flowers are playing an increasingly important part of home decorations not only at Christmas, but all year, according to Todd Chivers, president of Growers' Distribution, 755 N. 400 West, and Gatewood's, a wholesale and retail dried flower and gift store he and his wife, Gloria, opened a few months ago at 2120 S. 700 East.

Dried flowers have become such a hit in home decorations that his products are sold in many state and foreign countries. The products he sells come from a variety of places, including Bolivia, where Gloria's mother, Nelly Candia, and brother, Guillermo Candia, have a business supplying dried flowers to the Chivers couple.

For the 32-year-old Todd, obtaining, processing and selling dried flowers couldn't have been further from his mind when he spent some time in Florida and Louisiana fishing, shrimping and crabbing and working on an offshore oil rig several years ago.

He returned to his native Salt Lake City in 1982 and had several jobs, including some time at the Salt Lake County Landfill and the University Medical Center.

He got married in 1984, and it was while he was employed at the medical center the people who operated the fishing boats in Florida and Louisiana called and told him about a baby's breath operation they had in Washington. Baby's breath is a tiny flower used in floral arrangements.

They wanted him to go help preserve wild baby's breath plants, but he couldn't get a month off from his job.

Todd became curious about baby's breath plants, and when he found out how much he could make he started taking orders from florists and craft stores. He quit his job in June 1987, flew to Wenatchee, Wash., rented a truck and returned to Salt Lake City with a load of baby's breath.

Reorders began to come in, and his customers started asking for other products. He began getting eucalyptus plants from California and searched for other companies to provide other dried flowers.

With support from their family, Todd and Gloria had opened an office in their basement with storage in their garage. Any overflow inventory was put in a rented shed.

In November 1987, the Chivers couple rented an office at 2535 S. 500 East and operated out of that facility for six months before moving into the old Superior Carpet Co. building at 2140 S. 700 East that provided more room for their growing business.

The Chivers' leased land near Weiser, Idaho, in 1988 that had a bumper crop of baby's breath. In 1992 they moved into a larger facility at 2450 W. 500 South and started doing their own processing and packaging of their locally grown or imported flowers.

Down in Bolivia, Gloria's relatives hire 200 families to grow and harvest pepperberries. After grading, they ship them in bulk to Todd and his wife. They are preserved and packaged locally before being shipped to customers.

The company stayed in the building at 2450 W. 500 South for one year, but growth forced them to move to 755 N. 400 West, their current warehouse location where they have 12,000 square feet.

It wasn't long ago the Chivers couple opened a dried flower processing plant in Santa Paula, Calif., a move they considered necessary because they were getting inferior products from that area. That operation has 13,000 square feet and 20 employees.

Gloria said the company contracts with various growers in climates outside Utah because of the better growing conditions. She said the most important thing about dried flowers is picking them at the right time.

While peddling their products to craft stores, florists and other outlets, Gloria felt the company had lost touch with their customers and she wanted to show people how beautiful dried flowers can be. That's why they opened Gatewood's, which honored his father, Floyd Gatewood Chivers.

In their 2,000-square-foot store, they feature 30 colors of baby's breath, several colors of eucalyptus, hydrangeas, freeze-dried roses, peonies, ivy from France, pepperberries, daisies from Holland, heather and caspia from California. Over the years the Chivers couple have developed their own methods for preserving and coloring the flowers.

Baskets, bird houses, wheelbarrows, miniature chairs and wreaths made of sticks are available for decorating with the various types of dried flowers by do-it-yourselfers, or customers can contact designers Angela Johnson or Lori Chivers and they'll make the decoration desired.

One of the testaments of the quality of the work offered at Gatewood's is a bridal bouquet that looks like it came fresh from a florist. It is made of dried flowers and will look that way for many years and doesn't have to be pressed in the wedding album.