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!

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2012 philadelphia flower show inspirado!

floral wave

“We’re going to Hawaii!” my peeps and I kept shouting on the way there.  And it was just what the doctor ordered for our sunlight-starved, oxygen-deprived, pale winter bodies.   And I’m glad there were so many plants to compensate for all the oxygen-breathing crowds – I mean, it was SO crazy packed I could barely get over to see Longwood Instructor Jane Godshalk’s amazing Hula Man.

Hula man in AIFD's installation by Jane G. - WOW.

I liked how there were rows of arrangements displayed in their own little specially-lit boxes

This design evokes 'Tiki' the best according to judges - Pincushion Protea

Paphiopedilum Orchid

someone please tell me what this is

Ikebana by Midori Tanimune, one of my Ikebana Longwood Instructors

I want to fill a special room in a house I don't have with botanical prints

Ladies, look over here at the Amorphophallus!

Prizewinning Euphorbia esculenta

I feel this way sometimes - it's a good thing

Don't you just hate when that happens?

'Outrigger' - Winning design by my instructor Jane Godshalk! Judges called it "brilliant"

My sister Amy took a lot of great pictures on a much better camera than mine – check them out HERE.

intro to ikebana class – longwood – day one

“Clear your mind.  Relax.  Let the plants speak to you,” says instructor Janet Solomon, during day one of Intro to Ikebana at Longwood Gardens.  Ikebana means “living flowers,” is nature focused and is a ‘do’ or way of life in Japan that’s considered a lifelong journey.  So, in other words, don’t expect to really know much after two days.  But after two days, Janet says, “your designs will be affected.  Number one, you’ll stop picking large bouquets and start using space differently.”  The biggest lesson here: less is more.  In Western arranging, we’re taught to use mass – building tightly packed, dense designs – and our emphasis is on color.  In Ikebana, the emphasis is on the line (and sometimes you must trim your plant material a lot to attain the lines you’re seeking.)  The asymmetry creates open spaces which invite the eye to explore.  The beauty is in the form and growth of a plant rather than the color.  The composition communicates the feelings of the arranger, and if you’re really doing Ikebana correctly, you might say something like: “the flowers just wanted to be arranged that way.  I listened to them, and that’s what they told me to do.”

Ikebana Woodblock by Kasamatsu Shiro 1954

In Western arranging, we’re also focused on blooms rather than leaves and branches (though in our Basic class Jane uses plenty of branches and foliage.)  And not just blooms, but the perfection of blooms at their most perfectly open moment.  In Ikebana, imperfection is embraced.  A holey leaf is holy.  And the flowers are shown in different stages to represent the passage of time:  a fully open flower = the past; partially open flower =present; and a bud = the future.  Thus the choice in Western arranging of fully opened blossoms is considered “pitiable” in Ikebana, because these forms only represent Death.  “Not a pretty thing,” says Janet.  But in Ikebana, using seasonal items that are not “perfect” brings nature into the house and allows us to reflect on the concept of time.

Ikebana arrangement at Philly Flower show - plenty of buds - photo by Amy Kane

As you can see, there is a lot of symbolism, and a reverence towards nature.  That’s because Ikebana’s genesis was religious, synthesizing elements of Shintoism and Buddhism.  This is cool stuff:  in Shintoism, the indigenous religion of Japan, nature is sacred, and contact with nature is a way of being close to the gods.  The monks would offer entire plants – root and all – to the gods. This is the basis of arranging at its most primitive.  In the 6th century, Buddhist monks gathered flowers and branches left after storms and arranged them at the foot of Buddha statues.  And that was where Ikebana sprang from.  I love these ideas because they express some of my own feelings about nature/plants.  I’m not religious, but I do hold nature sacred.  Gathering plant material from the outside, and putting it in a container in a design that enables me to connect with the material is an offering of sorts.  To Mother Nature, as I call her.

another Ikebana from Philly Flower show - photo by Amy Kane

Then Ikebana took off, and evolved into many styles.  These many styles include  (short-hand of my notes from class not meant to be exhaustive by any means): Rikka – 10-20′ high, these designs were microcosms representing mini landscapes complete with hills rivers and towns. Chabana – 17th century, these accompanied the tea ceremony (cha = “tea”) and held one branch and small flower.  Shoka – late 17th century, Shoka answered the need for something between Chabana and Rikka that could be ‘for everyone.’  These designs are asymmetrical triangles with open spaces.  Stems are tightly bundled at base to resemble single growing plant.  More on this, we made one!  Nageire – chabana “on steroids.” Tall narrow container.  More on this later, we made one!  Moribana – “piled up flowers” from the late 19th century.  Low rectangular container. More on this later, we made one!  Free style – these designs use the same design principles as Western arranging but still represent nature.

Ikebana arrangements at Philly flower show by Midori Tanimune, Sogetsu School

And just to make things more confusing, there are a bunch of different ‘schools’ of Ikebana that all have different rules about how to create these various styles.  Janet studied at the Ikenobo school, the oldest school with the most traditional styles. But there is no competitive spirit in Ikebana – unlike Western flower arranging where a blue ribbon won at the Flower show is the ultimate.  “Japanese flower arrangements are for pure enjoyment and never judged,” says the Ikebana International brochure.  But honestly I do detect a tiny hint of condescension from Janet that her way is the better way of doing things, that us poor Western saps are lost in our notions of perfectly rounded radial designs when we could be communing with nature and really doing something of spiritual weight.  I’m trying, okay?  That’s the point of all of this floral design stuff for me, actually: to find something that fulfills me, and balances me.  Where I use my head, heart and hands.  So far, so good.

Shoka rules - straight line, center of kenzan, fanned out, clean above water line

Okay, now we are to make a Shoka Shimputai.  That’s a straight line arrangement.  The Shoka rules: all the stems must be placed vertically and in a straight line centered in the kenzan (the spiky frog or “sword mountain” that holds stems in place – watch out, very sharp!) and the materials must be free of leaves measured in a fist height above the container (the mizugiwa – edge of water.) Then the materials are fanned out to “let the materials breathe.”  The Shoka will be viewed from the front, so if you’re using any big leaves, be sure to angle them so that they’re not too overwhelming and to create more depth.  Depth is a big thing in Ikebana.

Shoka Demos by Instructor Janet Solomon - from the side to show fanning out

There are only 3 types of materials being used in the Shoka Shimputai.  We are using Bird of Paradise, Aster, and Willow (some of us have fasciated willow – oh baby!)   First you must choose your Shu, or the main actor in the play, the dominant force.  Obviously the Bird of Paradise here.  Janet shows us how to coax the flowers out of the triangular buds by digging our thumbs in and gently pulling the blooms out (there are up to 3 ‘birds’ inside.)

emerging bird - you can gently dig out the blooms with your thumb!

Then the Yo or supporting actor, which is meant to contrast with the Shu but be subservient.  This is the Willow for me.

Fasciated willow - Yo; purple aster - Ashirai

After that, the Ashirai goes in, which is the helper that fills in if seasonal materials are needed (there always must be something seasonal.)  The Ashirai balances things, can supply color, and ties things together.  The Aster.  I found this arrangement pretty easy, but this was my first time working with a kenzan, so I had to master that.  Once a big branch of willow goes in, it’s pretty hard to get out, so it’s a good idea to hold things in place where you intend to put them before sinking the stems in.

my completed Shoka shimputai (should be sitting on a 'base' - protects from drips)

So you see how the Bird of Paradise is dominant, the willow supporting, and the aster a touch of helping color.  And though she has stressed the fact that Ikebana is not competitive, there is a right and wrong way of addressing the basic rules, so she goes around and modifies some of our arrangements – to get a better line, to keep the stems straighter, or more fanned out.  Wrestling with the stems being straight is definitely difficult.

Janet modifies Julie's arrangement, whose feeling towards this first stab at Ikebana was "survival" which she more than achieved

In this Shoka, the Aster is the Yo and the leaf is the Ashirai..I think

Pat's Shoka uses Bird of Paradise foliage, which still counts as the Shu. She clipped off the stems, wanting her design to be simple and clean to help offset the complexity of her life. Beautiful.

All in all I really enjoyed Day 1 of this class, though I did feel like despite it being emphasized that Ikebana is supposed to be non-judgmental, the instructor was actually very judgmental towards all of our designs and was not effective at communicating her thoughts in a gentle constructive way.   Day 2 was different in this regard…so stay tuned, there’s more Ikebana to come!

floral offerings from falls flowers

Walking into falls flowers last week, I was greeted by many hues, shapes, sizes and textures, all standing at perfect attention in their containers filled with fresh clear water. No flower food is needed for the display, because we change the water and cut fresh stems fairly regularly.

selection of goodies

So you want to dive in a little closer??? The first thing I noticed was this pincushion Protea – totally out of this world! Also known as Leucospermum cordifolium, the alien flower heads probably come alive at night and party at the shop. They probably like to dance to Bjork.

pincushion Protea

Eager to join the party are the orange Ornithogalum, or Sun Stars, a perennial bulb native to S. Africa.

Orange Ornithogalum starting to bloom

But during the day, the shop is mostly quiet. The flowers stop their dancing and become still enough for us to admire them. In fact, Peicha and I were talking about the cycles of life and death, when a few calls came in for sympathy arrangements. I think it’s nice to send flowers to someone when their loved one dies. It is a vase of life right before you, to remind you: we are not here long, but while we’re here we’ll do our best and brightest work. I chose the flowers and Peicha made the arrangements. We were very in tune on this day.

arrangement using: Finesse roses, hyacinth, pincushion protea, scabiosa seed pod, astrantia

arrangement using: eryngium (thistle), agapanthus (purple) white kale, white hyacinth, blue lace flower, tweedia (light blue)

sympathy arrangements ready for delivery (pussy willow added to the blue/white one!)

And then I got to deliver these. Neither recipient was home, so I left them with doormen or got instructions directly from the client about where they wanted them left. Funny thing, talking about cycles of life, I drove past the house I grew up in as a little girl getting to one of the deliveries!

Tweedia. You're blue, and your leaves are soft to the touch. I love you.