day six – basic floral design I at longwood – last day of basic!

There was overlap with Advanced and Basic this past week.  But this was the last Basic class, boo hoo! I never wanted it to end.   In today’s class we reviewed the principles and elements of design, and then did 2 arrangements.  The first was a simple market bouquet in glass, taken apart and re-designed with added greens and a few extra flowers.  I think we’ve all had experience with this- you bring home a bouquet from the grocery store and you can’t just stick it into a vase “as-is.” You need to break all the stems into groups and analyze what you have.  Often the bouquet from the market has the different flowers placed in a very regular pattern all around – but maybe you’d like it better and there would be more impact if some of the flowers were grouped together.  This was quick and easy but important as it was our first design in glass with water – no Oasis!  So how will the stems stay in place? We had a few options for the mechanics – the first was to create a grid out of clear tape, creating 1″ holes on a dry vase and running tape all around the rim once finished.

clear tape grid method for designing in glass

The second, and the one I went for as it would create interest in the lower half of the arrangement, was the branch structure with willow.  Wrap a stem of curly willow around your hand and smush it into the glass, adding a few big stems in a criss cross pattern for more support, and 2-4 more wrapped stems as needed. You could use any other flexible stems for this, like red stemmed dogwood for example.  Just make sure they’re pretty bendy.

using natural stems to create supporting mechanic for arrangement

Personally I know I will use this method again, it was really easy to work with – the stems stayed put – and I really liked the way it looked especially after you put water into the design.  Of course there are many other ways to support stems in water – by using kenzans/frogs/pin holders, or using foliage or large flowers at the base to keep other flowers stable.

my market bouquet in glass - curly willow added last to reflect the basing stems

isn't this tulip delicious?

branch structure looks even cooler when you add water!

Next up, the one flower/one foliage stem design in glass.  We were given a glass cylinder vase and a quick demo from instructor Jane on some unique things you can do to various foliage stems to create drama.  Here she’s wired Equisetum to get it to conform to the shape she wants – a long rectangle – that will contain the single lily flower like a frame.   She’s also revealed a very important trick of the trade – called U-Glu dashes which are tiny dots of clear tacky glue that can help stems stay put and so much more.

Jane explaining that the level of the water is part of the design

In a flower show competition, none of the mechanics should be visible unless they are purposefully part of the design, like using bind wire repetitively around a wrapped stem.  As she’s doing her demo, I already have an idea for what I want to do, using Phormium or Flax, and one single Anthurium.   And because the practice of sketching has been pressed into my brain from the Advanced class, I do a quick sketch of a possible arrangement.

my sketch idea for the one flower/one leaf design

Of course, once you start working with the plant material, it might tell you it wants to do something else, which it did in my design.  First I wound the phormium leaf in a spiral around my hand, and sunk it into the container.  I fussed with the spacing and at the top used a bit of U-Glu to adhere it to the vase.  Then, I tried wiring the anthurium because I wanted to to be taller and I wanted to play with it’s form, but that was harder than it looked and I couldn’t get the wire all the way up the stem, so to disguise the wire sticking out at the bottom, I wrapped another phormium leaf around the stem and then bound the whole thing with bind wire in a hopefully decorative way.

bind wire holds the anthurium stem inside the phormium leaf

my one flower/one leaf design after i got it home - had to rejigger things a bit

What was so amazing about this class was again the hugely varied results given that we all had similar material to work with, and all the same vase.  Jane gave us big kudos and we all felt very good about ourselves!

Jane lined up all our designs and had fun playing flower show judge

here all the lily designs are grouped together, giving us the idea that you could create sets of these designs for an event - getting a lot of 'bang for your buck'

this very simple design using a mum and an aralia leaf reminds me of a lotus

one tulip, poked through a flax leaf. i also loved jenny's design using willow and a tulip but didn't get a good pic. sorry!

Mary Jo always has a smile! Love what she did with her flax leaf.

I will miss all the great students of this class! Hope to see you in Basic II in the fall. And thanks, Jane, for getting me hooked on Floral Design.

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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 metmuseum.org

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 http://www.theoi.com

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

day four – basic floral design I at longwood

My parallel design (photo courtesy of hugh and juliet)

Today’s lesson was to create a Parallel Design, a design that’s meant to have a calming effect.  In a regular decorative design, like the Roundy Moundy, the overall shape is dominant. But in a formal linear design, the forms and lines are dominant.  The lines in this design are created by grouped plant material set in a vertical pattern with negative space between each section.  The negative or empty spaces allow the eye to travel through the arrangements.  We talked about parallel designs with Landscape Designs, but this one is different because we are not mimicking how you’d see plants in nature, and we’re not necessarily combining plants that are seasonally compatible.  In other words, let her rip!

Oasis fit to edge of container, covered by Apidistra leaf and "terracing" with Galax leaves

We started by filling a low container with Oasis floral foam, shaved to the lip of the container (important for a clean line, clean look.)  Nothing much should be hanging over the edges in the parallel design.   Jane recommends attaching an Apidistra leaf with greening pins to cover up the foam at this stage, rather than going back and filling in with moss at the end.  (Some stems will poke right through the leaf, whereas a hole will have to be made for other, more tender ones.)  We’ll be using a lot of basing techniques at the end to conceal the mechanics, but the terracing using Galax leaves is easier to do at the beginning.  Terracing is simply placing materials on top of one another, divided by space, like a staircase.

We get our materials for class from Delaware Valley Wholesale. Doesn't Jane look nice today?

Linear plant material is a must for this design, and we had lots to choose from, like gladiola, liatris, and equisetum.  Hold the line flowers/foliage up over the design to see where it looks best, and vary the heights.  The idea is to keep the same plant material grouped together for a bigger impact and to keep the lines stronger. They should all be placed in as straight as possible!  With lilies in the mix, the only way to go was to keep them low or they took up too much of the space at the top of the design – reserved for negative space.

Design in yellows and whites - very restful

Depth is created by angling stems, overlapping materials, and the use of color (light colors pop out while darker ones recede.)  The lines create negative and positive space.

Afeefa's Design - powerful color choices

Notice how Pat trimmed her Equisetum on a diagonal cut for effect (sorry Pat I didn't get the bottom of your design!)

Next, we did our basing techniques to cover the mechanics and to create color and texture.   Pillowing is creating a tight, round pillow out of a few stems placed radially.  Tufting uses bunches of short stems to create an airy look.   Pavé-ing is a tight clustering technique where the surface of the bunches remains totally flat, creating a cobblestone effect. (Pavé as in the jewelry technique, too.)

Jeny's Design to show basing techniques

class critique - don't worry, we all get As here (Melissa's design up close, I think)

This design really opened my eyes to the possibilities of parallelism.  I think these would make great table centerpieces because you can see through them easily and they look good from all sides.  You create a little mini world in a box that has nothing to do with the way plants would really be growing and it’s kind of liberating.  Also, it’s been said that men prefer these vertical designs.

my design in home environment (photo courtesy of hugh and juliet)

(photo courtesy of hugh and juliet)

day three – basic floral design I at longwood

In this class, we started by watching a video from the ’80s on Conditioning.  Jane had some stuff to add that I’ve worked into the tips I took away from it:

  1. Recut stems on an angle / Strip lower leaves to avoid decay under water.
  2. Put flowers into water in a cool dark place for several hours.  This video said to use warm water (100-110 degrees F) because it has less oxygen and can freely absorb water and nutrients better because warmth dissolves trapped air.  Jane says warm water can also speed up the flowering process, so using cool water can help flowers last longer.  So if you wanted something to open up right away, warm water would be the way to go.  And let the water cool before you put it into a fridge, if that’s what you’re using for the cool dark place.
  3. pH level of water should be 3.5-4.5 – water flows through vascular system better at this level.
  4. Use only NON-METAL containers.   Cleanliness is next to godliness.  Wash all buckets, containers, and cutting tools with bleach solution.
  5. Use a floral preservative like Floralife to reduce flower senescence.  Preservatives contain Sugar (carbs for nourishment,) Acidifier (to lower pH level,) and Biocide (inhibits growth of bacteria.)
  6. Daffodils should be stored in a separate container because it’s sap is toxic to other flowers.  Once you cut them, and put them into water for a while, the stem will harden off and not seep the toxin anymore.
  7. Tulips are funny ones.  To get them ‘straightened out,’ wrap them in wet paper and place them in a deep container to keep them from bending.   Also bear in mind tulips keep growing after they’re cut.
  8. Woody stems – slit the stem across the center for maximum water uptake.  DON’T mash the stems!
  9. Lilies – pollen can stain so pull off the anthers. This also adds to their vase life.
  10. Euphorbia and Poppies ooze a milky sap when cut.  Singe them with a flame or super hot water to prevent the ooze factor.
  11. Iris – to get them to partially open you can peel them open a bit and blow on them!  This was the best part of the video, because it was just funny watching a guy from the ’80s blowing on Irises.
  12. Orchids – tropical – keep in warm temps not below 45 degrees F and out of sunlight.
  13. Gerbera need head support and are prone to stem blockage.
  14. Jane says the best time to cut Garden Flowers is the morning or evening.  Ideally, water them at night and pick them first thing in the morning. Give them a shot of hot water, then put them in cooler water and let them rest for 4-6 hours in a cool dark place.   THANKS JANE!

botanical design using tulips at every stage from bulb to fully open flower

Jane then walked us through a few different arrangements before we did ours.  I really loved the Botanical design, which represents nature through the life cycle or study of a plant.  The design uses one kind of bulb flower in all of its phases, and the bulb on it’s own is included.  Cute!

Jane doing the landscape design using birch, moss, hellebores, tulips and more

Then the Landscape Design, which is a panoramic view of a man made garden area.  It’s a larger design and includes trees, bushes, flowers and ground cover.  Also you can use a little water element if you want!  This “would be perfect if you were having a bunch of gardeners over for a dinner party,” says Jane.

Landscape design - Jane did this in about 10 minutes

Today’s lesson was a Vegetative Arrangement, which is meant to be a design that presents plants as they grow in nature or the garden.  Flowers and foliage are selected according to seasonal compatibility – so you wouldn’t see a sunflower in with a daffodil because they wouldn’t be blooming at the same time in the garden.  This ‘slice of garden’ should show interest from all sides and bear in mind Color, Fragrance, Texture and Pattern.

Radial Vegetative Arrangement "think about how it might be growing"

I decided to do the Radial Design rather than the Parallel Design.  We used 1 block of Oasis cut to fit the container, then pinned some moss on using greening pins but leaving the center exposed.  Our materials were 1 Quince Branch (or Red Stemmed Dogwood – limited supply,) 3 Daffodils, 5 Tulips, 3 Iris, 1 pot of Tete a Tete Daffodils, and lots of different foliage to choose from like Bupleurum, Ivy, Fern, and 3 Galax leaves.  The Galax is shiny shiny shiny and draws your eye.

Mary Jo grabs tulips! You've got to be brutal to get what you want in this line. 🙂

after you've done the assignment, each student goes up and the class and Jane interact to discuss the design, what works and what doesn't. This one worked!

afeefa was lucky to grab some of jane's hellebores ... mmm!

This design was definitely harder for me than the Roundy Moundy.  I struggled with the Quince Branch, was not happy with it, and then Jane came around and gave me some Red Stemmed Dogwood which worked better with my orangey tulips.  I took the following pictures once I got home:

my vegetative arrangement when it first came home

other side, i like the dripping bupleurum meant to mimic lady's mantle

about 5 days after it was made, irises blooming, tulips going nuts, and tete a tete much leggier

I just want to pinch it’s cheeks and say, “My how you’ve grown!”

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 lovenfreshflowers.com

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 !!

day one – basic floral design I at longwood

Basic Floral Design I, my Xmas present from the Huzz, began this week.  Combined with what I’ve been learning at the shop, there’s one thing I know:  I have a LOT to learn.   But I feel alive when I’m learning! Even though some of the growing pains are quite painful, like when you do something stupid in front of a bunch of people, the end result can be valuable.  This class is full of supportive, nice women who all want to improve their floral design skills.  I would say they range in age from late 20s to early 60s, but I’m guessing. And so far, I LOVE the teacher Jane Godshalk. She’s witty, expressive, and inclusive – and she’s a freelance floral designer.  In fact some of her stuff will be in the upcoming Philly Flower Show(she said she’s working on a big hula guy or something, whose mannequin she keeps in the basement – quite a surprise when her husband goes down to get wine.  haha.) We went over the tools and materials you need, from pruners to ribbon scissors to wire cutters.  I hope someday I’ll have an organized bag full of sharp clean tools!  Right now I’m just using my old ARS pruners that a gardener whose name I can’t remember gave me out in the Hamptons.   I definitely think gloves are also a good idea, the ones we use at the shop are great and I want to buy my own pair of those to keep with me.  Gotta get the brand tomorrow.

We touched on the Elements and Principles of Design, which was just a teaser really – there’s so much to learn there that a 20 minute power point presentation barely scratches the surface. Elements: Light, Space, Line, Form, Color, Texture, Pattern.  Principles: Harmony, Unity, Balance, Dominance, Rhythm, Proportion, Scale, Contrast.  And COLOR – oh boy this is a big one – we got out the old color wheel and poked around it for a little while.  I’m still massively confused about choosing colors.  It’s safer to go with colors that are analagous or next to each other on the wheel as opposed to complementery colors which are opposite on the wheel.  The hue is the color name – like BLUE for example – add white and you get a tint, add black and you get a shade, add grey and you get a tone.  More on this later.  A LOT more.

jane teaches us the basic basics


Onto the class exercise, a “Three Flower Design.’  Jane showed us all three designs, starting with a base of Baker fern and Pittosporum and adding 3 Gerbera in varying ways, and then some huckleberry (botanical name? don’t know.)  Then we had to choose which design we wanted to do.  Personally I wasn’t too turned on by any of them, but decided I would go for the looser more natural looking one.  The class split into Group A and Group B – the A’s chose their flowers while the B’s soaked their floral foam.

Oasis Floral Foam:  this stuff is my new favorite thing!  It will hold your flowers/foliage exactly where you put them, and let your materials drink at the same time. It comes in lots of shapes and sizes.  Max Life is the kind our teacher likes the best.  It’s VERY important to soak this stuff correctly, though:  put the holes facing down and don’t try to drown it yourself, just let it float until it sinks on its own and turns from light to dark green.  Cut to fit the container before you soak, and soften the edges of the foam with a knife for maximum surface area to work with.

UPDATE: UH OH OASIS ISN’T SO GOOD FOR US OR THE ENVIRONMENT  – IT’S NOT BIODEGRADABLE AND IT CONTAINS FORMALDEHYDE – LONG TERM EXPOSURE TO THE DUST FROM THE DRY FORM IS NOT GOOD FOR YOU…HMMM…I’LL BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR BIODEGRADABLE NON TOXIC FLORAL FOAM AND USE OASIS SPARINGLY – info from Sustainable Floristry blog

everyone else is in a floral trance too! jane inspects our work.

We then worked on our designs for…I don’t know, I lost track of the time.   Arranging flowers puts me into the most pleasant trance!!  To me, it was amazing how differently the designs turned out, given that we all had the same materials to work with.  It just shows you how different people really are!

melissa's arrangement matched her personality and the gerbera's feeling

Afeefa - a jewelry designer and crafter - is going to do just fine here!!

flower power

I loved Afeefa’s arrangement – she found these curly wood thingies to put in that added some whimsy.   She was awesome and I loved her necklace – I think she made it.  Everyone got up and said a little about their background and how their ‘design’ went.  I think I said something stupid about having some horticulture background and that I liked how my arrangement was more ‘natural looking’ or garden-y.

my arrangement

In retrospect I think I did this assignment totally incorrectly.  Jane kept saying, “listen to what the flowers are saying to you,” and I know that sentence sounds kooky but I think it’s probably a very good and solid basis for flower arranging in general.  And I didn’t listen: I forced my own desire for things to look natural on Gerbera, which by nature are very formal and synchronous and, well, perfect.  Later, at home, I ripped the Gerbera out and put them in a vase with water.  They just didn’t look right to me popping out of a hedge.  And then I used the hedge parts for something else.  Can’t wait for the next class!!