be a good sport – creating floral awards

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

Apollo wearing laurel wreath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orienteering Control at NAOC’s Model Event

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

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

My work area at the lakehouse – on a dropcloth

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

3rd place awards – bouquets

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

Bouquets were wrapped with twine – photo by Julie Keim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Head wreath detail, photo by Julie Keim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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!

birthday head garland

Today I made a floral head garland for my beautiful 29-year old sister Fiona.  She’s a Taurus, like so many in my family, and I think because of that Earth sign she can really pull off the crown of flowers look.

It could be that she’s really a fairy princess, though.  Happy birthday, sis!

day five – basic floral design I at longwood

Roman fresco with garland of laurel leaves, pomegranates, sheaths of wheat, and pine cones - photo courtesy of

In today’s class we talked about garlands, which were popularized during the Greek and Roman Periods.   “Garland:  a wreath or festoon of flowers, leaves, or other material, worn for ornament as an honor or hung on something as a decoration.”  Personally, I like the idea of festooning long garlands all around the house and wearing a head garland at the same time.  In ancient Greece, head garlands (also called chaplets) were made of predominately foliage, and were awarded to honor athletes and heroes as symbols of allegiance and dedication.

Apollo crowned with a laurel wreath / photo courtesy of

During the Roman period, garlands and wreaths were heavy and elaborate with fragrant and colorful blooms.  An abundance of lavish flowers was seen as a sign of opulence and wealth.  According to our teacher Jane Godshalk, there’s a story of one rich Roman Emperor who had a dinner party with a fragrant surprise: ceiling panels full of roses and other flowers. The idea was to let the canvases fall deliciously over the heads of his guests.  But it didn’t go like that –  a few of his guests were in fact smothered by his fabulous flowers.

party gone wrong at Elagabalus the Roman Emperor's place

There are a few ways of going about making a garland, and though we weren’t able to cover actually doing them all in this class, we were given a quick demo on how to make a wire garland, using pre-soaked Oasis blocks wrapped in plastic wrap and enclosed in chicken wire.  You just stick the materials into that, careful of the dripping.  A rope or twine based garland seems easy enough – just wire bundles of flowers/foliage around a stretch of rope or twine, making a loop with the twine on either end to hang it easily.  Work from one end to the middle, and then the other end to the middle. These are good for wrapping around pillars or poles, hanging swags on a table, or framing a window or door.

small garland of purple limonium, seeded eucalyptus, and bupleurum made by Jenny in class

And then there’s the table garland – essentially a wreath formed out of Oasis that you poke your plant materials into. Start with a basing of greens – in this case we used Ruscus, Myrtle, Galax and Seeded Eucalyptus.  Place them inside and out of the ring at varying angles.

my table garland/wreath in action - dinner courtesy of Dad and Julie with the wonderful company of Meg

Then add your main flowers – in this case spray roses and carnations.  Group them evenly throughout.  I used the seeded Eucalyptus as a filler flower really, but Limonium or I hate to say it Gypsophila also work well as a filler.  All of these items except the carnations (these were left over from another class) will dry pretty well and therefore this table garland borders on everlasting.

my first table garland/wreath - put a candle in the center and call it a day

All of these garlands are quite labor intensive and therefore should be done the day before an event.  That goes for head garlands too. In fact, I had just enough time in class to squeeze out a quickie for my niece June.

Niece June modeling the head garland I made

This was super fun to make and not too hard at all.  I measured out a piece of honeysuckle wire (just a wire with a brown wrapping, also comes in green,) making one end into a loop.  Then I made small bunches of daisy mums, Bupleurum, and Gypsophila or Baby’s Breath in my hand, which I then wired onto the main wire using bind wire.  Many mini bundles later the garland was filled, and I added some white ribbon on.

Head garland of Bupleurum, daisy mums and gypsophila on June

I really, really liked making the head garland.  I love the idea of wearable flowers – this might be a niche for me.  And when you put them on you feel like a total princess! (Or Greek goddess!)

Despite it's small size, I couldn't resist putting on the garland myself. photo courtesy of Juliet

wrist corsages

At falls flowers this week, I got a lesson in making wrist corsages.  There are a few different styles and ways of doing it, but as the request was for almost 40 simple white roses for a sorority gathering, we went with the simplest and fastest method – GLUE.  Gluing saves time when you have a bulk order, because the alternative is wiring and taping – a lesson I hope to get one day, too.  And this glue is like no other I’ve worked with – Oasis Florist Adhesive.  It’s a “fast-drying and waterproof liquid adhesive formulated for use with fresh flowers.” It won’t brown fresh flower petals, and it will hold up in cold storage. In other words, it’s a must-have for all you budding floral designers out there!

In making the wrist corsages, Peicha and I start by using well-hydrated roses, removing their sepals (the small spiky leaves at the base) and then trimming the stem down to near nothingness.  Shave the stem down with a knife so it’s as flat as possible.  Add a tiny blob of glue to both the bottom of the rose and the Elastic Wrist Corsage Band, making sure to spread the glue evenly.  Let the glue set for about 30 seconds and then carefully press the rose onto the band’s flat metal plate.  Earlier, we removed the little metal prongs that would normally fold over and enclose a bunch of wired flowers.  As with any glue, it’s better not to touch it with your fingers or you’ll be trying to get it off all day – this is especially true with this glue, though scrubbing with Lava soap does get it off pretty well.  Also – when working with this glue PLEASE choose a well-ventilated spot and take breaks to venture out into the fresh air or you will get silly like I did.

As far as wrist corsages go, I think there are a lot of possibilities out there on what you could do, and I think they are a great alternative for prom season.  Remember your date awkwardly trying to pin a corsage on your chest? This is so much easier.  And a wrist corsage doesn’t get in the way during the slow dance!  I really think we should all wear flowers a little more often, don’t you?