spread the love

I’m referring to Jennie Love, of course! She’s the Eco-Queen of cut flowers, and the owner of Love ‘n Fresh Flowers – “a petite, sustainably managed, urban flower farm and full service event floral design studio in Philadelphia dedicated to creating fresh textural arrangements exclusively with locally grown flowers.” She is really doing it right, growing everything herself and utilizing those organically grown materials to create stunning designs! Please read her page on “Why Local,” it explains why sourcing local floral materials is the right choice in this global trade, and she says it better than I could…

I’ve been dying to meet Jennie for some time. Here she finally is in her cute vintage apron! I’m holding the hand-tied bouquet I made in class.

Today, she is our teacher for a Floral Fun class at Longwood Gardens, where we’ll be creating a hand-tied bouquet; and she should feel right at home here because Jennie got her training in both growing and floral design at Longwood.

hand tied bouquets from spring months – Jennie Love’s designs – photo courtesy of Love ‘n Fresh Flowers

Jennie Love spring design, photo courtesy of Love ‘n Fresh Flowers

Why create a hand-tied bouquet? They are very fast to make, they eliminate the need for carcinogenic floral foam, and they’re lovely in their loose, organic, country garden feel. They make a great simple gift, too, and it’s easy to create one out of the flowers right from your own garden, especially when you have great plants to work with and a teacher like Jennie to show you how.

Marigold ‘Jedi Orange’ gets very tall

Jennie has brought freshly harvested materials from her farm, and as you can see, these flowers are vibrating with health and beauty. She has two acres in the Roxborough section of Philly, where everything is grown organically – no chemical ever touches her sweet blooms. “But watch out for bugs and spiders,” she warns.

Jennie’s buckets of goodness

Here’s our plant list for the class – it’s also a good guide for easy to grow cut flowers. Jennie uses Renee’s Garden seeds and Johnny’s Selected Seeds in her garden. (And then I bet she saves seeds – I didn’t ask, but she just seems like a seedsaver to me!)

  • Hydrangea ‘Little Lamb’ a Pee Gee Hydrangea to be cut within the first year
  • Zinnia ‘Benary Series’ – easy to direct sow
  • Marigold ‘Jedi Orange’ – good variety for cutting, get very tall (6′!!)
  • Celosia or Cockscomb- small light purple variety…can’t remember name
  • Foxtail Grass or Setaria – grows by roadside, don’t be shy to collect it yourself, it will lend great drama to your bouquet
  • Baptisia – perennial shrub – great texture, blue-green foliage can add tendril effect, this time of year nice pods too
  • Caryopteris ‘Longwood Blue’ – perennial shrub – how appropriate, and gorgeous
  • Queen Anne’s Lace, Ammi majus ‘Green Mist’
  • Dill ‘Bouquet’ – grows extra big flower heads – I love this!
  • Gomphrena ‘Audray Series’ – cute cute cute little strawberry heads “like twinkling stars” within the framework of a bouquet
  • Bronze fennel
  • False sunflower, Heliopsis helianthoides

Snow-on-the-Mountain, or Euphorbia marginata, emits a milky sap that when cut can cause dermatitis. We are given gloves in case we want to work with this – so gorgeous!

We begin by stripping the leaves and side stems off of all our materials, and making neat, organized piles of each material. To start the hand-tied bouquet, Jennie recommends taking foliage/flower that will create the inner column – in this case we use hydrangea. The first set of stems is to be kept straight, but as you add to your hand-tied, you should be constantly turning the whole bouquet and then adding your sets of stems at an angle, and it will eventually look like a spiral of stems, beautiful. We hold the stems in a relaxed manner in our non-dominant hands, pinching the index or middle finger and thumb together loosely to keep our angles intact.

As you build your hand-tied bouquet, keep turning and adding stems at an angle. As you build bigger, the angles will get more dramatic!

After the first set of stems, add sets of stems to develop texture and contrast. A zinnia or two here, some filler flower or foliage there. Do a 1/4 turn after each set of stems to create fullness and a balanced design. Here, Jennie apologizes for sounding like a hippy, as she advises us to really just “let the flowers speak to you.” You can add things to the center by dropping them down into the bouquet if you feel it needs more of something. “Don’t be afraid to get wild,” she imparts, adding her foxtail grass which erupts in green flame from the bouquet, which is growing ever larger, fuller, and more beautiful by the minute. Yes, she makes it look easy. That’s because hand-tieds are the bulk of what she does. She does many, many weddings (I think she said she’s already done 72 in this year alone?!) and these bouquets are central to her work. She’s developed the hand strength to whip right through them, and her eye guides the design as she goes.

Hand tied bouquets look good in round mouthed containers. No square vases please.

Then, when you’re all done, take the rubber band you have cleverly put around your wrist and work it around your stems. Cut stems evenly and at the height you want – measure against your container before you cut, and leave a bit longer so you can always cut more. Once inside the container, you can fuss and let things breathe a bit. So, how did we do?

Julie’s design is gorgeous and sits upright on it’s own after completion! Balance is perfection!

Kevin had no problem with his design, great job!

The next morning, I find a container for mine and a little patch of morning light to set it in.

My hand tied bouquet loosened up in a metal pitcher. Zinnia, baptisia foliage and pod, dill, foxtail grass, gomphrena, celosia, hydrangea, caroypteris, fennel, queen anne’s lace…

Thanks, Jennie Love. I really enjoyed meeting you! And I feel really good about this Philly-grown bouquet – no packaging, no shipping, no floral foam – spread the love!

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take a walk

Wanna go for a walk?  The trails at Kirkwood Preserve, in Newtown Square, PA, meander through 83 acres of mostly grassland; an open countryside that provides important habitat and resting areas for birds.  We discovered this preserve on the way to my 94-year old grandmother’s house (assisted living facility, actually.)

It’s all about the birds here (although I didn’t get any good pics-only had my iPhone.)  Kirkwood Preserve is home to many declining grassland species, including the American Kestrel, Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark, Vesper Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Northern Harrier, and Barn Owl. The Willistown Conservation Trust employs many strategies to protect Kirkwood’s grassland birds.

Trail map features Owl and Kestrel box locations

Yep, we saw the boxes. But no kestrels.

We did see a few hawks circling high above, being chased by small brave birds.  The smaller birds form their own Neighborhood Watch, chasing the larger predator birds away from their territory.  (Red-winged blackbirds do this.)

Canadian thistle in bloom – an invasive species they try to eliminate. Still I think it’s beautiful.

The preserve also features equestrian trails, a half-mile stretch of the Crum Creek, approximately 21 acres of wet areas, and 1.5 acres of upland and riparian woodland.

Horsies!

There was a lot of milkweed growing, the pods still green.  I’ll come back in early autumn to look at the milky fluffy stuff that comes out of the cracked pods (used to make fibers for ropes and cords, etc.)

Milkweed pods

Although milkweed is known to contain cardiac glycosides that are poisonous to humans and livestock, that hasn’t stopped people from using the plant medicinally in a number of ways, from laxatives to producing postpartum milk flow.  It’s unique qualities are also an aid to the Monarch butterfly.  From USDA plant fact sheet: “The cardiac glycoside in milkweed has also been useful as a chemical defense for monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus). Chemicals from the milkweed plant make the monarch caterpillar’s flesh distasteful to most predators. Monarch butterflies are specific to milkweed plants; this is the only type of plant on which the eggs are laid and the larvae will feed and matures into a chrysalis. Eggs are laid on the underside of young, healthy leaves.”

We’ll be back again soon, to look for birds and butterflies, and whatever else we can find.  This land is protected from development forever, and is recognized by Audubon Pennsylvania Area (IBA) as an Important Bird Area (IBA.)  Visit if you can, but remember, no dogs allowed – dogs are viewed by birds as predators. 

lilies and lavender

A little while back, I visited a very unique flower farm in Doylestown, PA called Lilies and Lavender. The head honcho, Kate Sparks, gave my friend Jane and I a tour of her four acre sustainable farm.

Kate Sparks, the cowgirl of cut flowers, amongst the zinnias

Here, Kate and her team grow many types of cut flowers using only organic fertilizers and the least harmful pesticides. Black plastic mulch is used to prevent weeds from growing. I saw many bees buzzing and birds flying, and it seemed to me a very happy place where the circle of life remains unbroken.

Snapdragons growing like gangbusters in the hoop house

Kitchen scraps are fed to worms, creating worm compost that is used to add organic matter to the growing medium

Delicious dark purple calla lily has a happy home

The acreage is long and narrow, but goes on and on. Each time we passed one section, I thought we’d reached the end, only to find there was more around the corner. While the farm is not weeded in a pristine way, each group of plants is clearly thriving under the Kate’s green thumb. She has more energy and works harder than most human beings, you can tell, and I think it comes from the fact that she’s doing something that she loves.

Calendula – an herb for healing but also a beautiful cut flower!

Cerinthe is one of the more unusual selections you”ll find here – I love it.

Bouquet of goodness from L&L contains huge dill flower heads!

Lilies and Lavender sells their flowers at both the Doylestown and Rittenhouse farmers markets, at their farm stand out front, and to select local florists. That’s us, we’re the lucky local designers today!

Melissa, Kate, Jane and Christine after our tour of Lilies and Lavender farm

Jane Godshalk, my wonderful teacher from Longwood Gardens and mentor extraordinaire, took some beautiful bouquets home to create rectangular table centerpieces for an upcoming event. Inspired by Kate’s commitment to sustainability, Jane wanted to keep this design as eco-friendly as possible. She used Excelsior, the non-toxic, biodegradable wood packaging product as the mechanic for stabilizing the stems, wetted down with a fair amount of water. Sure beats using the non-biodegradable, formaldehyde-laden floral foam!

Jane packs the containers with excelsior, then adds water. She begins her design with hosta greens from her own garden

VOILA – Jane Godshalk’s designs using locally grown flowers from Lilies and Lavender

Thanks, Kate Sparks! I know I only scratched the surface of your operation here, but that’s because I already desperately want to come back. PS You could be a jeans model.

Shucks, here’s one more lavender/bee shot for Kate: