spring design using a kenzan

My goal:  to create a spring design in rectangular container without using floral foam; because I’m trying to practice earth-friendly floral design.  You get pretty hooked on using floral foam, because there simply is nothing else like it out there – when you put the stems in, they stay put.  But sometimes that creates an unnatural look, and the stuff itself sure is unnatural (and not biodegradable, and not good for you, etc.)  Hence my experiment with using a kenzan, or frog, for a more complicated arrangement using spring shrubs and bulbs.

I used only one kenzan, because that’s all I own at the moment.  My supply of all things floral is growing…but this is one area in which I’m sadly lacking.  They do come in many sizes, and are popular in Ikebana.

start with branches – point of emergence is centered and radiating outward

I think the fact that I only had one kenzan actually forced me to remember my lessons in point of emergence.  If you have no point of emergence – the place where all your stems seem to come from – then your design will look chaotic and just not good (unless you’re doing a parallel design – for every rule there is an exception. By the way, this is the same container I have used before for parallel designs.)  The point of emergence for this design should be somewhat centered and mid way down into the container, fanning out from there. I started by placing all my woody material in, which additionally I had sliced vertically for better water absorption.  This included snowball viburnum, and two kinds of azalea (one fuschia, one yellow deciduous.)  I had some lilac but it was too toasted.

making a mess is so much fun!

my cake spinny thing makes arranging so much easier!

Then I added the big stemmed items (hyacinth,) the tulips and a few greens; and of course water at the very end.  It was harder to work with the kenzan in this arrangement than floral foam would have been, but I think the result is a more natural look, don’t you?  Maybe more wild and messy than I would have liked, but I guess sometimes you just can’t be in control of everything.

Now will someone please invent an eco-friendly floral foam? It shouldn’t be that hard!

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a walk around the big house

So much is blooming and growing outside right now, plus I got a new camera, so…you can imagine I want to capture as much as possible.  But I also want to be learning.  What am I learning by taking pictures?  I guess I’m learning how to look at the world through a lens.  My perspective/perception is in flux.  I’ve appreciated nature for a long time, but trying to capture its many colors, textures and patterns is much more complicated than it looks.  It’s a magical process, taking a picture.  You think you see one thing, and then you look through the lens and it’s very different in there; it forces you to frame up one part of the world for a moment in time.

little white bells of solomon’s seal, did i ever notice the red stems before?

Do you know how Solomon’s seal got it’s name?  Don’t quote me on this, but apparently King Solomon had a special seal that looked like a pentagram or hexagram; and it’s thought that when the plant’s stem is broken away from the root, the circular star left behind resembles that very seal.  I’ll have to look for the cicatrice next time I dig some up.  It’s botanical name is Polygonatum biflorum, and was included in a Plant of the Week segment I produced for Martha way back when.  And while I’m not a big bible reader, I love this quote from Song of Solomon: “Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.”

Other plants are named for more obvious reasons…

Bleeding Heart, or Dicentra spectabilis

Bluebell, or Hyacinthoides

Snowball viburnum

Snowball viburnum makes a great cut flower.  If you get them while they’re still chartreuse they’re extra delicious.  Cut them and let them soak in water for a few hours before you use them in a design.

Then there is this one lone Black Parrot tulip, leaning dark and frilly in a sunny spot behind the birch.

It didn’t want to be discovered, or even photographed.  But I celebrate what could be the last year of its blooming with this picture.  After all this garden photography, I feel dizzy. Who knew what treasures I would find inside the camera, with the rest of the world slowed down to the click of a button.  I focus.  I breathe.  And there – there it is – I appreciate the miraculousness of it all.

spring arrangement with shrubs

I clipped a few things from my parent’s yard and took them up to Boston with me for the week as a reminder of the lushness of spring in Pennsylvania. This is what I ended up doing with them, keeping clusters of azalea, lilac, and snowball viburnum grouped together.   These pics were taken before I got my new camera, unfortunately.  More delicious plant and flower photos to come as the week progresses.

I’m pretty sure the viburnum in question is Viburnum opulus Roseum, also called European Snowball Viburnum or European cranberry bush, which flowers in spring and early summer, starting out chartreuse and turning white.  All of these shrubs have been here for many decades, and I’m glad I’m finally able to appreciate them (when I was 17 I don’t think I really noticed…silly girl.)

I didn’t do anything fancy with the stems (like pound them or slit them vertically,) I just cut them with sharp pruners on a slant – and because there was a lot of woody material, they stayed in place pretty well.

These didn’t last as long as I would have hoped – only 4 days or so.  The lilacs crisped up first.  I should have let them condition in a cool dark place with hot water for an hour, then added cool water and let them sit for 4-5 hours (like my teacher Jane taught us during Day 3 of Basic Floral Design!)  Instead, I cut them, put them right in a bucket of cold water, and drove 5+ hours with them, letting the lilac scent permeate my brain deliciously.   Upon returning to Swarthmore, where these shrubs live, I see I will be given another chance to work with these dazzling spring blooms – but I’ve missed out on the chartreuse phase of the Viburnum – it’s already turned white!

the Valentine’s day haze of 2012

I close my eyes and see…flowers.  Soft pink tulips tinged with veins of green, the cheery pom-poms of chartreuse snowball viburnums, light lavender sweet peas so papery thin, luscious flesh-colored stock that exudes a sweet-spicy scent, a stab of bright blue-purple delphinium, and roses upon roses…roses the color of a wild sunset or a rosy tangerine, roses the color of peaches edged with soft green, lipstick red roses, and Deja Vu roses standing at attention on their 3-ft long stems, a clear concise yellow that says, Hello You.

check out the scabiosa seedpod amidst the garden roses, tulips, viburnum, and rice flower

peachy green roses, astrantia, calla lily, viburnum, seeded eucalyptus mmm

Yesterday turned out to be one of my favorite days of all time, and I’m not much into Valentine’s Day.  Well that was BF…Before Flowers.  I went into the shop on Monday to help prep the roses (oh yeah, like 700 of them!) and to get some bouquet-making lessons from my beautiful boss lady Peicha.  I left with a price list to study and a sour ball of nervousness percolating in my stomach.  Would I be able to arrange quickly and confidently and add up prices in my head at the same time?  Would I choose the right “color stories?”  Would the stress of a lot of retail interaction be too much for me?  (The needy masses hungry for brilliant arrangements queuing up to watch me fail.)

wake up and smell the roses!

Valentine’s Day 2012 arrived with the Tarot Card of Death in an email. I don’t know why I subject myself to these emails that are supposed to tell me how my day will go.  Like somehow getting the Knave of Wands randomly generated  by a computer means I’ll have an adventurous day.  But the Death Card…uh oh…how is that interpreted at 7am? Maybe I’ll impale myself with a rose and die…or get in a car accident on that Big Road called City Ave…or simply die of shame.  I dressed in what my brother calls my ‘riding boots’ and a bright red blazer (Anthro of course) and hoped that this geranium red would give me some kind of confidence.

smooches from emily!


When I arrived the ladies were in full swing, in fact Peicha had been there since the crack of the ass of dawn, making the pre-ordered bouquets and arrangements (in vases.) She was feeling ‘ahead of the game.’  Dear Emily, an ever-bubbling font of positivity, set our mood to Happy.  Go Team Falls Flowers! Give me an R…O…S…E!  We set into motion together, taking orders from customers, creating bouquets, answering the phone, tying ribbons around the pink tissue that gets wrapped around all the bouquets, and saying “Here you go.  These are your flowers, your Valentine will be so pleased.”

flesh pink stock, rice flower, beigey garden rose, viburnum, lisianthus

Earlier in the day, I took a phone order from a gent who was on business out West.  He and his family live right down the street from Falls Flowers.  He was scared he wasn’t going to get his order in on time, and wanted 4 arrangements (in vases): 2 for his little girls, one for his wife, and one for his mom.  AW.  Peicha let me choose all the flowers for these, and I had a ball doing it.

3 vday arrangements for lucky ladies down the block


grandma's arrangement: tangerine roses, hot pink hyacinth, brunia, waxflower, hypericum berry, frilly orange tulips

And at the end of the day, after all the madness and yes, making a few mistakes here and there and having to use a calculator as I chose blooms, I got to deliver the 4 completed arrangements with Peicha’s husband Mark, who god love him was out all day delivering our product all over tarnation.  The door opens, and a little girl holding a Hello Kitty doll answers.  There we are, with flowers popping out of our heads, what must we look like to her? Her face lights up.  Delivery for Lila! I say.  Mom/Wife comes to the door to see what the ruckus is.  HER face lights up.  We enter, placing the arrangements around the room, and Grandmom/Mom sees the goods and HER face lights up.   I say that Dave/Daddy wanted all of his Valentines to have a very special day and that’s why we made each of you your own special arrangement.  Shock and awe.  This guy just racked up points that will last him all year.  As we’re leaving, little Lila says, “Hello Kitty says Goodbye!” And that’s the end of Valentine’s Day.

me with RED ROSES mixed with waxflower bouquet...POW! photo courtesy FF and emily

Or is it?  After spending the day in nonstop motion, working in tandem with 2 very talented and delightful creatures, and using my head heart and hands, I feel fulfilled on so many levels.  But a little sad, because where is MY Valentine?  Who loves ME enough to give me flowers? When I get home (well my parent’s house because that’s where I’m staying right now) my 2-yr old niece is there for dinner.  She is all smiles, sitting in her big girl chair and gobbling up her dinner.  We jokingly eat each leaf of the salad separately pretending to be Peter Rabbit.  Fun.  And after dinner, a very special surprise for Auntie Ann.  My very own Valentine with dragonflies, frogs, caterpillars and lady bugs made especially for me by niece.  She gives me big hugs and giggly Eskimo kisses to top it all off.  L…O…V…E!