Gardeners as floral designers

Pat Huntsman came all the way from Olympia to take the floral design class.

Megan and Linnea both made gorgeous arrangements

Last week I had the great honor of teaching a floral design class at Ravenna Gardens in Seattle.

Owner Gillian Mathews and I cooked up this special evening event over dinner earlier this summer. Together we marveled at the gorgeous botanical ingredients that our friends Diane Szukovathy and Dennis Westphall of Jello Mold Farm deliver each Friday to the shop.

These yummy bouquets, which Ravenna Gardens displays in Ball jars, are really popular with customers.

Also, we couldn’t stop talking about a recent New York Times article about the new-found interest in taking floral design classes among younger women. Everything was converging to reinforce what our project called A Fresh Bouquet is all about and what Gillian was seeing and hearing from her customers. 

Hanging at Ravenna Gardens, this saying reinforced why we had all gathered - to see and appreciate more flowers in our lives.

“I want to start offering flower arranging workshops at the store,” Gillian told me.
“Who will teach them?” I asked. 

“I haven’t thought about that yet,” she replied. “Do you have any ideas?”
“What about me?” I blurted out. 

And the idea took off for both of us. Giddy with excitement, we couldn’t stop scheming and planning. Gillian called me at home the next morning to report on a conversation she had with a young woman who came into Ravenna Gardens. They got around to the subject of classes the store was going to offer this fall and the customer said she would be interested in taking a floral design workshop. That was confirmation enough for Gillian – we were onto the right idea. 

Now mind you, I am not a professional floral designer. But as a design writer, I regularly covered floral design for the past decade, including a huge chunk of time when I wrote monthly stories for Romantic Homes magazine’s “Blooms” section. The designers I’ve interviewed over the years have taught me volumes about how they create arrangements by selecting the right vase, combining buds, stems and foliage, and conjuring some pretty amazing floral confections. 

Amanda Rosauer is obviously happy with her arrangement

The class created hands-on and hand-crafted bouquets

I also believe that gardeners are the perfect floral designers.

We often have very intimate experience growing and harvesting the flowers that end up in our vases – and I believe this makes us more successful than many who buy conventionally grown or imported flowers from a wholesale distributor.  The principles of good design are universal, whether you’re designing a textile print, a house or a garden. Or an arrangement. 

In preparation for our 1-1/2-hour class called The Autumn Bouquet, Gillian and I consulted with Diane about the peak blooms in her fields. We knew we wanted DIVA flowers (the “stars” of the design, such as dahlias and sunflowers), as well as vertical elements; soft, fluffy “embroidery” elements; and cascading or draping elements. We also needed foliage. Diane suggested that we give her our wish list and broad parameters of color and then allow her some leeway when it came down to delivery day. That is the secret to getting the freshest, most healthy blooms. Trust your flower grower! 

Gillian went shopping to look for the perfect vases and she found some. In ruby red, herbal green and pumpkin orange, the square glass vases couldn’t have been more suitable for the autumn-themed class. Measuring 9-1/2 inches tall with a generous, 4-by-4 inch opening, the scale of these vases promised that the students’ designs would be abundant. 

The rest of the group and their bouquets: Kathie, Carol, Bev, Sandie, Pat, me and Pam

We're all floral designers now! Linnea, me, Elaine, Amanda, Megan and Jill - at Ravenna Gardens

Our sold-out class of 12 was also the perfect size. Ravenna Gardens is a boutique retailer and we had to first make room for 12 seats during my demonstration and then quickly move those seats out of the way to set up two work tables.

Gillian made everything festive and fun, too! When the students arrived, she encouraged them to pour something to drink (sparkling water and sparkling wine), nibble on some brie-and-crackers, cookies and grapes, and get into the creative spirit. 

I started the class by sharing how I’ve been inspired to design flowers and explained how David and I have fallen in love with the growers and designers we’ve met, interviewed, and photographed. I encouraged the students to think about the seasons, the special ingredients that the gardens and fields around us offer each month of the year, and other sustainable aspects of “green” design. 

After discussing the role each type of flower plays in the overall design and demonstrating some of my favorite techniques, we switched gears and asked each student to select the vase color she wanted to use. There were buckets and buckets of fresh-cut blooms, grasses, berries, pods and foliage to choose from.

It was so exciting to watch as everyone tried their hand at creating an arrangement inspired by the floral ingredients, the vase and flower colors, and the season.  

We ended the class with promises to gather again in November when Gillian and I will team up to offer a holiday-themed design class. Details to come.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Nancy Finnerty October 3, 2010 at 9:32 am

I loved your blog about the floral design class Deb! Wish i could have been there…
Let’s talk soon…

Megan October 3, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Quite fun. My friends were (understandably) jealous!

Diane Szukovathy October 10, 2010 at 12:52 pm

You folks make us look good. Glad it was so much fun!!

Katie Bach October 11, 2010 at 8:25 am

I was so excited to see the class you had with Ravenna Gardens.I was fortunate to take a class a few years ago from Lorene who used to own Fremont gardens. Her class was more directed at the Christmas Holidays. She focused a lot on using what you had in your landscape. Really a wonderful class. I am very interested in attending the class you are hoping to have for the holidays. Being a Horticulturist I also very much believe gardeners are floral designers. Isn’t that what we are doing in our own garden?
I have also been a fan of yours.
Thanks for the inspiration!

Debra October 11, 2010 at 8:26 am

Hi Katie and thanks for your note. I encourage you to see what Lorene Edwards Forkner, former owner of the awesome Fremont Gardens Nursery, is up to. She has a terrific blog at and is working on her fourth book project!

Lorraine November 12, 2010 at 10:14 am

Hi Debra!

I think I may have been the woman mentioned in your post, the one who went to Ravenna Gardens and got all excited about the possibility of floral design classes. I also read the NYTimes article, there’s some great stuff going on in NYC!
Unfortunately I have a little kid and sometimes it’s hard to get someone to watch her in the evening. Hope to attend the next round, the results were beautiful! ;)


debra November 12, 2010 at 10:22 am

Hello Lorraine,
thanks for writing! I’d love to have you join us – at Ravenna Gardens – for a holiday floral design class. Check out Ravenna’s web site for details; the evening class is at University Village on Thursday, Dec. 2nd and there is a morning class at the Kirkland store on Saturday, Dec. 4th.

Sharron Clemons December 21, 2010 at 12:07 pm

I loved your blog about the floral design class Deb! Wish i could have been there… Let’s talk soon… N

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