Jane’s New Floral Design Book! (featuring some of my photos)

cover photo by Tom Weishaar (all other photos in this post by me, most of which appear in the book)

Jane Godshalk, AIFD floral designer and instructor at Longwood Gardens, is now also an author!  Her new book, titled Flower Arranging Secrets: Natural Designs for Everyday Living, offers tips and tricks acquired throughout Jane’s decades of floral design experience. Some of my photographs are featured throughout the book, and I feel lucky to have been a small part of Jane’s incredible floral world.

Jane makes it look easy.

Jane makes it look easy. Buy her book, and it will be easy for you too! Here she is making an early spring parallel design using sand to hold the stems in place.

Jane has studied floral design internationally, is a longtime faculty member at Longwood Gardens, and is an award-winning floral designer whose work has been featured in publications such as the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Green Scene magazine.

A lunchtime spring flower fiesta

A lunchtime spring flower fiesta Jane created using chicken wire to secure stems

At the heart of Jane’s book is the idea that floral design is for everyone, and the book aims to “demystify the process of arranging flowers for your home.”  Jane gives advice on how to select material and where to find it, how to care for stems once you’ve purchased them, which vases and containers to use, and design tactics such as color, stem placement, and rules of proportion.

Jane shows you where to find materials and how to prepare them for arranging

Jane shows you where to find materials and how to prepare them for arranging

Spring Design by Jane using chicken wire for mechanic, featuring peonies and materials from her garden

Spring Design by Jane using chicken wire for mechanic, featuring peonies and materials from her garden. Behind the scenes shot.

Jane empowers everyday floral designers by giving us the “how to” in a clear, simple fashion – and all the design mechanics she uses in the book are sustainable (can be reused or recycled.) In other words, no floral foam!  One of her tried-and-true methods of anchoring flowers is by using chicken wire. She also shows us how to use branches, bark, grapevine, and even sand as the mechanic for holding stems in place.

Using bark and branches to hold stems in place

Using bark and branches to secure stems

Jane shares many other secrets, such as the proper use of a kenzan or frog, how to create a hand-tied bouquet (a personal favorite!) and how to successfully incorporate fruits and vegetables into your design.  There is also a handy flower identification chart included. Jane’s new book showcases beautiful, eco-friendly and easy floral designs for everyone from beginners to experts. I highly recommend it. Congratulations, Jane.  It was so thrilling to work with you, and I am continually inspired by your knowledge and talent.

Jane's hand-tied bouquets are to die for! (photo not featured in book but concept is)

Jane’s hand-tied bouquets are to die for! (photo not featured in book but concept is)

Want the book? Buy it from Jane’s website for $24.99. Or, take a class from Jane at Longwood Gardens!

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Ladies Hat Day at the Devon Horse Show

Ladies Hat Day competitors and winners with Carson Kressley (judge) photo by Brenda Carpenter

Ladies Hat Day winners with Carson Kressley (judge) photo by Brenda Carpenter

Heard of the Devon Horse Show? If you’re from the Philadelphia area, you have!  It’s been around since 1896, when it began as a way for the newly migrated wealthy business men of the Main Line to discuss the need of better horses for their vehicles.  In 1919, it was decided a Country Fair should be held in conjunction with the horse show, and that the event should benefit Bryn Mawr Hospital.  Women were gaining their rights all over the country and with the Country Fair, they proved their strength and organizational skills with a successful fundraiser that to date has raised almost 14 million dollars!

Ms. Betty Moran at Information booth, one of the many volunteers

Ms. Betty Moran at Information booth, one of the many volunteers, photo by Devon Horse Show on Facebook

To this day, the Devon Horse show still raises money for Bryn Mawr Hospital, and one of the Country Fair Special Events that contributes to that donation is the Ladies Day event, where elegant ladies don their best hats to compete for Best of Devon, Most Fascinating, Best Hat to Toe, and Best in Show.  This year’s theme was “Ribbons and Pearls,” and was held on May 28th.

But wait, where's the lady?

But wait, where’s the lady?

In addition to all the voluminous chapeaus, the Ladies Day event features floral centerpieces donated by area floral designers such as VF Flowers, Beautiful Blooms, Robertsons, Cottage Flowers, Fleur, and…Roots to Blooms! (That’s me.)  Our centerpieces would be displayed in the preferred seating tent with a luncheon included, and then moved to the blue room where the box holders have dinner.

Preferred seating and Luncheon area displaying floral centerpieces in hat boxes

Preferred seating and Luncheon area displaying floral centerpieces in hat boxes

I was contacted by the lovely and energetic Karen Meehan to be a part of this event, and was thrilled to participate in the hat box challenge.  Here were a few of the other hat box designs:

Robertson's design

Robertson’s design

Heather, from Cottage Gardens

Heather, from Cottage Flowers in Malvern, chose delphiniums, clematis, and peonies; and mossed the hat box herself.  This was my favorite design as I love the more ‘gardeny’ feel.

Juliet roses in this peachy display

‘Juliet’ garden roses in this peachy display!

I chose to visit my local Peony grower, Eleanor Tickner, for the bulk of my floral material, as it is peak peony season and not only was this a cost effective choice, but an eco-friendly one as well.  You just show up with a bucket and get your stems ($1.50/stem and up.) Everything is in full swing right now at A Peony Garden in Glen Mills, and with the help of Eleanor’s daughter Butch, I was able to cut many varieties including Red Charm, Raspberry Charm, Battle Flag, Coral Charm, Do Tell, and Festiva Maxima, to name a few. The peonies are well grown, well loved, and enchanting to say the least!

Me with my peony design (thanks Heather!)

Me with my peony design (thanks for snapping this, Heather!)

My design using peonies with a little hat netting

Mine got to sit at the judges’ table!

First, I lined the hat box (bought from Amazon) with plastic, added a thicker plastic liner, and yes, I had to use floral foam for this.  There was no way around it.  After doweling together my foam, which rose three to four inches higher than the lip of the box, I added the base foliage of dusty miller and variegated pittosporum… and then I just kept adding peonies.  It was a delicious experience to work with so many peonies (the white peony edged with pinky/red ‘Festiva Maxima’ has the most wonderful fragrance!) I added filler such as nigella, blue cornflower, Queen Anne’s lace, some spray rose and a few fronds of maidenhair fern.  I tucked a few black feathers in for accent, as well as some lacey hat netting and some black bows and a few pearl thingamabobs.

25 peonies all in one hat box, with pittosporum, nigella, cornflower, waxflower, dusty miller and queen anne's lace

My design used twenty five peonies all in one hat box

All in all, I was pleased with the result and think I will definitely do more hat box designing in the future!  I couldn’t have done it without my trusty assistant Julie, and wouldn’t have been included if it hadn’t been for Karen.  Thanks, you guys! I hope to participate next year.  It was so much fun, and all for a good cause!  Three cheers for Ladies Hat Day.

Karen, Devon volunteer extraordinaire, and my trusty drop-off assistant Julie

Karen, Devon volunteer extraordinaire, and my trusty drop-off assistant Julie

The Devon Horse Show and Country fair will continue throughout the rest of the weekend and there are lots of cool exhibitions and vendors to check out.

It’s Almost Peony Time!

Wondering if the peonies are blooming at A Peony Garden yet?  Almost.  “I give it until next Thursday,” says garden maven and peony expert, Eleanor Tickner.  (That’s May 29th, and I’m counting the days.)  We met Eleanor two seasons ago while on the hunt for peonies as cut flowers, and succumbed to peony mania in the process.  Read the BLOG POST describing all the details.  Right now, there are many buds and a few blooms over at the garden in Glen Mills, and we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse!

Meet 'Sunny Boy,' a peony within a peony.

Meet ‘Sunny Boy,’ a peony within a peony and quite a rare find.

'Laning Peach'

This peony’s a peach!

'Raspberry Charm' is so bright I have to wear shades.

‘Raspberry Charm’ is so bright I have to wear shades.

And of course, no visit would be complete without a greeting from our old pal, Riddler, who is still going strong.  But don’t worry, his humans are very responsible with dog-shy visitors.

Enter as strangers, leave as friends.  Like the sign says.

“Enter as strangers, leave as friends.” Like the sign says.

See you in a little over a week, Eleanor! Thanks for creating a little slice of heaven on earth for us to visit.

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.  Cut flowers offered as well as peonies in containers.  A must visit for any peony lover!

 

Awakening

When spring finally comes, especially after a long winter, I think to myself how very brave it is for plants to send out buds and leaves and flowers again.  They have the courage to reach for the light and keep growing, despite the fact that they’ll inevitably die.

Magnolia

Magnolia

Especially courageous are spring ephemerals like Mertensia virginica, or Virginia bluebells; for these beauties are but fleeting bursts of color in the spring landscape, typically above ground for only a few short months before folding back into dormancy again.

Virginia Bluebells, or Mertensia virginica

Virginia Bluebells, or Mertensia virginica

And what about the sheer doggedness of our native dogwood tree, whose bracts unfurl in April to reveal the true inner blooms, tiny and button-like?

Dogwood

Many of our spring flowering trees send out blooms even before leaves emerge.  That’s like getting up in the morning and walking outside naked, in my opinion!

Yellow Magnolia

Yellow Magnolia

If only I could take a lesson from spring’s treasures, and learn to get back up with grace when life knocks me down, knowing that it’s all just part of the cycle of life.

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'...photo 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!

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:

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.