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!

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!

a peony garden

I was never very good at keeping secrets.  So, for those of you that wanted A Peony Garden, in Glen Mills, PA to remain a secret, I’m terribly sorry.  This place is just too amazing not to share with everyone!

A Peony Garden is four acres of heaven on earth during the month of May, planted with 250 different cultivars of tree, garden, and intersectional peonies of all colors shapes and sizes.  Peony fans can buy peony plants, but the bulk of the business done here is cut flowers, and that’s what I’m interested in.  Prices vary throughout the season between $1 and $1.50 per stem, which in the floral world is absolutely unbeatable. And you can feel good about buying from a local grower – you’re not flying peonies from halfway around the world, there’s no excessive packaging – just bring your own bucket!  How sustainable is that!

Picking peonies with Valerie, Jane and volunteer Sandy Papa

Freelance floral designer Valerie McLaughlin stops to smell the peonies

But beware that you don’t succumb to peony mania, like we did.  There’s just something about all those fragrant blooms, and their silken petals worn like party dresses, that makes you simply swoon.  You will want more, more, more!!

Eleanor Tickner, head gardener

The woman behind it all, Eleanor Tickner, has her own secrets to growing peonies, which she downplays.  “Sunshine, of course.  And you go out and talk to them, you pray over them.”  Eleanor and her husband Bill have been growing peonies here for around 15 years.   It’s a family affair – her two daughters sometimes help out, and the Great Danes are not guard dogs but more like the official greeters of the place.

Riddler greets my Dad

Eleanor with head of the PR department, Great Dane Riddler

Eleanor began growing as a way to keep busy after retirement, because as she says, “you don’t stop working and all of a sudden eat bon bons and chase dust bunnies.” Accustomed to working hard and seeing results, Eleanor wanted to do something exciting with the four acres of sunny land, which she says is “just enough to get me in trouble.”   She chose to plant peonies, because they don’t need a lot of water (they only have well water on their property,) and because they’re “satisfying to the soul.”  Peonies reminded Eleanor of her adopted grandmother from next door, who grew a row of peonies she believed kept the evil spirits away.   After spending an hour at A Peony Garden, I begin to think that myth is true, because I just feel so darned good.

Eleanor swears that growing peonies is just a hobby, but from the glint in her eye, and the fact that she’s out in her garden until dusk every day, I believe she’s passed into the realm of obsession.  While she has no horticulture degree, she’s the President and co-founder of the Mid Atlantic Peony Society, and serves on the Board of Directors at The American Peony Society. She’s also written articles on peonies – for Philly News, and for The Hardy Plant Society, to name a few.  She’s referred to as a “promoter” of peonies, by Don Hollingsworth, of Hollingsworth Nursery in Missouri, one of the top growers of peonies in the country.  Holllingsworth, along with Adelman Peony Gardens in Oregon, and Hidden Springs Flower Farm in Minnesota, are the main sources for her plants.

It’s clear that Eleanor has more than just a love for peonies; she’s adopted a scientific approach to growing them, evaluating cultivars for reliability, consistent bloom, and the ability to grow without staking.  She is always willing to share her knowledge with others, and her humility is unparalleled.  “As far as I’m concerned, every person is replaceable on this earth.  But my job needs to be done, so that’s what I’m doing out here – educating.”

Eleanor gives a tour to the Scattered Seeds Garden Club

Through the American Peony Society, she judges plants worthy of the APS Award of Landscape Merit, and grows a few of these recipients on her property, such as ‘Do Tell,’ a pink anemone form peony, and one of my favorites of the day.

‘Do Tell’ peony – I mean, amazing, right??

If you’re a peony lover looking to grow some reliable favorites for cutting, Eleanor recommends varieties like ‘Festiva Maxima,’ a huge fragrant double variety whose frilly white petals are edged with red flares.

‘Festiva Maxima’ has been around for 150 years

If you like big pink peonies, try growing ‘President Taft’ or ‘Walter Faxon;’ but for a glorious red peony Eleanor suggests ‘The Mackinac Grand’ (pronounced mackin-AW,) whose brilliant fiery red hues could literally stop traffic.

‘The Mackinac Grand’ – also an APS Award of Landscape Merit winner

There are many unnamed varieties here too, gotten ‘over the garden gate’ or at an end of season sale. “It’s a gardener’s dream, to have this much land available to play in – and that’s what I do – play,” says Eleanor.  If you go for cut flowers, bring a bucket and expect to spend some time combing the gardens for your favorites.  Either Eleanor or her volunteer, Sandy, will walk you through the fields and cut the blooms you desire.  She doesn’t let the public cut her peonies, spritzing alcohol on the pruners between each plant to stop any diseases from spreading.

Sandy Papa, volunteer, cuts ‘The Mackinac Grand’ for me to bring home

Jane Godshalk hides behind a peony bloom

Jane counting peonies.

For floral fanatics, Eleanor shares her special recipe for prolonging a peony’s vase life:  1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar (to fight bacterial growth) and 1 tablespoon sugar (food for bloom) to one quart of water.  It really works!  The blooms at A Peony Garden should last through Memorial Day Weekend, so hurry to get a glimpse of these old fashioned beauties, and be sure to take some home with you.  Thanks to my Dad and stepmom Julie for sharing their secret peony source with me!

A Peony Garden address: 1739 Middletown Rd. Glen Mills, PA 19342 – about 20 miles SW of Philadelphia.  4.6 miles NW of route 1 on 352.  tel 610.358.1321 call ahead for large orders

revel – my first paid floral gig!

I got hired to help out for a few days down in Atlantic City, NJ for a big job – a 1000 person benefit at the new casino, Revel, through Nancy Saam Flowers.  (My teacher and friend Jane does a lot of freelance work for Nancy, and gave my name to her a while back.)

Will I survive this flower job?

Encompassing 6.3 million square feet and standing 47 stories tall, Revel is a $2.4 billion lifestyle resort on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City.

It’s an incredible building, and because everything is brand new, it literally sparkles inside and out.  In some areas, it’s lush and dark in a 70s kind of way, in others, it’s bright and modern and clean.

And good luck finding your way around!  I think I must have walked 10 miles in the course of the 3 days I was there.  Beyoncé will be singing there for the casino’s premiere opening at the end of May, and tickets to see her in Ovation Hall (where our benefit was held) are $700.  I’m not even kidding.

Marlene and I – she’s one of the top designers

The scope of this project was enormous:  under the guidance of Nancy Saam, our fearless leader, I worked with a dozen or so other designers to create 73 woodland “tablescapes” for long tables, and almost 50 six foot ‘trees’ with mini gardens on their bases for round tables.  All the plant material for these designs had to be hauled up the freight elevator and processed upon arrival.

Debbie, one of the most amazing workers EVER, with a load of viburnum on the freight elevator

Flowering crabapple gets put into buckets of water right away

Dawn processes flowers like no one else!

First we started on the long tables.  All 73 tables would take a few days to complete.

Jane shows us the tablescape design

We covered the table runners with many non-floral elements to create structure, depth, texture, and pattern:  long pieces of grape wood, loads of sheet and mood moss, spheres of many types, succulents, votives, gold artichokes and pods, and skeleton leaves.  Within these items, we also laid out pre-soaked floral foam blocks in various sized liners and covered those with moss and galax leaf. The floral foam would then be filled with a variety of cut flowers and woodland treasures closer to the event.

With the tablescape structures mainly in place, we called it a day.  One of the challenges of this job was working on a floor that needed to remain pristine.  We put down drop cloths wherever we went and there was a lot of sweeping and mopping!

Valeri and Jane do some sweeping up – Valeri’s smiles never stopped.

The next day was all about making the trees – and they were quite a construction project! For the bases, burlap was cut to fit over sleek Xmas tree stands. Long birch trunks were then placed into the stands.

We divided up into 2-person teams to duct-tape wired cages containing pre-soaked floral foam to the tops of these trunks, making them look a little like stoplights in a forest.

Jane and Mary Jo attach floral foam cages

Marlene never stops moving so she’s hard to capture. Here she’s showing me how to start my tree.

After placing a bit of lemon leaf to hide the lower mechanics, we then began designing tree top after tree top using flowering crabapple branches.   Here’s what I did over and over again: select branch, cut to length, prune off small branches by the end, and place them in the foam. It’s fun!

Del creates a tree for the woodland tables – nice bling Del!

Valerie is lost amongst the branches, smiling

Eventually, the trees start taking shape, filling out like elven lollipops.

Pat kicks butt making trees! (my tree in foreground…i got attached to all of mine.)

As we were completing the branch structures of the trees, other designers under the guidance of Armas, a designer from moda botanica in Philly, began creating the little woodland gardens at their bases.  I got to pitch in at the end, too, tucking many lovely plant treasures into wedges of foam then obscured by moss.

Fern, fiddlehead, hellebore, orchid, hydrangea, veronica, chocolate cosmos, succulents, and much more

Diane creates a magical fairyland base garden

Have I mentioned how much I love these materials and designs???

The next day, we filled in any holes on the trees, completed more woodland bases, and added more magical touches, like hanging votives filled with reindeer moss.

Trees were constantly misted to stay fresh

Then it was back to the tables, to finish the tablescapes on the tables that had been brought out to Ovation Hall.  We filled in the floral foam sections with a host of delicious plant materials such as fern, long purple fiddleheads, antique hydrangea, bunny tail, euphorbia, hellebore, white astilbe, white scabiosa, and white ranunculus.  The end result was a tablescape that any woodland nymph would be proud to lounge about on!

canopies filled with candles will be added to the tops of the ‘cages’ on the tables

Meanwhile, Jane Godshalk spent her day designing with tropicals for the cocktail area.

Greens, foxtail lily, protea, orchids and hairy cybotium fern – pow!

Designers also created 18 tall glass vases of viburnum and branches for round tables.

a long cool drink of spring beauty

Armas created many of the cocktail arrangements, which were whimsical and woodsy at the same time.

Since Jane and a lot of other very talented designers were there, I was surrounded by expertise, and although we were working hard, I also got to ask questions and learn as much as I could.  It was exhausting and exhilarating.  I didn’t get to see the final end result of our work, but today I received some pics of the event…WOW! Great job everyone!

Final long table with canopy lit up, photo courtesy of Alix Jacobs

photo courtesy of Alix Jacobs

Here’s hoping there are many more successful events like this one in my floral future!

P.S.  Most of these pics were taken after I was done for the day or on a lunch break.