unbridled bouquets – a longwood elective course

“Go beyond traditional bridal bouquets and expand your repertoire to the cutting edge,” promises the Longwood Continuing Education Course Catalog when describing Unbridled Bouquets.  Today’s class is another taught by Jane Godshalk  (and I realize it may seem like I’m stalking her, but she just happens to be a great teacher and one of the main floral instructors at Longwood, okay?)  All materials including containers are covered in the fee for this class, but we were told to bring wire cutters, a stapler, and a box to bring our stuff home in.

Students including Delphine from Belgium prep carnations for bouquet making. I'm thinking, 'carnations, boring,' but wait til you see what we made!!

There are design basics to cover in any bouquet, but since I’ve never created any type of bouquet other than hand-tied ones at the shop, I’m a clean slate for learning.  First, consider what type of style you’d like:  Decorative, Vegetative, or Form and Line.  Your typical bridal bouquet of tightly packed white roses would be considered Decorative, it’s controlled and uses a mass of materials. Something that’s more naturalistic, with a variety of material and height is Vegetative.  And then Form and Line will use less material, have strong lines, and be more dramatic.  Most of the bouquets I like seem to be a combination of styles, but I do tend to favor the vegetative look – something fresh from the garden.  At least that’s what I thought at the beginning of the class!

Decorative/Vegetative bouquet I could just die for by lovenfreshflowers.com, photo by wrenandfield.com, Aug 2011 cover of Philly's Grid magazine - gridphilly.com

Think about where this bouquet is going to live:  is it a bridal bouquet? Not today, people.  We’re going where no bouquets have gone before, because we’re unbridled.  These bouquets are for the home;  these you can bring to a wedding shower, dinner party, or birthday bash that the hostess can then just plop into their own container.  Good idea, no?

Bouquet elements to consider:

  • Balance:  Symmetrical or Asymmetrical
  • Binding Point:  it’s either high, medium, or low.
  • Stem Placement: stem can be arranged in a Radial/Spiral pattern, in a Parallel fashion, or in an Alternate pattern.
  • Flower Level: flowers are all on the same plane, or they are varied from a little to a lot.
  • Open or closed: flowers form a ring that’s open in the center, or entire bouquet is full. At least I think that’s what it means.

We each have a bunch of 20 carnations, which we’ve mostly removed the foliage from.  Next, Jane shows us how to pierce the calyxes of each flower with wire that will connect them all together. We trade a few stems with each other here and there  to get some alternate colors. (Thanks Trish!)

Piercing the carnation calyxes with copper wire

Delphine and Pat pulling their wired carnations together in hand

As we gather the wired bunches into our hands, we decide where the binding point will land.  With these long stems, I’m thinking medium to high binding point.  I am going radial, all the way, because I want my carnations to go in a spiral of varying heights; and then I’ll tuck stems of Dianthus ‘Green Trick’ and some pink rice flower within that spiral.   But other students have done many other things with theirs.  The carnations, being wired, can pretty much hold their shape exactly where you want them – imagine trying to do this with free-standing stems, how would you do it without totally losing your mind?  And carnations are one of the few flowers with a big enough calyx to pierce without destroying the whole thing.

The ever-delightful Afeefa and her more open bouquet using birch branches, tied with raffia, high binding point

Then we can choose to add a little plumosus (Asparagus fern) or bear grass depending on whether we’re feeling lacy or more formal. We also have some hypericum berry we can string through if we like.  Then we’ll twist the bunch with some chenille wire, adding whatever ribbon adornment we prefer.

Megan, who wants to go into event design, added bear grass threaded with purple bling to her bouquet

My carnation bouquet, thanks to Pat for taking the pic

Spiraling IN control - my bouquet at home

detail of my bouquet at home: Hypericum strung with copper wire separates carnation from Dianthus 'Green Trick'. A whole unnatural little world made of natural elements. Neat.

Next up, we create a bouquet that starts with a handful of Equisetum, cut to mostly the same length, and held together with a rubber band (which will eventually get covered up by something prettier.)  The stems will be arranged in a Parallel pattern, so choose stems that are straight!  Hey, did you know Equisetum is basically a living fossil? Missouri Botanical Garden says:  “Equisetum is the single surviving genus of a class of primitive vascular plants that dates back to the mid-Devonian period (350 + million years ago).” It’s not a rush, or a fern, it’s in a class of it’s own, literally.  Cool!

Equisetum bunched together will be the structure that holds the stems together for this lil bouquet

Then, simply pop stems inside the Equisetum structure and BAM! instant modern bouquet.

My bouquet with equisetum base (wrapped with copper wire)

My parallel bouquet from above: bear grass loops out of lisianthus, green eyed rose, ranunculus, freesia, and white allium

Here’s the next little cutie we did.  In this ‘bouquet’ we threaded wire through carnations again, this time to achieve stems with an Alternating pattern.  I’m sorry I didn’t get pics of what’s underneath, but I actually ended up doing most of this during lunch, since we were really packing the learning in.

My Alternate-stemmed bouquet, now on my bedside stand. Love the little green vase.

After a lunch break, we came back to find a lot of lovely colors to choose from, along with some big birch branches. Get in line for your materials and don’t be shy now!

Trish looks like a kid in a candy store!

Then we created some bouquets using Birch branches as a structure.  Those of us that were doing the more Vegetative design started by created a base structure out of wire covered in brown floral tape.   Wrap two 18 gauge flat wires to form a circle, and then attach four more wires to the circle, which then meet in the center under the hoop to form a sort of holder.  From there, add birch branches, even binding them to the wire form to get the branches to got out horizontally.

Jane shows us the birch and wire structure technique. I'm taking notes so I didn't get too many pics of this. And the drawings in my notes are incomprehensible.

For the more modern Birch bouquet, we created a structure using “Sickles” – which are bundles of birch wrapped with wire to form little crescent shapes, or sickles.   This is a technique that Jane learned from designer Gregor Lersh…who has some upcoming workshops in Germany, if you’re interested. You can make sickles out of anything that would look good bunched together – straw, bear grass, pine needles, etc.

Jane shows how to create little sickles out of birch, then shapes them into a bouquet structure, attaching them together with wire. Wire is also added to form a holder of sorts.

For both of the branch structures, greens and then flowers are simply added within the form.  My hand got way tired holding all my materials in place while I created my Vegetative bouquet. Guess I’ve got to do some hand strengthening exercises!

Here, Jane adds materials to the sickle form

My completed birch bouquet in container. Very rustic.

So you see you probably could not achieve the same effect with the branches if you had just placed them into the container without foam.   The wire structure made it easy to just poke stuff in, and then you hold it in place with your hand.  At the end, it’s very important to finish it off with greens in order to cover the wire mechanic.  Then, wire with chenille wire to wrap it all together at the end.

Jane shows us another bouquet that utilizes straws - very colorful! Great for a baby shower??

Did you think we were done yet? No, this is Unbridled Bouquets, we still have one more bouquet to make! We were at a breakneck speed at this point, and the creative juices were flowing.  Jane showed us how to staple straws onto a wire, then create a structure like the birch branch one for this fun bouquet.  Then poke your materials in, with hydrangea using up a lot of real estate it’s a quick one!

Stephanie's straw bouquet...cool!

Isn't the Anthurium lovely in this student's creation?

I, unfortunately, had a terrible stapler (was it made for Barbie?) whose staples were ill-fitting, so I didn’t create the straw hedgehog.  Instead I wired bits of light green straw onto copper wire, which I then attached to a wire bouquet structure.  I then added a bunch of Apidistra leaf (folded and stapled,) Hydrangea, Anthurium, and Dianthus ‘Green Trick’ for a little Tim-Burton-meets-Martha-Stewart action.

I'm calling this my "East Hampton" bouquet.

At home.

After a day of making bouquets (five in total!) our cheeks are flushed with productivity and pride; and maybe, just maybe, we feel a little on the unbridled side.   We have boxes full of beauty to take home!

Stephanie on her way home. Hope to see you soon!

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day one – advanced floral design I at longwood

I was on the waiting list for this class, and at the last minute I got in! It’s a Saturday class that meets from 9-4, an all day affair, and was actually a bit intense, because we squeeze two classes into one day. The teacher is the same as my Basic class, Jane Godshalk, thankfully, but there were only a few students that I recognized. The rest seemed to be on some other plane of advanced floral design! I felt as if I were coming from the minor leagues to the big time, looking around at all the creative touches I never would have thought of going on around me. Jane kept saying, “you’re in Advanced now, people…”

Instructor Jane Godshalk's Linear Design

We started by discussing Linear Qualities in Design. Line can be static or dynamic; there are both primary and secondary lines. Here are some of the many line types:

Linear Qualities in Design

In a Linear Design the line is dominant – the negative space powerful. The lines can become a geometric form – circle, square, triangle and every combination of those forms.

All geometric shapes are some variation of circle, square or triangle (the fundamental forms of nature)

There are a few really important ideas to consider when conceiving of a design plan: the vertical axis, which may be visible or invisible in the design; the binding point (the central binding point) and the point of emergence (the point from which lines of a design begin, also usually the binding point. confusing.)

think about the vertical axis and binding point!

Also, consider the focal point or focal area – this is the area of greatest impact in a design – to which the eye is naturally drawn. It’s usually close to the binding point. There are many ways to achieve focal interest:

  1. Color – darker flowers have more visual weight than lighter colors
  2. Size – larger, more open blooms have more visual weight
  3. Shape and Pattern – form flowers have greater interest
  4. Spacing – closer spacing makes flower appear heavier
  5. Texture – contrasting textures create visual interest – Shiny foliage is focal
  6. Line Direction – radiating lines attract interest to center of design

Here are some basic flower arrangement designs. This gets you thinking that there’s no end to what you could do!

This morning we do two linear designs. Jane recommends really planning out your design – choosing your style (decorative, vegetative, form+ line, abstract,) choosing the dominant element, flower forms, color palette, and planning your vertical axis. Make a sketch before you begin! The first design we do will have a visible axis and will incorporate some techniques from Basic like pave and terracing.

my sketch, vertical axis will be off to the left. all i know at this point is that snapdragons will be my line flower and a lily will be the form flower and focal point.

My linear design with visible axis. Jane had to help me remember about point of emergence!

another student's linear design with visible axis

Moving on, we are to create Design 2 – a Linear design with an invisible/imaginary axis. We have a nice white Ikea vase to play with. Again, we make a sketch and plan all the elements: dominant element, flower forms, palette, and where is the imaginary vertical axis. All I know is, I’m using those Bells of Ireland (I will have to wire them to make them the shape I want) and green mums, and my imaginary axis will be in the center. I want to do something curvy.

my sketch for design #2

My linear design with imaginary axis - Jane says "it's almost a Hogarth Curve!" I think the imaginary axis ended up being slightly left of center.

After lunch break, it’s time to tackle the Phoenix Design, for which we’ve brought containers from home. I was lent a beautiful silver Revere bowl by Juliet. The Phoenix Design, interestingly, is the only design we’ll be learning that is attributed to American designers. And yes, it is inspired by the mythological bird that cyclically sets itself on fire and rises from it’s own ashes to begin another long life. So the design is all about renewal and rebirth.

Phoenix depicted in the book of mythological creatures by F.J. Bertuch (1747-1822)

The Phoenix design is a composition in which tall materials burst from the center of a round arrangement in a radial fashion with a triangular shape.

slideshow - one of Jane's Phoenix designs she created for a party

Our mechanics for this arrangement, which is great for big parties, begin with a block of soaked Grande oasis put into a liner and then into the container. Others had varying shaped containers and needed to secure the foam with chicken wire and tape – mine was steady so I didn’t need to do that. Start by grouping various foliage at the base, leaving a hole in the center for the fireworks. Remember the base is to be a round shape. We used Ruscus, Ming Fern, and Apidistra leaf (Jane’s fave,) which she showed us how to bend in on itself, and poke the stem through the leaf to create a bulkier shape. Then put in your line flowers, in this case Gladiolas, using radial lines. These tall line flowers should create an upside down triangle from all sides (easier said than done!)

Jane demonstrates the Phoenix design

We did create a sketch first but I think you get the picture here. After a mad rush to get our flowers, we spend an hour or so making this one. The person next to me seems to require a lot of space so I move to the counter space behind me – it’s really hard to see your line and form with so much happening visually in the room. After putting in the line flowers, we fill in the rounded form at the base with roses, alstromeria, carnation, waxflower, etc. I end up using more roses instead of carnations, because there are some left over. In these classes, you try to play by the rules regarding how much plant material you’re allowed, but if you pay attention you can often grab some extras after everyone has taken what they need.

Sisters with their Phoenix designs

my phoenix design with a few extra glads and roses thanks to jane

In choosing the colors, I started with the green glads and wanted pink roses to complement them, especially because the intended location for this guy was June’s house (June is 2) and her favorite color is pink. I accidentally cut my glads too short and ended up putting a bunch of myrtle in to compensate – which during our evaluation in front of class, Jane took out, leaving just the curly willow. I’m glad she did this, I think in Basic she doesn’t critique our designs quite as much but how are you going to learn, right? Anyway, this design is very big and didn’t end up fitting at the intended location! So it’s up at the ‘big house’ lasting quite well though because of it’s size it’s a bit thirstier than other arrangements I’ve made.

my Phoenix design in a home setting


After a long day in Advanced I’m pretty fried- in a good way. I made it!