a taste of the country

It was my mother-in-law’s birthday, so I made her two arrangements for her country house in the backwoods of New Hampshire.  This calming collection of blues and purples includes hydrangea, delphinium, monkshood and lisianthus…and white roses and white lilac, with a little bupleurum and curly willow thrown in at the end.

The second arrangement I made was more of an Easter arrangement, with yellows and pinks, including foxtail lily or eremurus, stock, sunflower, daffodil, peony, and tulip.

Rutha was also really happy to receive a garden gnome who will give her a bit of luck out in her garden beds.  (I guess I sort of believe in gnomes, since the Gnomes book was always lying around our house growing up and it’s so convincingly written and drawn.)  Here she is reading another of her presents, Cat Fancy Magazine.

While visiting, we always try to get out for some walks since the air is so clean. On this  afternoon’s constitutional, I saw this cute little yellow flower in bloom, looking a lot like a dandelion…but not quite.  I knew it was in the Aster family, but that’s about it!  Later I looked it up and found out it’s Coltsfoot, or Tussilago farfara.  It’s often found along roadsides and in ditches, and is not native to North America, brought here by settlers from Europe who used it medicinally as a cough suppressant.  (Some still do.)

But some of the real country action happened while we were sleeping.  We gave Robert, my father-in-law, a Bushnell motion-activated infrared camera (with audio!) for Christmas this year.   He strapped it to a tree a little ways into the woods near their house.  So far the camera has captured a host of wildlife including fisher cats, squirrels, chipmunks, foxes, curious crows, and even a neighborhood dog.  But a few days ago a coyote showed up, and here she is caught on camera!

I just love the way she peeks around the tree towards the end.

P.S. Check out the Soulsby Farm’s recent post on coyotes…lots of great info there.

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day two – basic floral design I at longwood

I was eager for class #2, possibly because I felt a little more confident after the previous weeks of floral experience at the shop, and because it seemed we’d only scratched the surface during class #1.  There’s so much to learn when you’re dealing with plants, and that’s part of the reason I like it.  I never want to run out of new things to learn.

We are encouraged to make a little sketch before we begin, this is mine.

While waiting for the rest of the class to show, a few students and the teacher were discussing the upcoming Longwood lecture on Sustainable Floral Design.  Someone wondered about the lecturer, Jane Clark, and because I had been researching this topic, and her, I piped up that she had once had a shop called Fleurish which was no longer in business.  Our teacher’s immediate reply was, “that’s because you can’t do sustainable flowers.  Is organic impossible? To be competitive, yes it is.”  She went on to say that if you’re bidding against a non-sustainable florists, their prices are always going to be lower.  Organic flowers cost much more. But..isn’t there a market (maybe small, yes) of people who want “green” flowers, who don’t want the flowers at their wedding flown in from Columbia, dripping with pesticide? This will be a big topic for me, I think, and I’m just starting to research how others approach it.

Locally grown arrangement created by Jennie Love, photo courtesy of lovenfreshflowers.com

Some just grow their own flowers and are done with it.  You have to admire that approach, and that’s why someday I want to meet Jennie Love, proprietor of Love ‘n Fresh Flowers.  She grows her own flowers in an urban location, which she sells through local stores and a Flower CSA, and also creates unique floral designs for events such as “eco-lovely weddings.” She’s doing a Floral Fun class at Longwood in the summer I hope to attend.

Arrangement in shape of Hogarth's Curve of Beauty

Ok, back to class.  We discussed the Shape of floral arrangements.  They can be round, horizontal, crescent, vertical, oval, symmetrical and asymmetrical triangle, fan, Hogarth (curve of beauty,) or parallel systems.  Gosh, I hope I never have to make a Hogarth arrangement…too hard!  We talked about Balance, Proportion and Scale within the context of these shapes, and then moved on to the flower and foliage forms.

Lily is example of a Form Flower - distinctive shape - this has been blooming for 2 wks

For example, line Flowers are linear in shape, and create height in an arrangement.  Like Delphinium, Snapdragon, etc.  Form flowers have distinctive shapes which add interest to a design: like Gerbera, Amaryllis, Lily.  Mass flowers are solitary flowers with a single round head like Roses, Carnations.  Filler flowers – Baby’s breath, Waxflower, Queen Anne’s Lace.  And then the Renegade flower is one which may be used as more than one type or just doesn’t fit into any category, like Bird of Paradise.

Florida Ruscus is 'mass foliage' hiding the mechanics, baker fern is filler and adds a dainty edging

Similarly, foliage has its’ forms as well.  Linear like spiral eucalyptus, flax, or some grasses.  Form foliage has an interesting shape or texture, color or pattern, like papyrus, monstera leaves, caladium.  Mass foliage adds bulk and covers the mechanics of an arrangement, like pittosporum, huckleberry, camellia, leatherleaf.  Filler foliage is smaller in scale and sometimes wispy, like fern, boxwood, ivy.

After the greens, Jane adds stock flower - the "line flower" always goes first

For this class, we were to make a round arrangement, or a “Roundy Moundy” using line, form, and filler flowers in a Revere bowl.  Ours were not real silver, mind you.  Roundy Moundies are “the most useful” shape for arranging, says Jane.  Also, the “Golden Rule” of floral design is that your flowers are 2/3 of the design, and your container is 1/3.  We started off with Oasis, again (but this time, Jane admitted that you should use floral foam “sparingly,” as it’s not recyclable) making sure that the floral foam actually rose ABOVE the lip of the container a bit.  This gives you the ability to point stems at a downward angle to hang over the container, achieving a fullness and roundness.  Next, we created our base of greens.  Then we added our line flower or Stock in this case.  On top of the Ruscus and Fern, here’s what each of us had to work with:  6 Stock, 10 roses, 4 carnation, 3 Waxflower or Baby’s Breath, 3 Pussywillow for accent if wanted.

After form flowers (roses+carnations) and filler (waxflower,) Jane adds pussy willows for accent

And…GO! I went into a MAJOR trance while arranging this time – sorry Melissa if I seemed out of it while you were chatting me up.  I was in the zone.  Once again, everyone had such unique designs given that we all had the same material, and I’m just mesmerized by this expression.  Here are some of the lovely results:

line of roundy moundies

the "cupcake"

purple pride

afeefa's rocks again

melissa's! nice!

airy one by pat


my roundy moundy - i bunched flowers instead of spacing them perfectly

Oh, wait there’s one more.  Our classes are enlivened by Betty’s presence.  She is the class “loudmouth,” (her word,) and always has a funny comment to make.  During this class she had us all laughing by creating new “technical terms” like ‘big ol honking flower’ to refer to the Stock we were using.  She’s a hoot – and talking to her in the parking lot I found out she’s a landscape gardener who lives in DE.  I got an invite back to her place to talk Cutting Gardens!  Sometime soon, I’ll have to do that.

these arrangements look way different in daylight i noticed - VIVA BETTY !!

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!

heaven scent

Another Thursday spent at Falls Flowers with Peicha Chang. We processed flowers for display, did some arranging, and even talked about the meaning of life.  Guess what, there is none!  No but really, I’m here at the shop because I’m trying to bring some meaning to my life by learning new things.  That, and the aromatherapy!  This Stock flower was super fragrant…and smelled exactly like cloves.  The white variety was much stronger smelling than the lavender one.

Me sniffing some stock ... mm mmm!

Stock, or Matthiola incana - Lavender and White - so fragrant!

We started by processing some MUMS, first removing most of their foliage and cutting them at a 45 degree angle (so their stems don’t butt up against the bottom of the container – for maximum drinking potential.)

remove the mum's net gently, up and over

 

These big chartreuse babies are Spider Mums and like other blooms with fat heads, they come with their own mini nets to secure and protect them.  DON’T JUST TEAR THE NETS OFF WILLY NILLY.  I learned that taking the nets off should be the last step before you set them into their container, and don’t rush it.  BE GENTLE – just peel the net up and over the bloom so your mum isn’t decapitated and the petals remain intact.

Chrysanthemum aka 'spider mum' free of net - POW!

When these huge Chrysanthemums are set free of their nets they span 4-6″ across and put on quite a show! They are a really intense green, so green and so big that rather than being considered “neutral,” like most other greens, they count as their own color family.  When creating a bouquet or arrangement, Peicha says to choose 2 color families to work with, and you can add neutral greens like this Grevillea to the mix.

Grevillea for greens

Interestingly enough, WHITE is NOT a neutral color in arranging.  I learned this the hard way in a lesson towards the end of the day when I created my own bouquet…uh oh…no picture means it wasn’t too great! If you’re using whites, Peicha says choose only one other color family.  I used the green mums, some pinky-yellows, some deep rosy reds, AND white…too much! But I’m learning, I’m learning.  I think I just couldn’t resist using the Queen Anne’s lace, because though it’s a European introduction and considered a weed by many, it’s a wildflower at the very top of my list.  I love it’s lacy umbels of green and white – these had just come in and were so tight  (come back later when they’re fully opened!)

Queen Anne's Lace, or Daucus carota (Wild Carrot) - lovely lacy umbels

Speaking of WHITE and FILLER…there is a scourge sweeping across the nation as we speak.  This plant is the go-to airy fairy filler of most florists, and you’ll see a LOT of it at Valentine’s Day.  Yes, it’s Baby’s Breath or Gypsophila, and it may be pretty, but when it’s the only filler ever used it loses it’s charm, doesn’t it? Peicha “doesn’t do Baby’s Breath,” but she also doesn’t rule it out entirely.  She does caution clients against using it for events for a pretty specific reason (aside from the fact that it’s boring.) And here it is: do you know WHY it’s called Baby’s Breath? Because it SMELLS like baby’s breath.  Sweet, milky, powdery, and slightly rotten! Not my cup of tea, for sure, and probably not something you want to smell at your wedding.

you won't see anything like THIS come out of Falls Flowers

Instead of Baby’s Breath, Peicha prefers the lemon pledge scent of the Waxflower, a lovely shrub from the Myrtle family endemic to Western Australia.  And I can see why: it’s darling bell-like waxy flowers are borne on woody stems so brittle one can simply break them off between your fingers (translation: quick and easy for the florist to use.)  That, combined with it’s needle-like dark green leaves, and clean, citrusy scent make the Waxflower a much better choice for filler.  Expect to see a lot of this used during Valentine’s Day – only 2 weeks away!

Waxflower, or Chamalaucium uncinatum - GREAT choice for filler smells citrusy

Okay, want to see how it’s done? Check out what Peicha did here for this bright and cheerful birthday arrangement.  Oh it happened pretty quickly, her hands darting in and out of the display vases, measuring the stems against the container, and knifing the stems down to size so fast I couldn’t even capture the process.  The final result, a delight in reds and yellows, is here:

Birthday arrangement by Peicha

Birthday arrangement: Ranunculus, Roses, Mums, Dusty Miller, Salaal

That’s it for now, from my messy mind.  More this week – we have a wedding on Saturday!