magic at cairnwood

I spent the day helping Peicha Chang of falls flowers, and my what a lovely day it was.  We set up for a wedding at Cairnwood, a magical place that beckons you to “experience the grandeur of the Gilded Age.”

This country estate in Bryn Athyn, 16 miles from center city Philadelphia, was constructed in 1895 and has been designated a National Historic Landmark.  Looks like a great place to get married!

mason jars filled with blooms cap the end of every other row

rustic chandelier is hung in the gnarled conifer, with roses in place of candles

Inside the estate, we had 14 tables to cover with centerpiece “collections” in three different rooms, a mantle to hang with vintage bottles filled with buds, a cake cupboard to strew with loose flowers, and a greeting table to bedeck with more vintage bottles filled with blooms.  The palette features grays and creams and peachy pinks, which echo the colors in some of the rooms of Cairnwood.

Peicha’s centerpiece collections include the clever use of succulents as table number holders

the mantle, covered with old pictures, is hung with vintage bottles filled with buds

a glimpse of the bride

Juliet roses, peachy stock, white anemones, brunia and succulents on display

I couldn’t help myself, while taking pictures of the bouquets wrapped and ready to go, I had to capture the bridesmaid’s room.  People are so interesting.

bridesmaids getting ready

awaiting fresh cakes

groomsman with boutonniere

I am feeling a little like a maidservant in Downton Abbey at this point, trying to be silent and unobtrusive and graceful.  Peicha infuses the day with positivity and humor.

On our way out, we discover a great photo op…the very gorgeous bride and groom!  Best wishes to you both for a beautiful life together.

Bridal bouquet designed by Peicha

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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!

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:

hydrangea blues

My small world has been vibrating with blue lately…the blue of the hydrangea.   In the little town of Swarthmore, the sky-colored puffs are so prolific they must be predicting the end of the world with their abundance of blossom.  We’re surely going out in style!

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Penny Mac’ – flowers on both old and new growth

A stroll through the Hydrangea Collection at the Scott Arboretum will leave you reeling in disbelief at nature’s ability to create shades so cerulean.  Actually, their color can vary depending on the soil’s acidity…alkaline soil (pH>7) produces pink flowers, while acidic soil (pH<7) produces blue flowers.  We must be having quite an acidic year.

H. macrophylla ‘Nigra’ has lovely dark stems

H. macrophylla, one of the most common species of Hydrangea, can have two different forms of flowers – either hortensia, the mophead, ball-shaped form; or lace-cap which is flat topped.

‘Claudia’ has a lace-cap form.

H. serrata – Another lace-cap form: the smaller darker flowers in the center are fertile, while the outer more showy flowers (actually sepals) are infertile.  The bees know the difference.

Most hydrangeas like dappled shade and well drained loamy soil.  Hydrangea macrophylla blooms from late June through August, and prefers part shade and moist soil.    It flowers on the previous season’s growth and should be pruned immediately after flowers have faded in late summer or early fall.  (Unlike H. arborescens and H. paniculata – prune those in late winter or early spring, they flower on the current year’s growth.)  Here’s more on pruning, from Fine Gardening.

Larry enjoys a moment of relaxation

‘Glowing Embers’ also called ‘Alpengluhen’

These blooms are as big as my niece June’s head!

Finally, hydrangeas make wonderful cut flowers.  They can last for weeks if their stems are re-cut and the water is changed frequently.  For my birthday, I created this simple arrangement using Hugh and Juliet’s blue macrophylla hydrangea (thanks guys!) and some of the Ammi majus from my garden.

poppy pride

You poor neglected blog.  It’s just been too nice outside, and there’s been too much fun stuff going on to tend to you.  But I have some floral gifts for you today, in the form of poppies.  Yes, poppies!

Larry and I inspect the poppies – they are about 5′ tall!  Photo by Brandon Adamek

Papaver somniferum ‘Hungarian Blue’

I started these Hungarian Blue “bread seed” poppies from seed on March 20th of this year, a Seedsavers purchase. I love buying stuff from Seedsavers because I really believe in their mission, which is all about saving and sharing heirloom seeds to preserve genetic diversity.  In fact, they maintain thousands of varieties of different plant types – from amaranth to watermelon – in one of the largest seed banks of its kind in North America. They also store varieties in back-up locations at the USDA Seed Bank in Fort Collins, CO and at Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, which houses the most diverse collection of food crop seeds anywhere on Earth.  Seeds are tucked away safely into the permafrost in the mountains of Svalbard, just in case we lose our crops due to some type of catastrophic event.

Back to my poppies.  These are Papaver somniferum ‘Hungarian Blue’ – a rare heirloom variety whose blue purple petals quickly emerge, crinkled and shiny.  This is the variety whose seeds are most often used to grace the tops of bread loaves and bagels.  Mmm.

The Hungarian Blue poppy (is actually more purple)

Buzz

The flowers don’t last long, but luckily the petals fall away to reveal a milky green blue seedpod, which will be full of edible poppy seeds when they dry out.  I’d like to save some for replanting, use some for baking onto the tops of bread or muffins, and use some seedpods in arrangements for Thanksgiving.

Aren’t they cool?

a midsummer’s night wedding

Last week, I met the Nancy Saam flower gang at the Merion Cricket Club in Haverford, PA.  Our mission:  to create a wedding day in the tone of A Midsummer’s Night Dream.  It was to be a whimsical woodland, a graceful garden, and a summery sweet setting; the type of shindig that the Fairy Queen herself would attend.

I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania some time of the night,
Lulled in these flowers with dances and delight;
And there the snake throws her enamelled skin,
Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in.

Bridal table canopy

Structural materials: birch trunks, curly willow, honey locust branches, and smilax vine wound down around birch trunks

Yet marked I where the bolt of Cupid fell:
It fell upon a little western flower,
Before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound,
And maidens call it, Love-in-idleness.

Some of the gorgeous materials used on the arbor: clematis, hanging amaranth, yarrow, nigella, viburnum, hydrangea, and more…

Things base and vile, holding no quantity,
Love can transpose to form and dignity.
Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.

Marlene wraps the woodland cake with smilax vine, atop a tree trunk

What hempen home-spuns have we swaggering here,
So near the cradle of the fairy queen?

Centerpiece with pitcher plants, astilbe, fern, poppy, white scabiosa + seedpods, veronica, and chocolate cosmos

Nancy Saam tweaks the centerpieces

Pitcher plant, sarracenia – carnivorous!

Brenda trails smilax vine on the candelabras

What angel wakes me from my flowery bed?

Jane puts the finishing touches on her large cocktail arrangement

So we grew together,
Like to a double cherry, seeming parted,
But yet an union in partition;
Two lovely berries moulded on one stem;
So, with two seeming bodies, but one heart.


flowers by valerie

Last week I had the pleasure of helping a friend out with her Prom Flower orders.  Since I’ve never really done bouquets and boutonnieres in the traditional sense I wanted to see how they’re created firsthand, and so Valerie let me observe (and play a little) in exchange for some pictures of her designs, which we hope someday grace her glorious website.

Valerie McLaughlin, in her floral studio

Valerie McLaughlin is a freelance floral designer working out of her home in Wallingford, PA, where she lives with her five sons and husband.  The flower business suits her, adding a bit of femininity to an otherwise masculine household.  Even Rudy the dog is a boy.  Her home is a friendly, warm place, where neighbors and friends constantly stop by, and everyone knows each other.  And when it comes to pricing, there really is no such thing as a ‘stranger rate’ with her.

Bouquet with bling and matching boutonniere

Valerie creates custom arrangements within a budget.  Sometimes the only direction given is the color of the dress the bouquet is to match, and that can be a challenge.  Her designs reflect her own joy and passion for living.

A successful pairing, don’t you think? – photo courtesy of Jackie Massey Cormican

Gerber Bouquet with Bling

Matching cute boutonniere

One of my favorites, love the ribbon color (it’s the Martha in me)

When the kids start stopping by to pick up their flowers for the big night, that’s when Valerie really shines, instructing them on floral details and cautioning them to have a good time but to ‘be careful.’

Boys get special instruction on how to present flowers to their dates.

Valerie is also preparing for her AIFD test this summer in Miami.  The American Institute of Floral Designers is a “non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the art of floral design as a professional career,” and once you’re a member, you belong to an elite group of talented people who are devoted to the industry (membership also costs a pretty penny.) Lucky for Valerie, she knows AIFD members like Jane Godshalk and Tim Farrell, of Farrell’s Florist, who are willing to judge her test designs and coach her for the big day.  I wish her all the best of luck this July as she heads to Miami to spend 4 hours creating 5 designs. You can do it, Val!

back to the garden

Remember the patch of earth my Pops and I dug back in February?

Pops and Larry dig out garden on 2/27/12

Well, I planted some euphorbia, and then sowed seeds, which sprouted up in no time. Sweet peas, dill, bachelor’s buttons, poppy, Ammi majus…

Then I added some plants from Mostardi’s:  foxglove, armeria, thyme, lavender, fennel, rosemary, delphinium, Russian sage, nepeta, lamb’s ear, eryngium…

Garden on 5/4/12

Red stemmed dogwood ‘fencing’

5/5/12 – Fertilized with Dr. Earth’s organic stuff

Since then, I’ve been watching my garden closely, watching things grow.  Thinning, weeding, a little watering if needed.  Then I went away for less than a week during a heat spell, and when I came back the garden seemed to be overflowing with plants!

5/31/12

Foxglove after a rain – 5/22/12

Bees love it

First Sweet Pea Blossom – 72 days after sowing seed (5/31/12)

the Overseer of Sweet Peas, placed by Pops

Delphinium 5/31

I did some editing today, and as if it’s not crammed full enough, I also sowed a few sunflower and Bells of Ireland seeds!  I can’t wait to see the poppies, bachelor’s buttons, and Ammi majus bloom – soon, I think.  I can’t believe how good it makes me feel to tend a few plants in a 4′ x 13′ bed.  Now, where to put that clematis vine…

union league wedding

Last week’s wedding was a big affair – 200+ guests at the Union League in downtown Philadelphia, with “garden-style” flowers by Nancy Saam and our team.  Jane, Pat, Nancy, Chip and I prepped the day before.

Pat creates large centerpieces using spirea, peony and viburnum – gorgeous

Jane and I made some designs on 3-tiered silver trays.  First, we cut the Oasis down to size and secured it onto the trays with prongs (held with floral clay.)

Then we added greens like fatsia leaf, euphorbia, hosta, galax leaf, and then flowers like Tuberose.

Finished tray is dripping with flowers like calla lilies, pink garden roses, astilbe, and viburnum. Moss is packed into the holes to complete.  Oh and ‘Green Trick’ Dianthus!

Then Jane and I made a long design for the placecard table, using lots of greens like lemon leaf, huge hosta leaves, and solomon’s seal.  We also added hydrangea and ‘Festiva Maxima’ peonies, from – you guessed it! – A Peony Garden. This design will be finished on site.

Now, the day of the wedding!  The truck arrives, packed to the gills.  Everyone lends a hand unpacking.  It’s many, many trips up the small freight elevator and into the various rooms we’ll be working – the ceremony room, placecard table, cocktail area, and finally the reception area.

I spend most of my day in Lincoln Hall, where the reception is to be held.  We are creating an arbor of sorts out of birch. The structure is in place, and we begin by adding a layer of leafy branches.

Birch Structure is nailed together and strengthened with zip ties where branches meet, and c-clamps on the tables.

Cages filled with floral foam are zip-tied to the branches in the front, and we begin to fill them with viburnum.

Here Nancy shows us where she’d like to see more viburnum added.

Brenda does the lion’s share of the work on this structure, and I am her assistant, handing her branches, mopping up spills, sweeping up leaves as we go.  She has had 18 years of experience in the floral industry.  She spends most of the day on a ladder, and if I may be honest, totally kicks ass!  Unfortunately we were working so hard and moving so quickly most of the day that I never got a good picture of her!!

Brenda adds peonies and stock to our flower bower of power!

As Brenda puts the finishing touches on the arbor, I’m called away to do some cocktail area arrangements and to finish the long placecard table design that Jane and I began.  I replace a few wilted peonies, add viburnum, kiwi vine, and curly willow, plus a little astilbe for good measure.  Then the design is hung with votives.  This is all done with such astonishing speed, I think I forget to breathe at this point in the day.

Back in Lincoln Hall, things have reached a fevered pitch.  All the last minute touches are attended to – the candles lit, the tables set, our work buckets tucked away.

inside the birch / peony arbor – bridal table

Diane lighting candles – so Downton Abbey don’t you think??

One of Pat’s centerpieces in place

Our silver trays are also centerpieces

But the piece de resistance is the bridal table…fit for a royal party of elves and fairies…or Philadelphians.

Completed Arbor

All it needs are the newlyweds, and happy lords and ladies of the evening to sit under it, and fill the hall with their love and laughter.  When I got home to celebrate Julie’s birthday, I showed my dad a picture of this.  His response: “I guess we know Thanksgiving is going to be a lot more expensive this year!”  Dad, you’re right.  I think we need to create something like this arbor for our annual family gathering!  You’re on construction detail.  Thanks for all the great ideas, Nancy Saam!