Mother’s Day Jars Of Love

This Mother’s Day was a real miracle, from the moment I was commissioned to create these “Jars of Love,” to the hour we spent delivering them.  To all those who donated your money or time, you are part of this incredible story of giving!

A couple weeks ago, Emily Malloy of falls flowers was contacted by the Little Sisters of the Poor.  They were looking to get Mother’s Day floral designs for the low-income, high-risk residents of Holy Family Home, an assisted living facility in Philadelphia, PA.  When the shop was unable to accommodate the request due to the high volume of Mother’s Day, Peicha, the owner of falls flowers, contacted me. (I used to work there and do freelance work now.)  A few email chains later, and we realized that there really was not enough money in the budget for what they were asking for.  So – sitting at home on my couch later that night, wishing I really could do this work, an idea came to me:  we could just raise the money through social networking, and then the residents would get their flowers for Mother’s Day!  Peicha and Emily pitched in, and with the help of our families and friends, we ended up raising $988 – more than what was needed for the wrist corsages they wanted!! So the plan changed to create 50 mason jars filled with a lovely assortment of floral material.  And I had a lot of work to do.

Finished "jars of love" ready to be delivered

Finished “jars of love” ready to be delivered: lilies, larkspur, ranunculus, roses, waxflower

After picking up materials through Peicha’s wholesale connection, the 50 Jars of Love were completed over two days.  When it was nearing time to deliver, I got a call from the home – there was a miscommunication along the way, and they needed 80 designs, not 50!  Uh oh.  I had been meditating earlier that morning and decided my mantra for the day was to “be in the moment.”  Well, for the next hour while I divided materials out of the completed designs to create 30 more, there was nowhere else to be!  This is where some angels came in and made the rest of the story happen.

Todd and his son Ryan flew in from above to help load and deliver designs

Todd and his son Ryan flew in from above to help load and deliver designs – THANK YOU!!!

Captain Mac (my Dad) lent his car, his strength, and his support

Captain Mac (my Dad) lent his car, his strength, and his smiling support

Riding in our little caravan on the way to Holy Family Home, my Dad and I singing along to old songs, with Todd and his son Ryan following behind us in their fabulously huge vehicle, I knew the best part of all was about to happen.

Riding the elevator to give out the Mother's Day flowers

Riding the elevator to give out the Mother’s Day flowers

When we arrived we were greeted by the smiling faces of the Sisters of the Poor, including Elizabeth Ann who hails from the Boston area.  She got us carts and we made the trip up the elevator to stop at every floor and give out our floral jars to the residents while they were eating lunch.

Sister Elizabeth Ann distributing arrangements

Sister Elizabeth Ann distributing arrangements

You will not believe how tickled the female residents of Holy Family Home were when they received their flowers!  Here are a few pictures from the delivery:




Dad chatting up the ladies

Dad chatting up the ladies

The last woman I handed an arrangement to was Margie.  She is 102 years old.  When I asked her the secret to her longevity, she replied, “It’s all in God’s hands.”

Margie, 102 years young

Margie, 102 years young

There are many people to thank for their generosity in making our charity project happen, including Todd, Ryan, my Dad, Peicha, Emily, and all of our donors (last names omitted for privacy): Motria L., Aaron B., Elizabeth C., Shannon O., Jen S., Amy K., Walter B., Emily M., Carolyn D., Josh L., Lise N., Mandy G., Mary F., Emily M., Vincent T., Jason H., Joseph K., Michael B., Joseph K., Amy K. (2nd time!), and Rebecca M., Penny B., Julie S., Dan B., Eunice F, Elvira G., and Sandy F. I should also thank my own mother who was an example of giving.  I think she would be happy that we did good for the ladies at Holy Family Home.

Sister Elizabeth Ann and her garden - come back and visit!

Sister Elizabeth Ann and her “gah-den” – COME VISIT ANYTIME!

This could be an annual tradition, don’t you think? Let’s do it again next year.  Happy Mother’s Day to all!


Help Give Elderly Residents a Great Mother’s Day

The Little Sisters of the Poor Holy Family Home in Philadelphia does something special for each of their 50 elderly residents each year: they purchase wrist corsages in celebration of Mother’s Day.  But this year, they don’t have the money to do it.

Residents at Holy Family HOme

Residents at Holy Family Home, from their website

Peicha and Emily of falls flowers, the fabulous flower shop in East Falls where I used to work, wanted to collaborate with me on making them since their shop is already so busy. Because the Sisters don’t have the budget to commission us at a regular price, or even enough to cover the flowers, we decided to raise money and give these residents a great Mother’s Day!  And that’s where you come in.  We only have two weeks until Mother’s Day, and depending upon how much you’re able to share, we can give them small or large wrist corsages dripping with roses, ranunculus, and other accent flowers.  If we raise even more, they could each get a small bouquet!

bouquet created by peicha chang of falls flowers

Won’t you share your generosity and give some low-income elderly women a great Mother’s Day?


We need donations in the next week so we can then plan the acquisition of materials and do the labor.  We will only use these funds to create floral designs for these residents, and if we receive excess of what we need to do so, the money will be contributed directly to Holy Family Home via me, Ann MacMullan.  You will receive a Paypal receipt that can be used as a tax deductible donation to charity.  Even just a few dollars will go a long way.

The blog will feature updates, how much we raise and how much we spend, photos of the process/making the flowers, and then the delivery of the flowers and hopefully the delighted residents receiving them!  Lend a hand, and spread some beauty!

Art in Bloom

Imagine a work of art that’s come to life…in flowers.  The colors, textures, lines, and emotional energy of the painting or sculpture are all interpreted in the floral design, displayed next to the artwork itself.

Warning by Jimmy Ernst, 1960

A spot-on floral translation of the painting Warning by Jimmy Ernst, 1960                                 Photo by Laura Blanchard

That was the challenge for 45 national floral designers and 15 garden clubs during the first weekend in April at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts – and I was lucky enough to be one of them.

This floral designer showed unbelievable mastery over her material.

This floral designer showed unbelievable mastery over her material.

With the inaugural PAFA in Bloom event, a breath of fresh air blew into the 138-year old Historic Landmark Building.  Sixty diverse floral designs, from the diminutive to the dominating, were placed carefully throughout the building, and an echo was sounded between paint and bloom.  (Or in some cases, marble.)

Nydia, the Blind Girl of Pompeii

One of my favorite floral designs, depicting Nydia, the Blind Girl of Pompeii by Randolph Rogers c.1853 – Marble

So, how does one go about tackling a floral interpretation?  This was the question I asked myself months before the exhibit.  It was my first time doing something like this and I was more than a little intimidated by the scope of the project.  First I had to study the work of art, which in my case was a portrait of the poet Walt Whitman done by Thomas Eakins in 1887.  

My lovely sister-in-law Juliet and I took a trip to PAFA to get an idea of how large a space I'd have to fill and see Walt close up.

My lovely sister-in-law Juliet and I took a trip to PAFA to get an idea of how large a space I’d have to fill and see Walt close up.  Here, she shows how large the pedestal will be.

I started thinking about colors: brown, sage, slate; white, grey; peach. I decided I wanted the container to represent his body, and the design to be symbolic of the painting’s content rather than a recreation.  There were some very specific rules about what materials we could and could not use, with the emphasis on using fresh material as opposed to wood and fabrics like wool which could harbor damaging insects.  You could still use those items, if you fumigated and/or dry-cleaned them, but I didn’t really want to add any steps to the process, and wanted to keep my design as simple as possible.  To me, the energy of the painting is male, vital, and merry; and with that white collar my mind went instantly to calla lilies; a perfect representation of Walt’s joie de vivre.  His gnarled quality might be echoed by a branch of some kind.  The greys and whites of his beard could be items like spanish moss, dusty miller, and I loved the idea of using a big air plant – Tillandsia xerographica – as a focal point.

I ended up picking out my Calla lilies personally at Del Val Wholesale, with the help of Carol Taylor. These were locally grown and the most deliciously huge callas you will ever find!!

I ended up picking out my Calla lilies personally at Del Val Wholesale, with the help of Carol Taylor. These were locally grown and the most deliciously huge callas you will ever find!!

Picking up materials from DV Flora was an exciting part of the process, because I got to see behind-the-scenes of the largest wholesale floral operation in our area, and meet some of the friendly and helpful staff who were topnotch to work with. Thanks, DV! After gathering all my materials, I did a mock design first; borrowing the perfect container from my friend Jane (her basement is a designer’s dream come true)! I was really happy with the outcome, but could I replicate my design on the spot, at PAFA, on the day of the installation? I was incredibly nervous about that part, but luckily I had a huge help from my sister-in-law Juliet (who is a talented architect.)  This short video shot by Juliet shows the scene at PAFA the morning of the preview party.  There was also a cameraman from FOX news there, to add to the excitement!  

Then it was time to place the design upstairs on the pedestal.  We wheeled Walt’s floral counterpart up to see if it stacked up next to the real Walt.

Making some last minute tweaks to my design...having trouble 'walking away' by Juliet

Making some last minute tweaks to my design…having trouble ‘walking away’…photo by Juliet

In the end, I was pleased with our efficiency in getting in and out of PAFA, because my design really only had a few materials in it (I had created the base of galax and some spanish moss the day before.)  Thank you Juliet for rocking this day with me!  

Getting friendly with Walt

Getting friendly with Walt

Then, it was on to the Preview Party, a gala affair attended by those in support of PAFA in Bloom.  It was so exciting to see all the fresh faced designers and my floral friends Peicha, Valerie and Jane in one place..and to watch people looking at my design!  Here are some photos from the evening:

Jane takes a closer look at an intriguing design

Jane takes a closer look at an intriguing design

Peicha is in the house! With Naima, quite a masterpiece herself.

Peicha is in the house! With Naima, quite a masterpiece herself.

Ariadne Asleep on the Island of Naxos as interpreted by Peicha Chang of falls flowers

Ariadne Asleep on the Island of Naxos as interpreted by Peicha Chang of falls flowers.  Simply sensual!

Valerie's magnificent "hand-tied" bouquet

Valerie McLaughlin’s magnificent “hand-tied” bouquet.  Thanks Valerie, for making me aware of this event!

Take a look at Death on the Pale Horse, a Benjamin West painting, which at 176 x 301 inches is one of the largest oil paintings in PAFA’s collection.  The floral designer who interpreted this one was a genius in my opinion…

Benjamin West's Death on The Pale Horse 1817

Benjamin West’s Death on the Pale Horse 1817

This floral translation of Death on The Pale Horse knocked our socks off!

This floral translation of Death on the Pale Horse was astounding.

It was intimidating to be in the same room with the works of so many great artists, and then great floral designers as well, but it was an experience I will never forget. Thanks to Schaffer Designs for including me and for organizing this very successful event, and for maintaining my design over the course of the exhibit…I hope this will be the first of many!

Walt and my design

After the show, I got some great feedback from George Hubner, right here in Swarthmore:  “I saw the PAFA in Bloom exhibit this afternoon, and your arrangement stood out in particular among the 60 others! I didn’t go around paying any attention to the names of the arrangers, but I noted yours. I have noticed that in the US when someone makes a flower arrangement, the more flowers they can cram in the better. Why use just three flowers then you can stuff in 30 in the bowl instead. The Japanese will use three to great effect, but in the US more is preferred (or as Mae West is supposed to have said “too much is not enough”).  Your arrangement stood out for your use of only three flowers. It looks like a Sogetsu to me. And it seems to me that your using calla lilies was referencing Whitman’s calamus poems too. There must have been thousands of flowers used in the arrangements!  The masses were impressive, but your arrangement was simplicity itself and refreshing to see in the middle of all the other over-the-top arrangements.”  Thanks, George!


I try to employ eco-friendly practices when creating floral designs.  But what does that mean?  You might think that the very act of arranging flowers would be considered “green,” or eco-friendly.  But there are many elements of the floral industry to consider if you want to feel good about creating beauty with the treasures of nature you’re bringing into your home.

Today, we have an abundance of choice at our fingertips.  From the tiniest of flowers like lily of the valley and delicate white stephanotis, to dinner plate-sized dahlias the color of sunsets, and huge garden roses that resemble peonies, the diversity and array in the floral kingdom are literally endless.  Exotics and tropical flowers and foliage are readily available. We can get orchids, carnations, mums and lilies anytime of the year.   The choices are downright dizzying.

The floral choices at our fingertips are endless

You might pick up a store bought bouquet and have no idea where your flowers came from:  in fact, 60% of the flowers sold in the U.S were actually grown outside of the U.S.  Transporting flowers from Holland or Ecuador requires not only the jet fuel to travel, but also a great deal of packaging to protect your glorious buds and blooms.

60% of the flowers sold in the U.S were actually grown outside of the U.S

On top of that, these flowers may have been grown in a country where regulations on the use of various pesticides are looser than ours in the U.S.; where workers are exposed to harmful chemicals, as are the many people who handle the flowers as they make their long journey from grower to auction house to wholesaler to retailer to you.  Additionally, the flowers themselves may be out of season, difficult to grow, and require energy-draining practices to force them into bloom.

Don’t be dismayed, because they are many ways to avoid these imported, chemical-saturated blooms, and practice eco-friendly floral design.  First, consider what’s in your yard or garden.  If there’s not much there, and you have the space, start your own cutting garden. Seeds are cheap!  Companies like Seedsavers in Decorah, Iowa, offer organic, non-GMO heirloom varieties of a great number of flowers great for home arranging.  There are many seed companies with excellent cut flower choices for the home grower.  This year I started a cutting garden and I plan to grow even more this year!

Grow your own flowers from seed using companies like Seedsavers Exchange
Simple design I created using hydrangea from yard and Queen Anne’s lace grown from seed

If you must purchase cut flowers, try to source them from local growers who practice sustainable growing methods.  If you’re in the Philly area, check out Love n Fresh Flowers, run by Jennie Love Also check out Kate Sparks of Lilies and Lavender. Local florists like falls flowers run green businesses, where they source as many locally grown flowers as possible, and recycle just about every scrap of anything used in the store.  These are just a few of my eco heroes.

Country bouquet I designed using flowers grown by Jennie Love, in NW Philly

If you buy cut flowers from your local grocery store, inquire as to their origin, and seek out stores who sell sustainably grown cut flowers such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.  Additionally, try to buy cut flowers that are in season.

Whole Foods sells locally grown seasonal blooms

When arranging flowers, I try to avoid using floral foam – it’s not biodegradable and contains formaldehyde which can cause health issues over time.  Instead, use fresh clean water and sustainable floral mechanics like branches to hold up your stems.

Use branches to hold stems upright instead of floral foam – design I created at Longwood under the guidance of instructor Jane Godshalk (branches used in this fashion was her idea)
Bunch up curly willow and put it into your container, then add floral stems

Other ‘green’ mechanics that can support floral materials include the use of sand, or fashioning a grid made from tape that’s affixed to the top of your container.  I had fun cutting up lemons and using them in the design below – they not only provide a place for stems but also acts as a decorative element when viewed through glass containers.

Use colorful fruits to hold stems upright

There are many other floral design techniques which can be considered eco-friendly – such as using less material, a principle that is found throughout many schools of Ikebana.  For example, it’s easy to create unique arrangements by grouping smaller vases together and only using one or two stems in each.  Or, it can make quite a powerful design statement to see one or two bold sunflower stems in a clean glass vase.

glass test tubes filled with spring stems
Peicha of falls flowers uses many small containers in this unique centerpiece design
Green Tip: use many small bottles with one bloom each for impact

And finally, when your flowers have faded, be sure to compost them!

Design using spring shrub blooms

notes from an autumn gone wild

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.  ~Albert Camus

packing up the car to the gills for a fall wedding w peicha

I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion. ~ Henry David Thoreau

pumpkin scouting at linvilla

Delicious autumn!  My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.  ~George Eliot

wreath by peicha of falls flowers

The fall has been a busy one, with big changes in my personal life, a scary family illness, my very first independent floral job, and competing at a national sporting event. I’ve also been working with Peicha of falls flowers on the weekends, helping her do wedding designs, and it’s really been very eye-opening and fun.

Peicha creates a bridal bouquet using garden roses, white dahlias, lady’s mantle, hydrangea, and eryngium

This particular wedding reception was in a bride’s home, which made it very special.  Here bride Gillian is holding her bouquet.  She was calm and happy, and totally stunning!

I had the most excellent time creating a garland for the railing in the foyer using a multitude of beautiful materials, like amaranth, dahlia, eryngium, roses, hydrangea, kiwi vine, and more.  They are little bowers or bundles of flowers that I wired together, then attached to the leaf garland which we wound with large ribbon.

This was so fun to make!

Check out the falls flower blog post on this beautiful wedding!  Somehow a picture of me doing disco got included.  Cuz you should be having fun in life.

I’ve also been back at Longwood Gardens, taking floral design classes in order to complete my certificate.  I was so excited to finally take a class from the impeccably organized Cres Motzi…this class was Creating a Statement – Grand Designs. In this class Cres really showed us some great ideas especially for how the mechanics of large arrangements work.

Cres Motzi creates a grid using tape over the mouth of this large glass container, then adds branches

It’s great to create these large arrangements – but how on earth do you transport them? Cres had a good idea about using 2 milk crates, with the bottom cut out of one and then zip tied together to transport this big guy.

Cres adds greens, rose hips and kale. it’s getting grander by the minute!

When it comes our turn to play, we are arranged in groups of 3 since there are 2 large designs to make.  I was more than lucky to find myself alongside Melissa, a wonderful person I met back at Lilies and Lavender.  This year is a very exciting one for her as she creates a floral business at her home.  More developments on this to come, because obviously we get along really well.

melissa is in my group creating some grand designs

melissa and i having fun together

Our Grand Design – atriplex, italian ruscus, amaranth, hydrangea, peach stock, leucodendron, safflower, alstromeria, etc

Okay, so the Grand design we created had an intended recipient – my dad at the hospital.  He was having issues with his innards and would require surgery a few days later.  But after really looking at the above design I felt that it was too funereal.  So, I ripped it apart, and using other materials both from the garden and from the extra flowers we got at class, I created this little fall basket full of love.  I wasn’t able to snap a great picture of it, too much in a hurry to see my dad.

‘get well’ basket for dad – roses, lilies, nandina berries, atriplex, hydrangea, stock, amaranth, some anemone from the garden (oh these don’t last by the way), fennel seed from garden, alstro, and grass flower heads

After he recovered and was on his way out of the hospital, I was glad to hear that he gave the basket to his excellent team of nurses as a thank you! (Next, I created floral awards for a sporting ceremony…that need to be blogged in their own separate post coming right up.)

Surrounded by flowers…a good thing to be

Through all of the craziness of moving, worrying about my dad, driving all over tarnation, flowers have kept me sane.  I believe that creating/designing with flowers is part of my recipe for personal success.  I am somewhere between avocation and vocation…where will this path lead?

magic at cairnwood

I spent the day helping Peicha Chang of falls flowers, and my what a lovely day it was.  We set up for a wedding at Cairnwood, a magical place that beckons you to “experience the grandeur of the Gilded Age.”

This country estate in Bryn Athyn, 16 miles from center city Philadelphia, was constructed in 1895 and has been designated a National Historic Landmark.  Looks like a great place to get married!

mason jars filled with blooms cap the end of every other row

rustic chandelier is hung in the gnarled conifer, with roses in place of candles

Inside the estate, we had 14 tables to cover with centerpiece “collections” in three different rooms, a mantle to hang with vintage bottles filled with buds, a cake cupboard to strew with loose flowers, and a greeting table to bedeck with more vintage bottles filled with blooms.  The palette features grays and creams and peachy pinks, which echo the colors in some of the rooms of Cairnwood.

Peicha’s centerpiece collections include the clever use of succulents as table number holders

the mantle, covered with old pictures, is hung with vintage bottles filled with buds

a glimpse of the bride

Juliet roses, peachy stock, white anemones, brunia and succulents on display

I couldn’t help myself, while taking pictures of the bouquets wrapped and ready to go, I had to capture the bridesmaid’s room.  People are so interesting.

bridesmaids getting ready

awaiting fresh cakes

groomsman with boutonniere

I am feeling a little like a maidservant in Downton Abbey at this point, trying to be silent and unobtrusive and graceful.  Peicha infuses the day with positivity and humor.

On our way out, we discover a great photo op…the very gorgeous bride and groom!  Best wishes to you both for a beautiful life together.

Bridal bouquet designed by Peicha

my world is full…of flowers

I started my day making a birthday arrangement for a friend of the family named Pat, who is my stepmom’s dear friend and probably the hardest working person I know. She’s in the restaurant biz, and owns a cute restaurant in Downingtown called The Blue Cafe together with her husband Paul. Go there, the food is great! Pat is the kind of person who will literally hug the stuffing out of you, whose perkiness precedes her, and despite having been through some tough times, always manages to see the positive in everything and everyone. Julie picked up most of the flowers and I put them together – quite a cheerful mix, just like Pat herself! Happy Birthday Pat.

pat's bday arrangement: bubblegum roses, freesia, pom pom mums, protea, billy balls, boston fern and aucuba (from the garden)

Then I scooted off to falls flowers for my weekly dose of apprenticing. The materials Peicha selects for her shop are really exquisite, and there’s always something I’ve never seen or worked with before to choose from…which makes designing pure heaven!

fuschia boronia

Meet Boronia heterophylla, as I did for the first time today. A shrub native to Australia cultivated for the cut flower trade, boronia has fairly long stems of vibrant pink flowers and a fruity, tea-like fragrance. It really pops! Now, here’s another delicious dish of a flower – and don’t be afraid of it’s Latin name – Scabiosa. They can range in color from white to light lavender, to blue, to purple, to deep maroon. How very romantic.

Scabiosa, or Pincushion flower if you can't take this beautiful flower being called 'scabby'

'Free Spirit' Rose - couldn't you dive right in?

My thirst for loveliness partially quenched, I set to making a few arrangements that had been phoned in. This one was the April representative for a customer’s ‘year of flowers,’ something I think everyone should do! Wouldn’t that make a lovely mother’s day gift: a year of flowers?

hobnail vase with scabiosa, french lavender, white roses, veronica, purple clematis vine

Next up, a birthday arrangement for a customer whose only specification was they wanted it to be “WOW.” My interpretation of wow included the use of protea, orange ornithogalum, boronia, ranunculus, Free Spirit roses, and hypericum.

'wow' design

And finally, some little jars of delight, using leftover materials from the cooler. These were freebies – visual inspiration for a 2nd grade class as they create shapes and forms using clay. Little bit of this, little bit of that…

jars of fun for 2nd grade class

Thanks for letting me have full creative license today, Peicha! I had a blast. I never thought I’d put pink, orange, bright green and yellow together in one design, but I actually did it twice in one day…and I may do even do it again someday.