Art in Bloom

Imagine a work of art that’s come to life…in flowers.  The colors, textures, lines, and emotional energy of the painting or sculpture are all interpreted in the floral design, displayed next to the artwork itself.

Warning by Jimmy Ernst, 1960

A spot-on floral translation of the painting Warning by Jimmy Ernst, 1960                                 Photo by Laura Blanchard

That was the challenge for 45 national floral designers and 15 garden clubs during the first weekend in April at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts – and I was lucky enough to be one of them.

This floral designer showed unbelievable mastery over her material.

This floral designer showed unbelievable mastery over her material.

With the inaugural PAFA in Bloom event, a breath of fresh air blew into the 138-year old Historic Landmark Building.  Sixty diverse floral designs, from the diminutive to the dominating, were placed carefully throughout the building, and an echo was sounded between paint and bloom.  (Or in some cases, marble.)

Nydia, the Blind Girl of Pompeii

One of my favorite floral designs, depicting Nydia, the Blind Girl of Pompeii by Randolph Rogers c.1853 – Marble

So, how does one go about tackling a floral interpretation?  This was the question I asked myself months before the exhibit.  It was my first time doing something like this and I was more than a little intimidated by the scope of the project.  First I had to study the work of art, which in my case was a portrait of the poet Walt Whitman done by Thomas Eakins in 1887.  

My lovely sister-in-law Juliet and I took a trip to PAFA to get an idea of how large a space I'd have to fill and see Walt close up.

My lovely sister-in-law Juliet and I took a trip to PAFA to get an idea of how large a space I’d have to fill and see Walt close up.  Here, she shows how large the pedestal will be.

I started thinking about colors: brown, sage, slate; white, grey; peach. I decided I wanted the container to represent his body, and the design to be symbolic of the painting’s content rather than a recreation.  There were some very specific rules about what materials we could and could not use, with the emphasis on using fresh material as opposed to wood and fabrics like wool which could harbor damaging insects.  You could still use those items, if you fumigated and/or dry-cleaned them, but I didn’t really want to add any steps to the process, and wanted to keep my design as simple as possible.  To me, the energy of the painting is male, vital, and merry; and with that white collar my mind went instantly to calla lilies; a perfect representation of Walt’s joie de vivre.  His gnarled quality might be echoed by a branch of some kind.  The greys and whites of his beard could be items like spanish moss, dusty miller, and I loved the idea of using a big air plant – Tillandsia xerographica – as a focal point.

I ended up picking out my Calla lilies personally at Del Val Wholesale, with the help of Carol Taylor. These were locally grown and the most deliciously huge callas you will ever find!!

I ended up picking out my Calla lilies personally at Del Val Wholesale, with the help of Carol Taylor. These were locally grown and the most deliciously huge callas you will ever find!!

Picking up materials from DV Flora was an exciting part of the process, because I got to see behind-the-scenes of the largest wholesale floral operation in our area, and meet some of the friendly and helpful staff who were topnotch to work with. Thanks, DV! After gathering all my materials, I did a mock design first; borrowing the perfect container from my friend Jane (her basement is a designer’s dream come true)! I was really happy with the outcome, but could I replicate my design on the spot, at PAFA, on the day of the installation? I was incredibly nervous about that part, but luckily I had a huge help from my sister-in-law Juliet (who is a talented architect.)  This short video shot by Juliet shows the scene at PAFA the morning of the preview party.  There was also a cameraman from FOX news there, to add to the excitement!  

Then it was time to place the design upstairs on the pedestal.  We wheeled Walt’s floral counterpart up to see if it stacked up next to the real Walt.

Making some last minute tweaks to my design...having trouble 'walking away' by Juliet

Making some last minute tweaks to my design…having trouble ‘walking away’…photo by Juliet

In the end, I was pleased with our efficiency in getting in and out of PAFA, because my design really only had a few materials in it (I had created the base of galax and some spanish moss the day before.)  Thank you Juliet for rocking this day with me!  

Getting friendly with Walt

Getting friendly with Walt

Then, it was on to the Preview Party, a gala affair attended by those in support of PAFA in Bloom.  It was so exciting to see all the fresh faced designers and my floral friends Peicha, Valerie and Jane in one place..and to watch people looking at my design!  Here are some photos from the evening:

Jane takes a closer look at an intriguing design

Jane takes a closer look at an intriguing design

Peicha is in the house! With Naima, quite a masterpiece herself.

Peicha is in the house! With Naima, quite a masterpiece herself.

Ariadne Asleep on the Island of Naxos as interpreted by Peicha Chang of falls flowers

Ariadne Asleep on the Island of Naxos as interpreted by Peicha Chang of falls flowers.  Simply sensual!

Valerie's magnificent "hand-tied" bouquet

Valerie McLaughlin’s magnificent “hand-tied” bouquet.  Thanks Valerie, for making me aware of this event!

Take a look at Death on the Pale Horse, a Benjamin West painting, which at 176 x 301 inches is one of the largest oil paintings in PAFA’s collection.  The floral designer who interpreted this one was a genius in my opinion…

Benjamin West's Death on The Pale Horse 1817

Benjamin West’s Death on the Pale Horse 1817

This floral translation of Death on The Pale Horse knocked our socks off!

This floral translation of Death on the Pale Horse was astounding.

It was intimidating to be in the same room with the works of so many great artists, and then great floral designers as well, but it was an experience I will never forget. Thanks to Schaffer Designs for including me and for organizing this very successful event, and for maintaining my design over the course of the exhibit…I hope this will be the first of many!

Walt and my design

After the show, I got some great feedback from George Hubner, right here in Swarthmore:  “I saw the PAFA in Bloom exhibit this afternoon, and your arrangement stood out in particular among the 60 others! I didn’t go around paying any attention to the names of the arrangers, but I noted yours. I have noticed that in the US when someone makes a flower arrangement, the more flowers they can cram in the better. Why use just three flowers then you can stuff in 30 in the bowl instead. The Japanese will use three to great effect, but in the US more is preferred (or as Mae West is supposed to have said “too much is not enough”).  Your arrangement stood out for your use of only three flowers. It looks like a Sogetsu to me. And it seems to me that your using calla lilies was referencing Whitman’s calamus poems too. There must have been thousands of flowers used in the arrangements!  The masses were impressive, but your arrangement was simplicity itself and refreshing to see in the middle of all the other over-the-top arrangements.”  Thanks, George!


Getting Ready for Art in Bloom

Oh, this is exciting!

I am one of 45 floral designers from around the country creating a work of floral art that will interpret a painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in the Historic Landmark Building in Philadelphia, PA. I’ve been working on a mock draft of my design (can’t show you now,) and will be installing the real thing tomorrow morning!

The pedestals that will hold our designs are in place! Photo courtesy of Bill Shaffer Designs

The pedestals that will hold our designs are in place! Photo courtesy of Bill Schaffer Designs

The painting I will be interpreting is a portrait of the poet Walt Whitman done by Thomas Eakins in 1887. I’m trying to capture the emotional content in the painting, as well as echo the color palette and some of the lines, using materials that are symbolic. I think of Walt as a very visceral, life-loving person, so I’m using some calla lilies to represent his almost perverse love of nature; they also mimic the white of his collar perfectly. Materials like Artemisia, Tillandsia xerographica, and fresh spanish moss will represent his beard.

The painting I'm interpreting florally is a portrait of the poet Walt Whitman!

The painting I’m interpreting florally is a portrait of the poet Walt Whitman!

The show opens to the public on Friday, April 4th and goes until Sunday, April 6th. A Big Thanks to Bill Schaffer designs for organizing the event and giving me this opportunity, and to my friend Valerie who forwarded the application info along to me – she is also in the show. So is the ultra talented Peicha Chang of falls flowers! If you’re in the area, come check it out!

I’ll leave you with some Walt Whitman:

“I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

52. The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab and loitering.

I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.”

from ‘Song of Myself’ in Leaves of Grass


Reflecting on the Past Year in Flowers

It’s been many moons since I’ve blogged, but recently I was inspired by an email from Mary in Mumbai.  She writes, “…I really appreciate the time and efforts you have taken to provide information for your love for flowers, gardening and other activities. I hope you do carry on the good work. Your blog somehow has inspired me too and I will definitely try some of the stuff you have posted…I really look forward to hear about your new adventures in floral designing and your love for gardening.”  Thanks, Mary!

Golf Cart full of Autumnal Arrangements for Merion Golf Club

Golf Cart full of Autumnal Arrangements I created for Merion Golf Club

A lot has happened in the past year.  Back in February 2013, I was lucky enough to be hired by Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, PA to create floral designs throughout their clubhouse as well as maintain the surrounding gardens.  A big job, especially considering the work I did in June during the U.S. Open, an annual championship where the best and brightest golfers duke it out.

I maintained many container herbs and flowers throughout the year.

I maintained many container herbs and flowers throughout the year.

The style at Merion is “Farmhouse Elegance,” a style which is already very much my own.  So I would like to think that I took to it like a duck to water, but of course there are always speed bumps as you learn anything new.  I look back on some of my beginning designs and think, “yuck;” or how I’ve learned so much since then and would never put so much material into one arrangement.  I think simplicity is one of the hardest things to learn in floral design.  My temptation is to use a lot of different material, colors, and textures because it’s just all so pretty.  But using more pretty things doesn’t always equal an even more beautiful design.

Spring arrangement using larkspurs

Spring arrangement using lilies and larkspurs

Easter Tree with homemade eggs

Easter “Tree” I created with hand-blown, hand-dyed eggs

Spring Containers

Spring Containers

Lavender I love you

Lavender I love you

Working there during the US Open was a life experience I’ll never forget.  I created almost 200 designs from julep cup sized to large urn sized arrangements that had to last for an entire week.  Challenging, to say the least, but I learned so much and was able to utilitize my television production background to organize the “pre-production” part of the event, and plan everything to a tee (no pun intended!) Here are some of my planning documents:  The Open – Floral Setup; The Open: Floral Timeline.

Centerpiece for Golfers area

Centerpiece for Golfers area

Winner of US Open Justin Rose...finding out he won, my flowers in background.

Winner of US Open Justin Rose…finding out he won, my flowers in background. 😉

The result was something that I look back on and truly cherish, especially getting to know a lot of the wonderful staff at Merion much better during that week.

Sheena, my wonderful helper during the U.S. Open, keeps things in line

Sheena, my wonderful helper during the U.S. Open, keeps things in line

Chicken Wire 'Frog' held in place with floral tape

Chicken Wire ‘Frog’ held in place with floral tape

Base Layer of Mountain Mint

Base Layer of Mountain Mint

One of many centerpieces for Champions Dinner

Finished: one of many centerpieces for Champions Dinner

Here is a sampling of some of the other moments captured during the Open:

After the Open, we all breathed a sigh of relief.  But life carried on, and Merion bustled with other summer functions, basking in the glow of the highly successful event.  I was so impressed by the staff coming together and working so hard during that time, and also so proud to be a member of that team. Everyone did such a great job.

Mandy, one of the friends I made at Merion and a great golfer too!

Mandy, one of the friends I made at Merion and a great golfer too!

An interesting floral challenge!

An interesting floral challenge using a small version of Merion’s famous ‘Wickers’

Other challenges included being budget conscious, and of course I was also committed to being as environmentally conscious as possible, something that can be quite difficult in the floral design business.  Firstly, I was composting all vegetative matter.  I tried to source materials as responsibly as possible, using locally grown flowers when possible, cutting materials from the gardens themselves, using materials that were in season, and buying from farms that use sustainable growing practices. This was a big lesson for me.  I used Delaware Valley Wholesale Florist and had a great rapport with their wonderful sales rep, Susan, who helped me through thick and thin.  But it just wasn’t always possible to stick to my guns about responsible sourcing when there was so much to order and without much lead time to do, so I did end up ordering a lot of stuff that was flown in from other countries (mostly South America.)  But, as I said, a lot of it was grown sustainably so that made me feel a little better.

Locally Grown Hand tied bouquet

Locally Grown Hand tied bouquet – Flowers from Red Earth Farm

I also wanted to use eco-friendly mechanics instead of relying on floral foam, and with large arrangements I found the best method to be creating a ‘frog’ out of chicken wire, adding water, and then adding the stems.  The chicken wire did a great job of keeping stems in place, but still giving it a natural feel.

Fall Design using gold hurricane vase with a decorative mesh wire net holding stems in place

Fall Design using gold hurricane vase with a decorative mesh wire net holding stems in place

Pumpkin Containers for Fall Luncheon

Pumpkin Containers for Fall Luncheon

For large arrangements, and with most in general, it was helpful to add a layer of greens first, then the linear elements, the form flowers, and finally filler.  And if I was using branches, sometimes more branches would go in at the very end.  These large urns filled with seasonal materials really ended up being the workhouses at Merion for me, used in 2 or 3 rooms and then for special events on the buffet tables.  They would last almost a week, but needed water to be refreshed along the way.  I did mix flower food in with the water, and that made a difference not only for the life of the flowers, but cut down on icky looking water (if using clear glass) as well as icky smelling water.

Large urn with a lot of locally grown flowers

Large urn with a lot of locally grown flowers

Unfortunately I injured my back a few times during the course of my employment there, and finally had to seek medical attention and take a leave to deal with my injury.  My doctor banned me from heavy lifting, and so Merion had to let me go.  It’s been a bittersweet parting, because I really did love so many aspects of my job there, and so many of the people too.  But they deserve to have a worker who can do everything independently, managing the gardens as well as producing all the floral designs.  I wish them the best of luck, and hope that I can transition to a situation that will allow me to continue doing floral design with less impact to my lower back.  I have a few interesting floral opportunities on the horizon that I’ll blog about next!

Summer Love in a Julep Cup


The tender white rose has milk soft skin, more petals within pushing out.  Unfurling and waking, peach sweet peas are quaking next to neighbors of allium.    The sea holly is sharp and strong, and like an old maid laboring in the fields, she keeps on.  Mountain mint shares its scent, and green grey foliage.  How the didiscus throws its head back and laughs, a sky-blue ode to missing its’ meadow home, where it should be left to grow and die wild.


All are rounded up, inside these julep cups, will you drink their summer song with me?

how to create a hand-wired bouquet

During Longwood’s Comprehensive Wedding Design class we made boutonnieres, corsages, and flower girl pomanders…but it was the bouquets, oh the bouquets, that were the best and most rewarding to create.  I’ve made my fair share of bouquets of course, but had never learned to do a hand-wired one.   The hand-wiring technique is the “gold standard” for creating a bridal bouquet, according to teacher Nancy Gingrich Shenk, an old pro in the wedding biz.  Hand wiring the stem of each flower allows you almost perfect control over stem placement and makes the bouquet lighter and easier to handle.  Creating a symmetrical and rounded bouquet is that much simpler using this technique.  I found myself enjoying this new skill and the resulting design very much!

the lovely juliet with hand wired bouquet

the lovely Juliet models my hand wired bouquet- isn’t she a gorgeous bride?

My 'gold standard' hand-wired bouquet with cream roses at the peak of their perfection

My ‘gold standard’ hand-wired bouquet with cream colored roses at the peak of their perfection

To create a hand-wired bouquet like the one above, start with the proper materials and tools, including wire, floral tape, about 20 roses, some lemon leaf or other foliage, ribbon and pins (for the handle,) pruners or snips, wire cutters and scissors.

18-28 gauge wire, 18 is the largest diameter, 28 the smallest.  24 is the workhorse in floral design

18-28 gauge wire, 18 is the largest diameter, 28 the smallest. 24 is the workhorse in floral design

The correct gauge wire to use is heavy enough to replace the natural stem and hold the head upright, but not too heavy to add extra weight to the finished design.  (So as you do your wiring, hold the flower just by the wire, and if the whole thing falls over, your wire is too light!) 24 gauge is the “workhorse” in floral design, but for this bouquet I used 20 gauge, just a little thicker.

Pass the wire through the calyx, fold over and wrap in floral tape

Pass the wire through the calyx, fold over and wrap in floral tape

To wire a flower, start by breaking off it’s stem, leaving only on inch.  Insert the wire through the flower’s calyx, the green bulbous part that meets the bottom of the flower, pull the wire through a bit, and then fold it over.  Then wrap the whole new wired stem in light green floral tape.  (Take the end of the floral tape in your left hand, attach it to the top of the stem and wind it down on a diagonal with your right hand. Floral tape is not sticky on it’s own, but it sticks to itself when pressure is applied.)  During the wiring/taping process, be careful to handle the actual flower as little as possible to avoid bruising. TIP: White flowers bruise more easily

notes on angling stems

Wiring and taping is a laborious and time consuming process, but it makes the next step easier.  Select your most beautiful flower – this will be at the very center of your bouquet.  Hold it by the stem a few inches down, and so the flower is facing the ceiling.  Take your second flower and angle it’s face towards the wall, snugging it up against the first flower.  Bend the wires so they are both in the same line, pinched together by your fingers a few inches down from the calyxes.  Then turn the whole thing (I went clockwise,) put your third flower on an angle facing the wall again, bend the wire, turn again.  Do this until you have that first circle of flowers around flower number one.

Place each stem at an angle to the center flower and turn.  Wire as you go to give your hand a break.

Place each stem at an angle to the center flower and turn. Wire as you go to give your hand a break.

If your hand is tired, wrap the stems with wire at the pinch point.  The next set of flowers will be even more angled away from flower number one, so that if you left them when placed, the wire stems would almost be perpendicular to flower number one.  But you are tucking each wire stem straight down to be with the rest of the bunch.  As you place flowers, you can use a mirror to make sure your bouquet is symmetrical.  It’s important to remember that this bouquet must look good from every angle!

Here a fellow classmate and I check to see if our bouquets are symmetrical in the mirror

Here a fellow classmate and I check to see if our bouquets are symmetrical in the mirror

After you’ve secured your wires together with another wire, add some wired and taped lemon leaf to the bottom of the bouquet.  One layer of leaves will be ‘shiny side up’ so that it looks good from above, and the next layer will be ‘shiny side down’ so that the bride sees the prettiest part as she holds the back of the bouquet.  Then, cut out some of the tape-covered wires with your wirecutters.  This will minimize the weight of the finished design.  Wrap the whole thing in another layer of floral tape, add a ribbon and pins and voila!

Add a layer of leaves and a pretty ribbon to finish off the underside of the bouquet.

Add a layer of leaves and a pretty ribbon to finish off the underside of the bouquet.  The “thumbholder” here is for the bride to tuck her ‘something old’ hankie into!

My hand wired bouquet displayed in an old chemistry holder to see the form

My hand wired bouquet displayed in an old chemistry holder to see the form

Some of the other students in the class made excellent bouquets.  I regret not having taken more pictures!

Kate's bouquet was bold and modern with a touch of a garden feel

Kate’s bouquet was bold and modern with a touch of a garden feel

Lindsey tucked a few cymbidium orchids into her bouquet.  Her roses were of different sizes, creating a romantic 'fresh from the garden' feel.

Lindsey tucked a few cymbidium orchids into her bouquet. Her roses were of different sizes, creating a romantic ‘fresh from the garden’ feel.

Fuschia roses combined with chartreuse cymbidium orchids - wild and modern!

Fuschia roses combined with chartreuse cymbidium orchids – wild and modern!

There was so much presented in this course, I couldn’t possibly cover it in one blog post.  All in all it was one of the best courses I’ve had at Longwood, infused with the personality of our teacher, who really has “seen it all” when it comes to the wedding business.  She told us countless stories of brides and their families gone wild, and when we got into discussing the business side of things, revealed that when she worked with some particularly difficult clients, she slapped on a “10% Bitch Charge” to the bill!

Coming up soon- hand tied and cascading bouquets!


I try to employ eco-friendly practices when creating floral designs.  But what does that mean?  You might think that the very act of arranging flowers would be considered “green,” or eco-friendly.  But there are many elements of the floral industry to consider if you want to feel good about creating beauty with the treasures of nature you’re bringing into your home.

Today, we have an abundance of choice at our fingertips.  From the tiniest of flowers like lily of the valley and delicate white stephanotis, to dinner plate-sized dahlias the color of sunsets, and huge garden roses that resemble peonies, the diversity and array in the floral kingdom are literally endless.  Exotics and tropical flowers and foliage are readily available. We can get orchids, carnations, mums and lilies anytime of the year.   The choices are downright dizzying.

The floral choices at our fingertips are endless

You might pick up a store bought bouquet and have no idea where your flowers came from:  in fact, 60% of the flowers sold in the U.S were actually grown outside of the U.S.  Transporting flowers from Holland or Ecuador requires not only the jet fuel to travel, but also a great deal of packaging to protect your glorious buds and blooms.

60% of the flowers sold in the U.S were actually grown outside of the U.S

On top of that, these flowers may have been grown in a country where regulations on the use of various pesticides are looser than ours in the U.S.; where workers are exposed to harmful chemicals, as are the many people who handle the flowers as they make their long journey from grower to auction house to wholesaler to retailer to you.  Additionally, the flowers themselves may be out of season, difficult to grow, and require energy-draining practices to force them into bloom.

Don’t be dismayed, because they are many ways to avoid these imported, chemical-saturated blooms, and practice eco-friendly floral design.  First, consider what’s in your yard or garden.  If there’s not much there, and you have the space, start your own cutting garden. Seeds are cheap!  Companies like Seedsavers in Decorah, Iowa, offer organic, non-GMO heirloom varieties of a great number of flowers great for home arranging.  There are many seed companies with excellent cut flower choices for the home grower.  This year I started a cutting garden and I plan to grow even more this year!

Grow your own flowers from seed using companies like Seedsavers Exchange
Simple design I created using hydrangea from yard and Queen Anne’s lace grown from seed

If you must purchase cut flowers, try to source them from local growers who practice sustainable growing methods.  If you’re in the Philly area, check out Love n Fresh Flowers, run by Jennie Love Also check out Kate Sparks of Lilies and Lavender. Local florists like falls flowers run green businesses, where they source as many locally grown flowers as possible, and recycle just about every scrap of anything used in the store.  These are just a few of my eco heroes.

Country bouquet I designed using flowers grown by Jennie Love, in NW Philly

If you buy cut flowers from your local grocery store, inquire as to their origin, and seek out stores who sell sustainably grown cut flowers such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.  Additionally, try to buy cut flowers that are in season.

Whole Foods sells locally grown seasonal blooms

When arranging flowers, I try to avoid using floral foam – it’s not biodegradable and contains formaldehyde which can cause health issues over time.  Instead, use fresh clean water and sustainable floral mechanics like branches to hold up your stems.

Use branches to hold stems upright instead of floral foam – design I created at Longwood under the guidance of instructor Jane Godshalk (branches used in this fashion was her idea)
Bunch up curly willow and put it into your container, then add floral stems

Other ‘green’ mechanics that can support floral materials include the use of sand, or fashioning a grid made from tape that’s affixed to the top of your container.  I had fun cutting up lemons and using them in the design below – they not only provide a place for stems but also acts as a decorative element when viewed through glass containers.

Use colorful fruits to hold stems upright

There are many other floral design techniques which can be considered eco-friendly – such as using less material, a principle that is found throughout many schools of Ikebana.  For example, it’s easy to create unique arrangements by grouping smaller vases together and only using one or two stems in each.  Or, it can make quite a powerful design statement to see one or two bold sunflower stems in a clean glass vase.

glass test tubes filled with spring stems
Peicha of falls flowers uses many small containers in this unique centerpiece design
Green Tip: use many small bottles with one bloom each for impact

And finally, when your flowers have faded, be sure to compost them!

Design using spring shrub blooms

be a good sport – creating floral awards

Have you ever imagined the Greek athletes, crowned victorious with laurel wreaths at the ancient Olympic games?  Or wondered why the sprig of laurel has come to symbolize victory, and is imprinted on modern Olympic medals?

Apollo wearing laurel wreath

There is a story behind the laurel wreath – and of course it’s somewhat torrid and involves various Greek deities.  In order to prove his arrows were as powerful as those of Apollos, Eros shot Apollo in the heart with a gold tipped arrow, forcing him to fall in love with a nymph named Daphne, who was also shot by Eros – using a lead-tipped arrow.  The leaden arrow turned her against Apollo, and all men in fact, making her prefer hanging out in forests alone.  Apollo pursued Daphne unrequited, his love all-consuming.  Even in her flight from him she was alluring.  Eventually he gained on her and her strength failed, at which point she begged her father to save her, which he did by turning her into a laurel tree.

sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini – Apollo e Dafne: Apollo chases Daphne and she turns into a laurel tree.

“Since you cannot be my wife,” said he, “you shall assuredly be my tree. I will wear you for my crown; I will decorate with you my harp and my quiver; and when the great Roman conquerors lead up the triumphal pomp to the Capitol, you shall be woven into wreaths for their brows. And, as eternal youth is mine, you also shall be always green, and your leaf know no decay.” The nymph, now changed into a Laurel tree, bowed its head in grateful acknowledgment.

Ross Smith of CSU, first place M-21 North American winner of the Long Distance at North American Orienteering Championships, wearing a head wreath I created from bay laurel and eryngium

The laurel was part of my inspiration as I created the victors head wreaths and other floral awards at the illustrious North American Orienteering Championships this past October.  Laurus nobilis, also known as Sweet Bay or Bay Laurel, is not only used for victory crowns, it’s an herb commonly dried and used in soups – bay leaf.  When fresh, if you crush or rub the leaves, a sweet scent is released.  That is the sweet smell of victory, of course.

Ali Crocker, of CSU, first place North American F-21 winner of the Long Distance at the North American Orienteering Championships – at dinner, she’s still wearing her crown! (iPhone pic – sorry not great)

Here is superstar Ali Crocker again, wearing a wreath bedecked with seeded eucalyptus, spray roses, and waxflower. She was the first place North American F-21 winner of the Middle Distance at NAOC.

Sandy Fillebrown of DVOA, the astoundingly amazing event director at NAOC, offered me this floral opportunity – which I’m proud to say was roots to blooms very first ‘outside of the family’ commission.

My car filled with flowers at the lakehouse we rented. It was a pleasure to do floral design surrounded by such incredible beauty.

Because the sport of orienteering is a family tradition, and something I’ve just started doing in earnest this year, I was doubly excited for this floral challenge! My worlds were colliding.  In fact, not only was I creating these awards, I was competing at this event – run in the morning, award ceremonies in the afternoon, make more floral awards at night!

Orienteering Control at NAOC’s Model Event

Orienteering is a sport that requires speed and smarts – using a map and compass, you must navigate through unknown terrain to find the points on the map that correspond with orange and white flags in the woods.  It’s a timed event, and you compete against others in your age category.  NAOC is basically the top event in North America, so these floral awards were going to the top 3 athletes in the male and female age 21 category for 3 days of races. (That’s 18 awards for me to create.) First place awards were floral head wreaths.  For second place awards, I created neck garlands like leis, and third place got a handheld bouquet.

Top 3 male finishers at NAOC in M-21 category on Sprint Day – Ross Smith (CSU) Andrew Childs (GMOC), and Eric Kemp (OOC)

My work area at the lakehouse – on a dropcloth

I made the bouquets first, since these could be in water right up until they were given out.  I used bay laurel, spray roses, eryngium, miscanthus from my parent’s house, euphorbia from my garden, italian ruscus, goldenrod, sunflower, hypericum berry, ‘garnet king’ mums, ‘bronze cushion’ pom pons, ‘purple bride’ kale, and craspedia.

3rd place awards – bouquets

Louise Oram (GVOC) holds her 3rd place award for the Long Distance at NAOC.

Bouquets were wrapped with twine – photo by Julie Keim

Each night, I made the neck garlands for the next day’s awards. The neck garlands were really a blast to make.  Essentially you are just stringing carnations together – and I wouldn’t use any other flower because the carnation is the toughest and has a big huge calyx – the green base of the flower that connects with the stem.

Serghei Logvin (GHO) North American M-21 2nd place winner of the Long Distance at NAOC. He is rocking his neck garland by roots to blooms!

1- Measure out a length of string or yarn (I used yarn because that’s what I had and it’s comfy on the neck.) The length is to your liking.

2- Cut carnations right down to the calyx.  I used 26 carnations per garland.

3- Set out a design you like on the table in the intended shape.

4- Thread an embroidery needle with your length of yarn.  Pierce the first carnation from the bud to the calyx end, moving the carnation down your piece of yarn.  I continued through all 26 carnations this way – from bud to calyx – but if you wanted the flowers to be facing upward on both sides of the chain when worn, you would split your flowers in half, and pierce the second half from calyx to head.  This is a bit more difficult to physically do.  I tried it both ways and ended up liking the look of the flowers all going in the same direction, which means that when you wear it, one side starts with the calyx side up, and one side starts with blooms side up.

Samantha Saeger (NEOC) and Ken Walker Jr (CSU,) second place North American F and M 21 winners of the Middle Distance at NAOC.

When the neck garlands were complete, I put slipped them into cellophane bags and stored them in the fridge overnight.  Once out of the fridge, I think they lasted for a few days.  The same goes for the head wreaths.

Floral awards were sealed in cellophane, and stored in the fridge

Head wreath detail, photo by Julie Keim

Creating a head wreath is not a difficult process, but it requires patience and dexterity.  There are a few ways to do it, and some I previously blogged, but I found the best way (and most comfortable to wear) to be the following:

1- Measure out a length of bind wire to the size of a small head – about 21″ or 22″.  Be sure to leave a few inches on either side, fashioning these into loops. (So total length 23-25″)

2 – Take your base material (foliage like laurel, seeded eucalyptus, ruscus, etc) and lay it against the bind wire.  Using floral tape, tape the stems of the foliage onto the wire.  Continue taping the stem, around leaves.

3- Add more foliage as you go. The floral tape can be tricky to work with.  It just takes practice to maneuver it around leaves. You can either add flowers now, or go back later and add them.  I created the foliage base first, and then added the flowers in groupings by taping the stems onto the wire with floral tape.  I used roses (spray roses, small buds) and waxflower.

4- Try it on.  Look in the mirror.  See what looks out of place and trim back or move materials around.  Finally, thread a ribbon through the two loops you created and tie in a bow for ease of changing the length.  Voila! You have created a head wreath, so fun to wear.

It was really an honor to crown these amazing athletes with custom awards.  Photo by Ken Walker Jr.

Samantha Saeger (NEOC) and Ross Smith (CSU) crowned with my wreaths of Italian ruscus and waxflower. They were first place F-21 and M-21 North American winners of the Sprint at NAOC.

Creating these custom sport awards was a great learning experience for me, and it was such an incredible honor to see my work worn by the top North American orienteers! I would like to thank Sandy Fillebrown and DVOA for the opportunity, and Peicha Chang of falls flowers for assisting me with acquiring floral materials, and her instruction on making head wreaths for the wedding work we did previously was also very helpful.  I really enjoyed this project and hope there is more sporting award work in my future!

notes from an autumn gone wild

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.  ~Albert Camus

packing up the car to the gills for a fall wedding w peicha

I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion. ~ Henry David Thoreau

pumpkin scouting at linvilla

Delicious autumn!  My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.  ~George Eliot

wreath by peicha of falls flowers

The fall has been a busy one, with big changes in my personal life, a scary family illness, my very first independent floral job, and competing at a national sporting event. I’ve also been working with Peicha of falls flowers on the weekends, helping her do wedding designs, and it’s really been very eye-opening and fun.

Peicha creates a bridal bouquet using garden roses, white dahlias, lady’s mantle, hydrangea, and eryngium

This particular wedding reception was in a bride’s home, which made it very special.  Here bride Gillian is holding her bouquet.  She was calm and happy, and totally stunning!

I had the most excellent time creating a garland for the railing in the foyer using a multitude of beautiful materials, like amaranth, dahlia, eryngium, roses, hydrangea, kiwi vine, and more.  They are little bowers or bundles of flowers that I wired together, then attached to the leaf garland which we wound with large ribbon.

This was so fun to make!

Check out the falls flower blog post on this beautiful wedding!  Somehow a picture of me doing disco got included.  Cuz you should be having fun in life.

I’ve also been back at Longwood Gardens, taking floral design classes in order to complete my certificate.  I was so excited to finally take a class from the impeccably organized Cres Motzi…this class was Creating a Statement – Grand Designs. In this class Cres really showed us some great ideas especially for how the mechanics of large arrangements work.

Cres Motzi creates a grid using tape over the mouth of this large glass container, then adds branches

It’s great to create these large arrangements – but how on earth do you transport them? Cres had a good idea about using 2 milk crates, with the bottom cut out of one and then zip tied together to transport this big guy.

Cres adds greens, rose hips and kale. it’s getting grander by the minute!

When it comes our turn to play, we are arranged in groups of 3 since there are 2 large designs to make.  I was more than lucky to find myself alongside Melissa, a wonderful person I met back at Lilies and Lavender.  This year is a very exciting one for her as she creates a floral business at her home.  More developments on this to come, because obviously we get along really well.

melissa is in my group creating some grand designs

melissa and i having fun together

Our Grand Design – atriplex, italian ruscus, amaranth, hydrangea, peach stock, leucodendron, safflower, alstromeria, etc

Okay, so the Grand design we created had an intended recipient – my dad at the hospital.  He was having issues with his innards and would require surgery a few days later.  But after really looking at the above design I felt that it was too funereal.  So, I ripped it apart, and using other materials both from the garden and from the extra flowers we got at class, I created this little fall basket full of love.  I wasn’t able to snap a great picture of it, too much in a hurry to see my dad.

‘get well’ basket for dad – roses, lilies, nandina berries, atriplex, hydrangea, stock, amaranth, some anemone from the garden (oh these don’t last by the way), fennel seed from garden, alstro, and grass flower heads

After he recovered and was on his way out of the hospital, I was glad to hear that he gave the basket to his excellent team of nurses as a thank you! (Next, I created floral awards for a sporting ceremony…that need to be blogged in their own separate post coming right up.)

Surrounded by flowers…a good thing to be

Through all of the craziness of moving, worrying about my dad, driving all over tarnation, flowers have kept me sane.  I believe that creating/designing with flowers is part of my recipe for personal success.  I am somewhere between avocation and vocation…where will this path lead?

fall table design

I’m back at Longwood, taking floral design electives until some of the meatier courses resume in October.  Everything is happening in October.  Well, and November too.

Anyway, it was so nice to be back in Jane Godshalk’s classroom, where everything is right with the world.  Jane is a phenomenal teacher, and I can’t say enough lovely things about her without seeming like a gushing fool…but really.  Jane does it right.  Her ability to select materials that create foolproof combinations is spot on, and her directions are easy to follow and inspiring.  It’s not just “boom, put it in the container, you’re done.” There is a thoughtfulness and precision to floral design; and if your materials become unwieldy, Jane will help you tame them with such a grace, you almost want to simply watch her do all the floral design. But, it is too fun not to play yourself, especially with all the Fall Bounty in front of us!

Wire each leaf onto two wires which will become a garland that you drape throughout the design

For this class, we’re creating a natural table design in a woven basket with a plastic liner.  One of the main ingredients is a garland made of preserved oak leaves that we wire together ourselves while Jane shows us the rest.  It’s busy work you can do while you’re watching TV, and it gets my creative juices flowing, thinking about all the cool autumn possibilities (can you say: Thanksgiving table-scaping?!) We have our choice with the mechanics – either use floral foam (no thanks) or balled up chicken wire in which the stems will rest. While the floral foam is easier to work with – you just stick your stem in and you’re done – the chicken wire is re-usable.  It’s worth the extra effort in my opinion. Just be sure to fill it up with water!

Jane begins by adding greens – I have to apologize for my bad camerawork during this class, I was too mesmerized by all the floral treasures.

Jane starts by adding greens, making a nice, natural base, using Italian ruscus, olive and even some fragrant bay leaf if you like.  (Note to self: I love bay.  Maybe this is something I could use for the NAOC award head garlands.  More on this later!!)  She then adds the bigger flowers like hydrangeas.  Some of our hydrangeas are so huge, we can divide them and have more.  Hydrangeas are a really important flower in floral design, I’m learning, because not only do they come in such great colors (and change color as well,) they help take up some real estate while actually adding a certain lightness to your design.  They really help tie everything together, especially this variety in the light green color with some muted rose to the edges of it, it’s just delicious.

She adds ‘Coffee Break’ Roses, ‘Red Rover’ mums, and then it’s time for the sunflowers.  Sunflowers are hard to work with – they are just so singular, they pop out so much, that they really need to be placed just perfectly.  If you put them side by side, and they have the dark centers, they look like eyes staring out of your design.  Not good.  So play with the way you angle them, group them together but have the heads pointing slightly different directions…or just watch Jane and learn from the master.  We also have millet, amaranth, broom corn, bittersweet, and asclepias to play with!  Our designs are overflowing with possibility, and the colors are so autumnal.

Hey! Isn’t that Kate Sparks from Lilies and Lavender?? Yes it is…and she’s a natural at this…

Patti’s design incorporates bittersweet vine beautifully

A newcomer to the floral design world leaves with a smile on her face

I was a little out of practice, I’ll admit! It took me a little while to get going.  I ended up giving this natural fall table design to my brother and sister-in-law for a party they were hosting, so it went to good use.  However I neglected to get pictures with my ‘good camera.’

My fall table design

My fall table design at home

It’s so great to be back in class!