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!

day three part two – advanced floral design I at longwood

After our lunch break, we came back to a lecture on the History of Floral Design.  This is too big a topic to blog all at once, but it’s fascinating to think of borrowing from the past and really knowing the era you’re trying to reflect.  Our parallel designs are inspired by the Egyptian period, our garlands a toast to the Greeks and Romans, our Roundy Moundies mirror the tightly massed, garden-inspired designs of the Victorian era.   And now that I’ve been studying floral design, I’ve been noticing floral arrangements in movies and television – and just like everyone else, I’m in love with the PBS Masterpiece Classic Downton Abbey.  In the scene pictured, we are in a late Edwardian time period, but the flowers behind poor Edith Crawley (who has just not been proposed to, alas) are Victorian in style – packed to the gills with flowers, softened with greens, spherical and opulent. I think a whole blog entry at a later date on the flowers of D.A. is in order, don’t you?

Edith Crawley from Downton Abbey with Victorian style arrangements behind her - when more was more

Sigh.  In today’s class we created an arrangement from the Art Nouveau period, which lasted from the 1880’s to around 1920 and slightly beyond, and was defined by it’s sinuous whiplash curves and highly stylized yet organic look. Look at Hector Guimard’s subway station designs he did for the Paris Metro – (transportation built to accommodate the many visitors for the Paris World Fair in 1900.)

Guimard's Art Nouveau Metro entrance courtesy of lartnouveau.com

Alphonse Mucha turned advertising into miniature Art Nouveau romantic masterpieces.

poster by Alphonse Mucha 1896

So how do you translate the stylized, curvy look of Art Nouveau into floral design?  I think choosing flowers that already have that look is a start – like the calla lily.  Calla lilies, with their sensuous curves and lines, could just be the perfect representation of the Art Nouveau period.  They probably also work with the Art Deco period too.  Then there’s the overall shape of the design itself.  In today’s class, we’re creating Jane’s very favorite design, the Cascade Design.

Modern cascading bouquet from Jane's slideshow

The Cascade or Waterfall design is characterized by a steep flow of materials in an extended cascade.  Alternating layers of flowers and foliage of delicate textures creates depth and a flowing effect.  Non-floral, reflective materials like metallic thread are often used to capture the splashing light of a waterfall.

the cascade starts with a lot of greens for layering

Jane begins with a tall vase containing floral foam held in by a chicken wire cage (lashed on with waterproof tape.) One side of the floral foam is a little chunkier to accommodate for more hanging plant material.  She creates a base of greens to cover some of the foam at the top, using Apidistra leaf pinned in on themselves to create a bullkier look for the front, and the ever useful Galax leaf at the back.  Then the fun begins – using long flowing greens like Springeri Fern (prickly!) and Italian ruscus to start the cascade effect.  She also scores some Apidistra so it seems like it has many long thin leaves.   The cascade should go “out and down.” The key here is layering.

jane adds line flowers, focal flowers, and lightens with a string of roses

Jane then adds the line flowers – Calla lilies in this case – which she coaxes into a bendier shape and wires the end of each stem to help it stick in easier.  Callas don’t need too much water.  She adds focal flowers, like mums and carnations, and then some lisianthus.  Don’t forget, not all the stems need to point down, because “Water falls down, then splashes up,” she says, quoting a favorite designer of hers, Gregor Lersch.  Gregor Lersh is amazing! More on him later.

string wire through rose's calyx

To create a string of roses, just thread wire through the rose head’s base (calyx) – the first one will have the wire closed off as seen above.  Then just add more and more and more rose heads and you can adjust where they sit by sliding them up and down, and they’ll stay there pretty well.  Wrap the end of the wire around a floral pick, and boom, insert it right into the foam at the top.  The silver of the wire adds the splashing light effect and lightens the density of the design.  Lighten further with other lacy plant material like Genista, and voila! Cascade design is done.

Jim's design uses anthurium as a focal flower, and because he used a glass container, he filled it with fishtail fern - a lovely effect!!

another student's cascade design - pure flowing movement!

My cascade design also used Anthurium as a focal flower – some of the ‘Obaki’ left over from our Abstract design class.  I chose the smaller white Calla lilies and bound them together with bindwire to achieve length (since they can survive out of water for a while.) Purple lisianthus was pushed into the greenery, and I accented with some light purple Genista and strings of roses on silver wire on both sides.

My cascade design on the mantel

another shot of my cascade

To water this beast, use a thin spouted watering can to get the floral foam at the center.  Mist the rest.  Mine lasted about a week, with Obaki drooping and roses withering, but that just “added to the cascading effect,” or so my family told me – I think they were just being nice.  I LOVED this assignment, and so did most everyone else in the class.  I will certainly repeat the Cascade again, and would love to see a Cascade or Waterfall design on the set of Downton Abbey in Season 3…wouldn’t you?