lilies and lavender

A little while back, I visited a very unique flower farm in Doylestown, PA called Lilies and Lavender. The head honcho, Kate Sparks, gave my friend Jane and I a tour of her four acre sustainable farm.

Kate Sparks, the cowgirl of cut flowers, amongst the zinnias

Here, Kate and her team grow many types of cut flowers using only organic fertilizers and the least harmful pesticides. Black plastic mulch is used to prevent weeds from growing. I saw many bees buzzing and birds flying, and it seemed to me a very happy place where the circle of life remains unbroken.

Snapdragons growing like gangbusters in the hoop house

Kitchen scraps are fed to worms, creating worm compost that is used to add organic matter to the growing medium

Delicious dark purple calla lily has a happy home

The acreage is long and narrow, but goes on and on. Each time we passed one section, I thought we’d reached the end, only to find there was more around the corner. While the farm is not weeded in a pristine way, each group of plants is clearly thriving under the Kate’s green thumb. She has more energy and works harder than most human beings, you can tell, and I think it comes from the fact that she’s doing something that she loves.

Calendula – an herb for healing but also a beautiful cut flower!

Cerinthe is one of the more unusual selections you”ll find here – I love it.

Bouquet of goodness from L&L contains huge dill flower heads!

Lilies and Lavender sells their flowers at both the Doylestown and Rittenhouse farmers markets, at their farm stand out front, and to select local florists. That’s us, we’re the lucky local designers today!

Melissa, Kate, Jane and Christine after our tour of Lilies and Lavender farm

Jane Godshalk, my wonderful teacher from Longwood Gardens and mentor extraordinaire, took some beautiful bouquets home to create rectangular table centerpieces for an upcoming event. Inspired by Kate’s commitment to sustainability, Jane wanted to keep this design as eco-friendly as possible. She used Excelsior, the non-toxic, biodegradable wood packaging product as the mechanic for stabilizing the stems, wetted down with a fair amount of water. Sure beats using the non-biodegradable, formaldehyde-laden floral foam!

Jane packs the containers with excelsior, then adds water. She begins her design with hosta greens from her own garden

VOILA – Jane Godshalk’s designs using locally grown flowers from Lilies and Lavender

Thanks, Kate Sparks! I know I only scratched the surface of your operation here, but that’s because I already desperately want to come back. PS You could be a jeans model.

Shucks, here’s one more lavender/bee shot for Kate:

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day 2a – advanced floral design I – longwood at home

A nasty stomach bug prevented me from attending a day of classes, so I attempted to do the first design we learned this day at home, following directions from the book The Art of Floral Design by Norah Hunter (with Jane’s blessing, of course.) My teacher was very understanding about me missing the class, and I’ll be able to attend at least the lecture portions during the class held this fall.

First stop - PRODUCE JUNCTION - I wanted it all!

Here’s what I’m making: the New Convention design, which is a structured, linear-style design. It’s like the parallel design on steroids – with the addition of horizontal materials. Vertical lines are reflected at sharp right angles forward, backward and to the side using identical materials. Contrasting textures are used at the design’s base where all the lines converge. The book gives you a pretty good how-to diagram.

new convention diagram from book

To begin, select a low rectangular container. Cut floral foam to extend above the rim of the container (to allow the horizontal placement of materials) and secure with tape. Plan your design by placing stakes in areas where flowers will be grouped. I wanted my end geometric form to be triangular, with the top point in the center.

foam, in retrospect, perhaps a little too high above edge.

What’s really exciting is that I bought a cake decorating spinny thing which makes floral design so much easier.! (Purchased on Amazon for $18) Maybe that’s only exciting to me. Anyway – next, add your vertical materials. I chose snapdragons, agapanthus, and tulips which I bound together with a little wire. I thought it might be neat to see how the tulips keep growing while confined in a bunch.

add vertical materials

Part of this assignment was learning to unite materials, something our class handout talked about. But the book didn’t really mention these techniques as part of the New Convention design, so I didn’t go overboard on it. However, I think I probably should have done a little more of the following:

methods for uniting materials

Banding: Tying materials for purely decorative purposes.

Binding: Tying materials for functional purposes, physically joining the materials together.

Bundling: Tying or wrapping similar materials together into one unit, such as sheaves of wheat or a bundle of sticks. The bundle may then be placed in the floral design.

Wrapping: A technique in which fabric, ribbon, raffia, cord or wire are used to cover, coil, or twine a single stem or group of stems to achieve a decorative look.

Add horizontal groupings that reflect vertical ones

Next, insert stems into sides of foam at right angles to the vertical groups. Horizontal lines are shorter than vertical groups. I used the exact same material to reflect the vertical groupings. Then, complete the base of the design with short flower heads, mosses and leaves using basing techniques (remember pave, clustering, tufting, terracing, etc from the parallel design?) I went totally crazy here, but I wanted it to look full and I had tons of material to work with. I wasn’t sure about ‘point of emergence’ for this one, so I just did my best. I think my foam was too high and we have a lot of competing elements here because I needed to fill up the space…

after basing added - in basement - hours have transpired - i'm in trance

from a carpet of gerber daisies springs white ornithogalum, eryngium, and some euphorbia x martinii 'ascot rainbow' (euphorbia from my cutting garden, yew foliage from parent's yard)

new convention design in a diningroom

Our handout talked about dominance – which is the greater effect of an element – it must be clear in a design and imply subordination.

Linear Dominance – a certain type of lines take the role of importance by either quantity or size (for my design, I think the agapanthus wins because of size and rhythm of lines)

Color Dominance – one hue or strong colors (the purple of the agapanthus draws your eye, but the orange gerber daisy is a dominant focal point I think)

Form Dominance – clearly developed

Textural Dominance – one type of texture (my design has lots of textures and I don’t think one dominates – do you?)

Space dominance – either very full or very open space (it’s pretty full eh?)

And as far as the focal area goes – the dominant place within a design which has the strongest visual impact – I think there are multiple focal areas in this one.

why is this one so hard to photograph?

other side - roses are pave-d

An accent is a subordinate element that contrasts or complements the dominant element – the accent is often connected to the focal area of a design. Here, the ivy is the accent to the roses.

from above

I sent some pics to my teacher Jane and I’m waiting to hear back on whether I’m anywhere in the ballpark here. (Maybe she’ll comment right here on my blog! Wouldn’t that be something?) I welcome any comments and criticism on this design – advanced Longwood students, I would really like to know what you thought of this assignment.

Stay tuned for more adventures in floral design!

ADDENDUM: I talked to Jane over the phone and she gave me a thumbs up on my design. We got to talking about all the foam used for this particular bad boy, and she’s thinking the New Convention won’t be taught in next year’s Advanced I class in order to conserve the use of Oasis to a minimum. I really enjoyed making this design, but I can see how 24 students x 2 blocks of foam starts to add up!

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!