revel – my first paid floral gig!

I got hired to help out for a few days down in Atlantic City, NJ for a big job – a 1000 person benefit at the new casino, Revel, through Nancy Saam Flowers.  (My teacher and friend Jane does a lot of freelance work for Nancy, and gave my name to her a while back.)

Will I survive this flower job?

Encompassing 6.3 million square feet and standing 47 stories tall, Revel is a $2.4 billion lifestyle resort on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City.

It’s an incredible building, and because everything is brand new, it literally sparkles inside and out.  In some areas, it’s lush and dark in a 70s kind of way, in others, it’s bright and modern and clean.

And good luck finding your way around!  I think I must have walked 10 miles in the course of the 3 days I was there.  Beyoncé will be singing there for the casino’s premiere opening at the end of May, and tickets to see her in Ovation Hall (where our benefit was held) are $700.  I’m not even kidding.

Marlene and I – she’s one of the top designers

The scope of this project was enormous:  under the guidance of Nancy Saam, our fearless leader, I worked with a dozen or so other designers to create 73 woodland “tablescapes” for long tables, and almost 50 six foot ‘trees’ with mini gardens on their bases for round tables.  All the plant material for these designs had to be hauled up the freight elevator and processed upon arrival.

Debbie, one of the most amazing workers EVER, with a load of viburnum on the freight elevator

Flowering crabapple gets put into buckets of water right away

Dawn processes flowers like no one else!

First we started on the long tables.  All 73 tables would take a few days to complete.

Jane shows us the tablescape design

We covered the table runners with many non-floral elements to create structure, depth, texture, and pattern:  long pieces of grape wood, loads of sheet and mood moss, spheres of many types, succulents, votives, gold artichokes and pods, and skeleton leaves.  Within these items, we also laid out pre-soaked floral foam blocks in various sized liners and covered those with moss and galax leaf. The floral foam would then be filled with a variety of cut flowers and woodland treasures closer to the event.

With the tablescape structures mainly in place, we called it a day.  One of the challenges of this job was working on a floor that needed to remain pristine.  We put down drop cloths wherever we went and there was a lot of sweeping and mopping!

Valeri and Jane do some sweeping up – Valeri’s smiles never stopped.

The next day was all about making the trees – and they were quite a construction project! For the bases, burlap was cut to fit over sleek Xmas tree stands. Long birch trunks were then placed into the stands.

We divided up into 2-person teams to duct-tape wired cages containing pre-soaked floral foam to the tops of these trunks, making them look a little like stoplights in a forest.

Jane and Mary Jo attach floral foam cages

Marlene never stops moving so she’s hard to capture. Here she’s showing me how to start my tree.

After placing a bit of lemon leaf to hide the lower mechanics, we then began designing tree top after tree top using flowering crabapple branches.   Here’s what I did over and over again: select branch, cut to length, prune off small branches by the end, and place them in the foam. It’s fun!

Del creates a tree for the woodland tables – nice bling Del!

Valerie is lost amongst the branches, smiling

Eventually, the trees start taking shape, filling out like elven lollipops.

Pat kicks butt making trees! (my tree in foreground…i got attached to all of mine.)

As we were completing the branch structures of the trees, other designers under the guidance of Armas, a designer from moda botanica in Philly, began creating the little woodland gardens at their bases.  I got to pitch in at the end, too, tucking many lovely plant treasures into wedges of foam then obscured by moss.

Fern, fiddlehead, hellebore, orchid, hydrangea, veronica, chocolate cosmos, succulents, and much more

Diane creates a magical fairyland base garden

Have I mentioned how much I love these materials and designs???

The next day, we filled in any holes on the trees, completed more woodland bases, and added more magical touches, like hanging votives filled with reindeer moss.

Trees were constantly misted to stay fresh

Then it was back to the tables, to finish the tablescapes on the tables that had been brought out to Ovation Hall.  We filled in the floral foam sections with a host of delicious plant materials such as fern, long purple fiddleheads, antique hydrangea, bunny tail, euphorbia, hellebore, white astilbe, white scabiosa, and white ranunculus.  The end result was a tablescape that any woodland nymph would be proud to lounge about on!

canopies filled with candles will be added to the tops of the ‘cages’ on the tables

Meanwhile, Jane Godshalk spent her day designing with tropicals for the cocktail area.

Greens, foxtail lily, protea, orchids and hairy cybotium fern – pow!

Designers also created 18 tall glass vases of viburnum and branches for round tables.

a long cool drink of spring beauty

Armas created many of the cocktail arrangements, which were whimsical and woodsy at the same time.

Since Jane and a lot of other very talented designers were there, I was surrounded by expertise, and although we were working hard, I also got to ask questions and learn as much as I could.  It was exhausting and exhilarating.  I didn’t get to see the final end result of our work, but today I received some pics of the event…WOW! Great job everyone!

Final long table with canopy lit up, photo courtesy of Alix Jacobs

photo courtesy of Alix Jacobs

Here’s hoping there are many more successful events like this one in my floral future!

P.S.  Most of these pics were taken after I was done for the day or on a lunch break.

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some little spring things

how about this hellebore?

Tra la la, skipping through Swarthmore with my doggie…well, not exactly skipping, more like being pulled by my doggie through Swarthmore…we come across all sorts of botanical treasures. It is usually Larry who finds them first, his nose sending him on a zig zag mission that wraps me up in his leash. Here! They! Are!

Winter Aconite on Elm Ave near Swarthmore Ave

I don’t remember these little yellow guys, and suddenly they’re everywhere I look. They look buttercup-y to me. Online searching sends me right to the Scott Arboretum’s blog, where Eranthis hyemalis, or Winter Aconite, is well described: “The sunny persona of Eranthis hyemalis can’t help but make one believe that spring is just around the corner. The tuberous ephemeral is a member of the buttercup family and is best planted in mass and left undisturbed. Over time plants will seed to create even bolder, brighter displays.”

pleasing but poisonous

A little deeper digging reveals that these late winter/early spring-blooming beauties have a dark side. Turns out Larry was smelling Cerberus’ spit – which you can imagine is quite toxic – when he discovered the deceptively dainty yellow blooms on Elm Ave. According to Greek legend, when Hercules dragged Cerberus (you know the three-headed canine who guards the gates to the Underworld) to the Upper World, his reaction to the sunny side of things was to froth madly at the mouth. And wherever this crazy beast’s saliva touched the earth, up sprouted winter aconite. Thanks, Cerberus, it’s a nice touch. Winter aconite is in fact poisonous – all parts especially the tuber. So, you might not want to plant this if you’ve got dogs (Larry did NOT ingest any of this) or kids who dig in the garden.

Onward, ho, my brindled hound

What else have you found for me today? Okay we’ve been looking at snowdrops, or Galanthus nivalis, for almost a month now. But some fact-finding revealed a great story (or at least I think it’s great) about this early spring bulb. There’s a sort of snowdrop-mania going on in the UK and last year one bulb of the ‘Green Tear’ cultivar fetched £365, making it the world’s most expensive snowdrop (and perhaps bulb?) Well, yesterday, this record was shattered, when Galanthus woronowii ‘Elizabeth Harrison’ was auctioned on Ebay for £725, purchased by the seed company Thompson and Morgan, who say in their press release that “the stunning snowdrop Galanthus woronowii ‘Elizabeth Harrison’ was named after the owner of the garden where it first appeared as a seedling in Scotland a few years ago and it has not been identified growing anywhere else.” It is really striking, with a golden yellow ovary and yellow petal markings. I wonder how long it will take them to produce more, and how much longer it will take to be discovered growing in Swarthmore!

Galanthus woronowii

the meaning of floral design?

roses in for VDAY at falls flowers shop

“In floral design, there is no better teacher than the flower itself.  This is the essential maxim.  In a flower’s perfection, we instinctively recognize the infinite creativity and wisdom of nature.  By looking closely at each flower, we take the first step in discovering how best to display its beauty, arrange its placement, and find possible companions in a floral design.” – Alisa A. de Jong-Stout, in A Master Guide to The Art of Floral Design, a book I checked out of the Swarthmore library.  The book our Longwood teacher recommends is $180…so, I think I’ll wait on that one.

helleborus 'snow bunting' at scott arboretum mmmmmmm

I think in picking up this book, I was hoping to get some answers on what floral design really means.  I want it to be meaningful.  I think I struggle with its meaning somewhat because I know plants better as they are growing, alive, with roots in the ground.  For me, plants/flowers take on an almost spiritual cast while in their natural state – they are to be observed, identified and photographed, in a worshipful way.  Before I read this book and started this learning program, I had this somewhat disdainful view of the floral industry – that floral design is just nature’s wannabe imitation, that making bouquets is sort of cheating when the real work is in growing things.  But now I think I feel differently – we can learn from the flower whether it’s in the ground or in the vase – marvel at its patterns and form and color.  You can respect the biological side of things and at the same time appreciate the art of the flower while its in a jar.   And I’m loving the artiness of it all!  Because, you know, according to Ms. de Jong-Stout, “cutting a flower outdoors to display indoors was conceivably the first and most basic of all artistic impulses.”

parrot tulips

“Abstraction is the defining quality of floral design.  Even botanical compositions, which emphasize the specific identities of the plant material involved, contain an element of abstraction. Simply taking a bloom out of its original environment dilutes its botanical purity, which is why a floral design can never completely duplicate nature. As abstraction increases, inherent qualities of shape, form, or color, independent of floral identity come forward.  Yet a design can never be purely abstract because its foundation is a living flower.  …Success can only come to those who take the time to read the flower and benefit from its incredible wisdom in design.  Respect for the natural essence and character of our medium assures its identity will be preserved, even in abstract compositions.”

bouquet by Peicha

Happy Valentine’s Day!