day two – basic floral design I at longwood

I was eager for class #2, possibly because I felt a little more confident after the previous weeks of floral experience at the shop, and because it seemed we’d only scratched the surface during class #1.  There’s so much to learn when you’re dealing with plants, and that’s part of the reason I like it.  I never want to run out of new things to learn.

We are encouraged to make a little sketch before we begin, this is mine.

While waiting for the rest of the class to show, a few students and the teacher were discussing the upcoming Longwood lecture on Sustainable Floral Design.  Someone wondered about the lecturer, Jane Clark, and because I had been researching this topic, and her, I piped up that she had once had a shop called Fleurish which was no longer in business.  Our teacher’s immediate reply was, “that’s because you can’t do sustainable flowers.  Is organic impossible? To be competitive, yes it is.”  She went on to say that if you’re bidding against a non-sustainable florists, their prices are always going to be lower.  Organic flowers cost much more. But..isn’t there a market (maybe small, yes) of people who want “green” flowers, who don’t want the flowers at their wedding flown in from Columbia, dripping with pesticide? This will be a big topic for me, I think, and I’m just starting to research how others approach it.

Locally grown arrangement created by Jennie Love, photo courtesy of

Some just grow their own flowers and are done with it.  You have to admire that approach, and that’s why someday I want to meet Jennie Love, proprietor of Love ‘n Fresh Flowers.  She grows her own flowers in an urban location, which she sells through local stores and a Flower CSA, and also creates unique floral designs for events such as “eco-lovely weddings.” She’s doing a Floral Fun class at Longwood in the summer I hope to attend.

Arrangement in shape of Hogarth's Curve of Beauty

Ok, back to class.  We discussed the Shape of floral arrangements.  They can be round, horizontal, crescent, vertical, oval, symmetrical and asymmetrical triangle, fan, Hogarth (curve of beauty,) or parallel systems.  Gosh, I hope I never have to make a Hogarth arrangement…too hard!  We talked about Balance, Proportion and Scale within the context of these shapes, and then moved on to the flower and foliage forms.

Lily is example of a Form Flower - distinctive shape - this has been blooming for 2 wks

For example, line Flowers are linear in shape, and create height in an arrangement.  Like Delphinium, Snapdragon, etc.  Form flowers have distinctive shapes which add interest to a design: like Gerbera, Amaryllis, Lily.  Mass flowers are solitary flowers with a single round head like Roses, Carnations.  Filler flowers – Baby’s breath, Waxflower, Queen Anne’s Lace.  And then the Renegade flower is one which may be used as more than one type or just doesn’t fit into any category, like Bird of Paradise.

Florida Ruscus is 'mass foliage' hiding the mechanics, baker fern is filler and adds a dainty edging

Similarly, foliage has its’ forms as well.  Linear like spiral eucalyptus, flax, or some grasses.  Form foliage has an interesting shape or texture, color or pattern, like papyrus, monstera leaves, caladium.  Mass foliage adds bulk and covers the mechanics of an arrangement, like pittosporum, huckleberry, camellia, leatherleaf.  Filler foliage is smaller in scale and sometimes wispy, like fern, boxwood, ivy.

After the greens, Jane adds stock flower - the "line flower" always goes first

For this class, we were to make a round arrangement, or a “Roundy Moundy” using line, form, and filler flowers in a Revere bowl.  Ours were not real silver, mind you.  Roundy Moundies are “the most useful” shape for arranging, says Jane.  Also, the “Golden Rule” of floral design is that your flowers are 2/3 of the design, and your container is 1/3.  We started off with Oasis, again (but this time, Jane admitted that you should use floral foam “sparingly,” as it’s not recyclable) making sure that the floral foam actually rose ABOVE the lip of the container a bit.  This gives you the ability to point stems at a downward angle to hang over the container, achieving a fullness and roundness.  Next, we created our base of greens.  Then we added our line flower or Stock in this case.  On top of the Ruscus and Fern, here’s what each of us had to work with:  6 Stock, 10 roses, 4 carnation, 3 Waxflower or Baby’s Breath, 3 Pussywillow for accent if wanted.

After form flowers (roses+carnations) and filler (waxflower,) Jane adds pussy willows for accent

And…GO! I went into a MAJOR trance while arranging this time – sorry Melissa if I seemed out of it while you were chatting me up.  I was in the zone.  Once again, everyone had such unique designs given that we all had the same material, and I’m just mesmerized by this expression.  Here are some of the lovely results:

line of roundy moundies

the "cupcake"

purple pride

afeefa's rocks again

melissa's! nice!

airy one by pat

my roundy moundy - i bunched flowers instead of spacing them perfectly

Oh, wait there’s one more.  Our classes are enlivened by Betty’s presence.  She is the class “loudmouth,” (her word,) and always has a funny comment to make.  During this class she had us all laughing by creating new “technical terms” like ‘big ol honking flower’ to refer to the Stock we were using.  She’s a hoot – and talking to her in the parking lot I found out she’s a landscape gardener who lives in DE.  I got an invite back to her place to talk Cutting Gardens!  Sometime soon, I’ll have to do that.

these arrangements look way different in daylight i noticed - VIVA BETTY !!


heaven scent

Another Thursday spent at Falls Flowers with Peicha Chang. We processed flowers for display, did some arranging, and even talked about the meaning of life.  Guess what, there is none!  No but really, I’m here at the shop because I’m trying to bring some meaning to my life by learning new things.  That, and the aromatherapy!  This Stock flower was super fragrant…and smelled exactly like cloves.  The white variety was much stronger smelling than the lavender one.

Me sniffing some stock ... mm mmm!

Stock, or Matthiola incana - Lavender and White - so fragrant!

We started by processing some MUMS, first removing most of their foliage and cutting them at a 45 degree angle (so their stems don’t butt up against the bottom of the container – for maximum drinking potential.)

remove the mum's net gently, up and over


These big chartreuse babies are Spider Mums and like other blooms with fat heads, they come with their own mini nets to secure and protect them.  DON’T JUST TEAR THE NETS OFF WILLY NILLY.  I learned that taking the nets off should be the last step before you set them into their container, and don’t rush it.  BE GENTLE – just peel the net up and over the bloom so your mum isn’t decapitated and the petals remain intact.

Chrysanthemum aka 'spider mum' free of net - POW!

When these huge Chrysanthemums are set free of their nets they span 4-6″ across and put on quite a show! They are a really intense green, so green and so big that rather than being considered “neutral,” like most other greens, they count as their own color family.  When creating a bouquet or arrangement, Peicha says to choose 2 color families to work with, and you can add neutral greens like this Grevillea to the mix.

Grevillea for greens

Interestingly enough, WHITE is NOT a neutral color in arranging.  I learned this the hard way in a lesson towards the end of the day when I created my own bouquet…uh oh…no picture means it wasn’t too great! If you’re using whites, Peicha says choose only one other color family.  I used the green mums, some pinky-yellows, some deep rosy reds, AND white…too much! But I’m learning, I’m learning.  I think I just couldn’t resist using the Queen Anne’s lace, because though it’s a European introduction and considered a weed by many, it’s a wildflower at the very top of my list.  I love it’s lacy umbels of green and white – these had just come in and were so tight  (come back later when they’re fully opened!)

Queen Anne's Lace, or Daucus carota (Wild Carrot) - lovely lacy umbels

Speaking of WHITE and FILLER…there is a scourge sweeping across the nation as we speak.  This plant is the go-to airy fairy filler of most florists, and you’ll see a LOT of it at Valentine’s Day.  Yes, it’s Baby’s Breath or Gypsophila, and it may be pretty, but when it’s the only filler ever used it loses it’s charm, doesn’t it? Peicha “doesn’t do Baby’s Breath,” but she also doesn’t rule it out entirely.  She does caution clients against using it for events for a pretty specific reason (aside from the fact that it’s boring.) And here it is: do you know WHY it’s called Baby’s Breath? Because it SMELLS like baby’s breath.  Sweet, milky, powdery, and slightly rotten! Not my cup of tea, for sure, and probably not something you want to smell at your wedding.

you won't see anything like THIS come out of Falls Flowers

Instead of Baby’s Breath, Peicha prefers the lemon pledge scent of the Waxflower, a lovely shrub from the Myrtle family endemic to Western Australia.  And I can see why: it’s darling bell-like waxy flowers are borne on woody stems so brittle one can simply break them off between your fingers (translation: quick and easy for the florist to use.)  That, combined with it’s needle-like dark green leaves, and clean, citrusy scent make the Waxflower a much better choice for filler.  Expect to see a lot of this used during Valentine’s Day – only 2 weeks away!

Waxflower, or Chamalaucium uncinatum - GREAT choice for filler smells citrusy

Okay, want to see how it’s done? Check out what Peicha did here for this bright and cheerful birthday arrangement.  Oh it happened pretty quickly, her hands darting in and out of the display vases, measuring the stems against the container, and knifing the stems down to size so fast I couldn’t even capture the process.  The final result, a delight in reds and yellows, is here:

Birthday arrangement by Peicha

Birthday arrangement: Ranunculus, Roses, Mums, Dusty Miller, Salaal

That’s it for now, from my messy mind.  More this week – we have a wedding on Saturday!

bloomin’ fun

My first day at Falls Flowers – Jan 19th, 2012…a quiet Thursday in East Falls.  I started by processing flowers that had been hydrating; and I learned a lot today!  For example, when flowers first arrive, they should hydrate for an hour minimum – if you don’t, their little heads could droop beyond rescue.  Some flowers are more prone to wilting than others; but initial hydration is a big must for everything.

you won't find these flowers in most shops, feast your eyes

The proprietor, Peicha Chang, gets her flowers from a variety of Philly vendors, who get their stuff from NYC or local growers when possible, and the NYC flowers come from Holland, Japan, South America, and beyond.  For Christmas and Easter, she’ll go up to the NYC flower market herself.  I guess there’s no way around being slightly uncomfortable at the environmental impact shipping flowers all over the world has, and if there were a way to stock only locally grown flowers, she would be doing this, but for the kind of variety she wants it’s just impossible.  Not sure how I feel about this part of the industry, as flowers are not a ‘necessity,’ really.  It would at least be nice to know if the farms that are growing your flowers are growing them sustainably, not just for the soil’s sake but for the workers and their exposure to chemicals.  More on this later as I dig deeper.

Gloriosa superba 'Rothschildiana'

gloriosa lily - exotic and toxic

Meet the Gloriosa lily.  This gorgeous lily is actually a climbing vine, and looks as if she’s throwing her petals back from the exertion of the journey.

And hello to you, French Ranunculus.  I have never seen the likes of you before.

french ranunculus (but grown in Holland)

My other favorite of the day is the Astrantia, a cut flower I believe she said was Dutch grown but I’ve seen growing quite happily in gardens in the Northeast.  The stems have a purplish tinge to them and so do the leaves and as you gaze at this plant’s structure you may be reminded of Queen Anne’s Lace, or Fennel, or Dill…all members of the Carrot Family.  Oh, I love you Starflower.

astrantia (A. major) member of carrot family, starflower. LOVE

Now for some how-to, so I can remember what the heck I did:  in processing flowers, the key is to remove any leaves/thorns that will be sitting in water.  It’s important from a ‘rot’ standpoint but also super important when you’re in a busy floral shop to be able to pull a stem easily from it’s container without it tangling up in others.   This is something I hadn’t really thought of before.  Removing 2/3 of the lower leaves also creates a cleaner visual impact, something that most people don’t do when they bring a bouquet home from the grocery store, and it makes all the difference in the world to me.  After removing the leaves, I cut the stems at a 45 degree angle for maximum drinking potential.  Some of the woody stems (Quince) are also cut vertically to create more surface area for the water to climb.  I mostly used pruners, but lots of floral pros use knives to trim thorns off of roses and cut the stems.  There is an art to it, for sure.  Check out the quick video of my first KNIFE LESSON!

I then changed the water out of all the containers on display, which she does once or twice a week or when the water starts to look cloudy.  Flowering branches like Quince make the water cloudy more quickly. Vases are washed once a week on Saturdays.  We cleaned out the walk in fridge together (keeps below 40deg F,) discarding flowers that were past their prime.  At this point Peicha began making little sad noises for each of the flowers she had to toss.  To her, flowers are not just “product.” These are living items she chooses carefully and spends a lot of effort trying to preserve for as long as possible. Meanwhile, I was saying things like “off with their heads,” and cutting them up into smaller pieces for the compost pile.  (All of her vegetable matter waste goes to a local grower for composting…more on this later as I get more details.)

i was in heaven making little labels for everything

One of the areas I really need to learn more on is vase expectancy!  When I made labels for the display items, we put the number of days you could expect the flower to thrive after bringing it home.  Some were 3, others were 14, others were ∞ because they were dried (Protea, Everlasting, etc.)  She just rattled off the numbers! This is a very important piece of the puzzle I’d like to learn.

the master makes a quick bouquet, showing me how to hold stems vertically so they spiral together naturally

The quick bouquet lesson at the very end of the day was probably the most fun to watch for me, because Peicha’s experience really shined.  I like to think I have some skill with flowers, and I may have more than the average person, but when you see a master working, you’ll be blown away.  She confidently chose an array of materials for two different bouquets, but I only took a pic of the second one.  She used the South African Leucodendron as her base, following by the flaming Gloriosa Lily, ‘Gold Rush’ Roses, some Billyballs, and even a few evergreens which I thought really made it work (salvaged from the holiday buckets in the fridge.)  She likes to work with odd numbers as they’re “more dynamic,” but if you have to go even use 2…or 6 I think she said. In the end she was holding a $40-$50 bouquet of unusual and beautiful flowers.  I have so much to learn!

I’ll leave you with this plum beauty, the showy Anemone grown from a tuber…

anemone (A. coronaria) - dive into pure plum! grown in Holland