Today I made a floral head garland for my beautiful 29-year old sister Fiona. She’s a Taurus, like so many in my family, and I think because of that Earth sign she can really pull off the crown of flowers look.
I clipped a few things from my parent’s yard and took them up to Boston with me for the week as a reminder of the lushness of spring in Pennsylvania. This is what I ended up doing with them, keeping clusters of azalea, lilac, and snowball viburnum grouped together. These pics were taken before I got my new camera, unfortunately. More delicious plant and flower photos to come as the week progresses.
I’m pretty sure the viburnum in question is Viburnum opulus Roseum, also called European Snowball Viburnum or European cranberry bush, which flowers in spring and early summer, starting out chartreuse and turning white. All of these shrubs have been here for many decades, and I’m glad I’m finally able to appreciate them (when I was 17 I don’t think I really noticed…silly girl.)
I didn’t do anything fancy with the stems (like pound them or slit them vertically,) I just cut them with sharp pruners on a slant – and because there was a lot of woody material, they stayed in place pretty well.
These didn’t last as long as I would have hoped – only 4 days or so. The lilacs crisped up first. I should have let them condition in a cool dark place with hot water for an hour, then added cool water and let them sit for 4-5 hours (like my teacher Jane taught us during Day 3 of Basic Floral Design!) Instead, I cut them, put them right in a bucket of cold water, and drove 5+ hours with them, letting the lilac scent permeate my brain deliciously. Upon returning to Swarthmore, where these shrubs live, I see I will be given another chance to work with these dazzling spring blooms – but I’ve missed out on the chartreuse phase of the Viburnum – it’s already turned white!
“Go beyond traditional bridal bouquets and expand your repertoire to the cutting edge,” promises the Longwood Continuing Education Course Catalog when describing Unbridled Bouquets. Today’s class is another taught by Jane Godshalk (and I realize it may seem like I’m stalking her, but she just happens to be a great teacher and one of the main floral instructors at Longwood, okay?) All materials including containers are covered in the fee for this class, but we were told to bring wire cutters, a stapler, and a box to bring our stuff home in.
There are design basics to cover in any bouquet, but since I’ve never created any type of bouquet other than hand-tied ones at the shop, I’m a clean slate for learning. First, consider what type of style you’d like: Decorative, Vegetative, or Form and Line. Your typical bridal bouquet of tightly packed white roses would be considered Decorative, it’s controlled and uses a mass of materials. Something that’s more naturalistic, with a variety of material and height is Vegetative. And then Form and Line will use less material, have strong lines, and be more dramatic. Most of the bouquets I like seem to be a combination of styles, but I do tend to favor the vegetative look – something fresh from the garden. At least that’s what I thought at the beginning of the class!
Think about where this bouquet is going to live: is it a bridal bouquet? Not today, people. We’re going where no bouquets have gone before, because we’re unbridled. These bouquets are for the home; these you can bring to a wedding shower, dinner party, or birthday bash that the hostess can then just plop into their own container. Good idea, no?
Bouquet elements to consider:
- Balance: Symmetrical or Asymmetrical
- Binding Point: it’s either high, medium, or low.
- Stem Placement: stem can be arranged in a Radial/Spiral pattern, in a Parallel fashion, or in an Alternate pattern.
- Flower Level: flowers are all on the same plane, or they are varied from a little to a lot.
- Open or closed: flowers form a ring that’s open in the center, or entire bouquet is full. At least I think that’s what it means.
We each have a bunch of 20 carnations, which we’ve mostly removed the foliage from. Next, Jane shows us how to pierce the calyxes of each flower with wire that will connect them all together. We trade a few stems with each other here and there to get some alternate colors. (Thanks Trish!)
As we gather the wired bunches into our hands, we decide where the binding point will land. With these long stems, I’m thinking medium to high binding point. I am going radial, all the way, because I want my carnations to go in a spiral of varying heights; and then I’ll tuck stems of Dianthus ‘Green Trick’ and some pink rice flower within that spiral. But other students have done many other things with theirs. The carnations, being wired, can pretty much hold their shape exactly where you want them – imagine trying to do this with free-standing stems, how would you do it without totally losing your mind? And carnations are one of the few flowers with a big enough calyx to pierce without destroying the whole thing.
Then we can choose to add a little plumosus (Asparagus fern) or bear grass depending on whether we’re feeling lacy or more formal. We also have some hypericum berry we can string through if we like. Then we’ll twist the bunch with some chenille wire, adding whatever ribbon adornment we prefer.
Next up, we create a bouquet that starts with a handful of Equisetum, cut to mostly the same length, and held together with a rubber band (which will eventually get covered up by something prettier.) The stems will be arranged in a Parallel pattern, so choose stems that are straight! Hey, did you know Equisetum is basically a living fossil? Missouri Botanical Garden says: “Equisetum is the single surviving genus of a class of primitive vascular plants that dates back to the mid-Devonian period (350 + million years ago).” It’s not a rush, or a fern, it’s in a class of it’s own, literally. Cool!
Then, simply pop stems inside the Equisetum structure and BAM! instant modern bouquet.
Here’s the next little cutie we did. In this ‘bouquet’ we threaded wire through carnations again, this time to achieve stems with an Alternating pattern. I’m sorry I didn’t get pics of what’s underneath, but I actually ended up doing most of this during lunch, since we were really packing the learning in.
After a lunch break, we came back to find a lot of lovely colors to choose from, along with some big birch branches. Get in line for your materials and don’t be shy now!
Then we created some bouquets using Birch branches as a structure. Those of us that were doing the more Vegetative design started by created a base structure out of wire covered in brown floral tape. Wrap two 18 gauge flat wires to form a circle, and then attach four more wires to the circle, which then meet in the center under the hoop to form a sort of holder. From there, add birch branches, even binding them to the wire form to get the branches to got out horizontally.
For the more modern Birch bouquet, we created a structure using “Sickles” – which are bundles of birch wrapped with wire to form little crescent shapes, or sickles. This is a technique that Jane learned from designer Gregor Lersh…who has some upcoming workshops in Germany, if you’re interested. You can make sickles out of anything that would look good bunched together – straw, bear grass, pine needles, etc.
For both of the branch structures, greens and then flowers are simply added within the form. My hand got way tired holding all my materials in place while I created my Vegetative bouquet. Guess I’ve got to do some hand strengthening exercises!
So you see you probably could not achieve the same effect with the branches if you had just placed them into the container without foam. The wire structure made it easy to just poke stuff in, and then you hold it in place with your hand. At the end, it’s very important to finish it off with greens in order to cover the wire mechanic. Then, wire with chenille wire to wrap it all together at the end.
Did you think we were done yet? No, this is Unbridled Bouquets, we still have one more bouquet to make! We were at a breakneck speed at this point, and the creative juices were flowing. Jane showed us how to staple straws onto a wire, then create a structure like the birch branch one for this fun bouquet. Then poke your materials in, with hydrangea using up a lot of real estate it’s a quick one!
I, unfortunately, had a terrible stapler (was it made for Barbie?) whose staples were ill-fitting, so I didn’t create the straw hedgehog. Instead I wired bits of light green straw onto copper wire, which I then attached to a wire bouquet structure. I then added a bunch of Apidistra leaf (folded and stapled,) Hydrangea, Anthurium, and Dianthus ‘Green Trick’ for a little Tim-Burton-meets-Martha-Stewart action.
After a day of making bouquets (five in total!) our cheeks are flushed with productivity and pride; and maybe, just maybe, we feel a little on the unbridled side. We have boxes full of beauty to take home!
Last week, I had the good fortune of being invited to attend the Four Counties Garden Club meeting and flower show at Cathedral Village, as a guest of Longwood instructor Jane Godshalk. Decades ago, Jane got into floral design “through the back door;” by entering floral competitions held by this local garden club (a Garden Club of America organization.) Originally she thought she’d be more into the horticulture side of the club, but found she had a knack for floral design, and the rest is history. Although she started later in life (in her early 40s) she finally found something she was good at and went with it. You can see why I relate to Jane as a mentor, right?
There are three classes to compete in:
1- “Transformation” – a challenge class for novices working in pairs ( a novice has not won more than 1 blue ribbon in a Club show.) For this class, you show up with clippers only, the rest is provided, and you have an hour to put it together. Your finished design will be viewed from 3 sides and should be no wider than 26″.
2- “A Fresh Perspective” – a sculptural design in which the color green dominates, to be staged on a pedestal, viewed from 3 sides and not exceed 24″ width. You do as much as you can before you arrive and complete the rest on site. This is the class Jane is entered in.
3- “Spring Sizzle” – A polychromatic design to be staged in a Medium niche; background required. You do as much as you can before you arrive and complete the rest on site.
The feeling in the room is somewhat frenetic, but I sense a connectedness between the women – they are working together to complete their designs, one helping the other if she needs it, giving feedback to each other about the small details of their designs.
Then it’s time for the “passers” to come around and make sure the designs follow the rules outlined. A Passer will make sure none of the mechanics are showing – a bit of floral foam here, a wire there; and she will also measure the design. Though it may seem otherwise, the Passer is your friend. She will catch little things before the judges see your design.
Then it’s time for the judges!! All the participants leave the room to attend their meeting, while three judges look at the 12 total designs in the room. This is not a task for the faint-hearted: they will spend an hour and a half critiquing 12 designs, with a clerk standing by to take notes on what they say (sometime I’d like to be the clerk – you could learn so much that way! but I wasn’t ready for this post on this day, just wanting to observe the whole thing.)
They look at each class, deciding on first, second, third, and honorable mention, and dole out ribbons accordingly. Judges leave comments to help designers improve their skills. Then the ladies come back to see how they did.
As I drive home from this lovely event with these lovely women, I am struck by how cool it is that they’ve all gathered to spend this time together, creating beauty in their corner of the world. They look closely at each other’s work, they take each other seriously, they learn from each other. They are there for each other, support one another. And they are really talented at floral design. So why do I feel so sad as I drive away? I guess it’s because I wish I had my own garden club ladies, I wish I belonged to something. I’ve had my nose to the grindstone for so long, I looked up one day and realized I had no balance in my life – no time for friends even. Since I left my too stressful career back in August 2011, my life is starting to even out again. My priorities are shifting. I’ve found other things besides making television that are important. And I’m so thankful to have been shown this part of the floral design world, where ladies rescue other ladies in distress!
I started my day making a birthday arrangement for a friend of the family named Pat, who is my stepmom’s dear friend and probably the hardest working person I know. She’s in the restaurant biz, and owns a cute restaurant in Downingtown called The Blue Cafe together with her husband Paul. Go there, the food is great! Pat is the kind of person who will literally hug the stuffing out of you, whose perkiness precedes her, and despite having been through some tough times, always manages to see the positive in everything and everyone. Julie picked up most of the flowers and I put them together – quite a cheerful mix, just like Pat herself! Happy Birthday Pat.
Then I scooted off to falls flowers for my weekly dose of apprenticing. The materials Peicha selects for her shop are really exquisite, and there’s always something I’ve never seen or worked with before to choose from…which makes designing pure heaven!
Meet Boronia heterophylla, as I did for the first time today. A shrub native to Australia cultivated for the cut flower trade, boronia has fairly long stems of vibrant pink flowers and a fruity, tea-like fragrance. It really pops! Now, here’s another delicious dish of a flower – and don’t be afraid of it’s Latin name – Scabiosa. They can range in color from white to light lavender, to blue, to purple, to deep maroon. How very romantic.
My thirst for loveliness partially quenched, I set to making a few arrangements that had been phoned in. This one was the April representative for a customer’s ‘year of flowers,’ something I think everyone should do! Wouldn’t that make a lovely mother’s day gift: a year of flowers?
Next up, a birthday arrangement for a customer whose only specification was they wanted it to be “WOW.” My interpretation of wow included the use of protea, orange ornithogalum, boronia, ranunculus, Free Spirit roses, and hypericum.
And finally, some little jars of delight, using leftover materials from the cooler. These were freebies – visual inspiration for a 2nd grade class as they create shapes and forms using clay. Little bit of this, little bit of that…
Thanks for letting me have full creative license today, Peicha! I had a blast. I never thought I’d put pink, orange, bright green and yellow together in one design, but I actually did it twice in one day…and I may do even do it again someday.
After our lunch break, we came back to a lecture on the History of Floral Design. This is too big a topic to blog all at once, but it’s fascinating to think of borrowing from the past and really knowing the era you’re trying to reflect. Our parallel designs are inspired by the Egyptian period, our garlands a toast to the Greeks and Romans, our Roundy Moundies mirror the tightly massed, garden-inspired designs of the Victorian era. And now that I’ve been studying floral design, I’ve been noticing floral arrangements in movies and television – and just like everyone else, I’m in love with the PBS Masterpiece Classic Downton Abbey. In the scene pictured, we are in a late Edwardian time period, but the flowers behind poor Edith Crawley (who has just not been proposed to, alas) are Victorian in style – packed to the gills with flowers, softened with greens, spherical and opulent. I think a whole blog entry at a later date on the flowers of D.A. is in order, don’t you?
Sigh. In today’s class we created an arrangement from the Art Nouveau period, which lasted from the 1880’s to around 1920 and slightly beyond, and was defined by it’s sinuous whiplash curves and highly stylized yet organic look. Look at Hector Guimard’s subway station designs he did for the Paris Metro – (transportation built to accommodate the many visitors for the Paris World Fair in 1900.)
Alphonse Mucha turned advertising into miniature Art Nouveau romantic masterpieces.
So how do you translate the stylized, curvy look of Art Nouveau into floral design? I think choosing flowers that already have that look is a start – like the calla lily. Calla lilies, with their sensuous curves and lines, could just be the perfect representation of the Art Nouveau period. They probably also work with the Art Deco period too. Then there’s the overall shape of the design itself. In today’s class, we’re creating Jane’s very favorite design, the Cascade Design.
The Cascade or Waterfall design is characterized by a steep flow of materials in an extended cascade. Alternating layers of flowers and foliage of delicate textures creates depth and a flowing effect. Non-floral, reflective materials like metallic thread are often used to capture the splashing light of a waterfall.
Jane begins with a tall vase containing floral foam held in by a chicken wire cage (lashed on with waterproof tape.) One side of the floral foam is a little chunkier to accommodate for more hanging plant material. She creates a base of greens to cover some of the foam at the top, using Apidistra leaf pinned in on themselves to create a bullkier look for the front, and the ever useful Galax leaf at the back. Then the fun begins – using long flowing greens like Springeri Fern (prickly!) and Italian ruscus to start the cascade effect. She also scores some Apidistra so it seems like it has many long thin leaves. The cascade should go “out and down.” The key here is layering.
Jane then adds the line flowers – Calla lilies in this case – which she coaxes into a bendier shape and wires the end of each stem to help it stick in easier. Callas don’t need too much water. She adds focal flowers, like mums and carnations, and then some lisianthus. Don’t forget, not all the stems need to point down, because “Water falls down, then splashes up,” she says, quoting a favorite designer of hers, Gregor Lersch. Gregor Lersh is amazing! More on him later.
To create a string of roses, just thread wire through the rose head’s base (calyx) – the first one will have the wire closed off as seen above. Then just add more and more and more rose heads and you can adjust where they sit by sliding them up and down, and they’ll stay there pretty well. Wrap the end of the wire around a floral pick, and boom, insert it right into the foam at the top. The silver of the wire adds the splashing light effect and lightens the density of the design. Lighten further with other lacy plant material like Genista, and voila! Cascade design is done.
My cascade design also used Anthurium as a focal flower – some of the ‘Obaki’ left over from our Abstract design class. I chose the smaller white Calla lilies and bound them together with bindwire to achieve length (since they can survive out of water for a while.) Purple lisianthus was pushed into the greenery, and I accented with some light purple Genista and strings of roses on silver wire on both sides.
To water this beast, use a thin spouted watering can to get the floral foam at the center. Mist the rest. Mine lasted about a week, with Obaki drooping and roses withering, but that just “added to the cascading effect,” or so my family told me – I think they were just being nice. I LOVED this assignment, and so did most everyone else in the class. I will certainly repeat the Cascade again, and would love to see a Cascade or Waterfall design on the set of Downton Abbey in Season 3…wouldn’t you?
It was my mother-in-law’s birthday, so I made her two arrangements for her country house in the backwoods of New Hampshire. This calming collection of blues and purples includes hydrangea, delphinium, monkshood and lisianthus…and white roses and white lilac, with a little bupleurum and curly willow thrown in at the end.
The second arrangement I made was more of an Easter arrangement, with yellows and pinks, including foxtail lily or eremurus, stock, sunflower, daffodil, peony, and tulip.
Rutha was also really happy to receive a garden gnome who will give her a bit of luck out in her garden beds. (I guess I sort of believe in gnomes, since the Gnomes book was always lying around our house growing up and it’s so convincingly written and drawn.) Here she is reading another of her presents, Cat Fancy Magazine.
While visiting, we always try to get out for some walks since the air is so clean. On this afternoon’s constitutional, I saw this cute little yellow flower in bloom, looking a lot like a dandelion…but not quite. I knew it was in the Aster family, but that’s about it! Later I looked it up and found out it’s Coltsfoot, or Tussilago farfara. It’s often found along roadsides and in ditches, and is not native to North America, brought here by settlers from Europe who used it medicinally as a cough suppressant. (Some still do.)
I just love the way she peeks around the tree towards the end.
P.S. Check out the Soulsby Farm’s recent post on coyotes…lots of great info there.
There is a lot of oohing and ahhing at the beginning of today’s class, for the counter is covered in a array of bright tropical flowers and lush foliage, the likes of which many of us have never seen before. These are for us! To use! In an abstract design!
Tropical flowers work great in modern and abstract designs. But they do require special care – remember, they’re from a warmer, more humid environment and often cannot survive in a cold climate or standard floral refrigerator. Use room temperature water when working with tropicals – most love to be misted on a daily basis!
Anthurium – called Flamingoblumen in German- come in many shades and sizes, and because they drink from that pointy thing or spadex, they should be submerged under fresh water for 10-20 minutes before using them, and misted daily in an arrangement.
The Philly flower show this year was full of tropicals (obviously, with the theme being Hawaii!) Our teacher Jane loves using Heliconia Torch ‘Emerald Forest’ and won a blue and gold ribbon with them in her design at the flower show this year. Here they are in another Jane design that shows you that modern/abstract design can look good in a home setting:
Then we talked about Abstraction, which in the art world indicates a departure from reality. This departure from accurate representation can be only slight, or it can be partial, or it can be complete. Jane brought up the Tree series by Piet Mondrian as an example of varying degrees of abstraction.
The essence of the last Mondrian tree is distilled into lines, forms, color, space. In abstract floral design, some of the same principles apply. “Abstract floral design: A contemporary design style in which plant material and other components are used for their intrinsic qualities of line, form, color, and texture.”
So how does one go about creating an abstract floral design? These qualities are important to consider:
- Bold, high impact
- An emphasis on space
- Dynamic tension
- RESTRAINT! in use of plant material, often no transitional material
- Interest distributed throughout the design
- MORE THAN ONE POINT OF EMERGENCE for plant material, often unconventional placements
- Container (if used) is part of the design
- Non-naturalistic use of plant material
For my design, I used the two Protea ‘Van Rooys White’ which I had been eyeing from the beginning of class since they matched the container I brought so perfectly. In these Advanced classes, it’s BYOC! There are many many Protea species, South African flowering plants that I would love to see growing in the wild. In fact, Protea was named for the god Proteus, who could change his form at will – because Proteas have such variety of form. Tim Snyder, a graduate of the Professional Gardener program at Longwood, now gainfully employed at Chanticleer, recently visited South Africa with a group of students. Here’s a really cute video with great music that Tim and his wife made of his trip — keep your eyes peeled for Pincushion Protea growing in the wild!
I wanted to do something playful with one of them hanging in space unrealistically. You have to think long and hard about how to have more than one point of emergence, and this seemed like an easy way to achieve that. I wired the stem using fairly heavy wire, sticking it into the floral foam inside the container. Then I covered the wiring mechanic with brown paper packing material. The apidistra leaf stem pokes right through and with the remaining space I poked in a few yellow pom pom mums to peek out.
This class was totally mind-bending. It really makes you throw away a lot of the rules to see that anything’s possible in the world of floral design!