When avid gardeners gather . . .
You can be sure that the creativity will explode! That’s how I felt a few days ago when I arrived at my friend Kathy Fries’s Seattle area garden with my car filled with just-picked floral design ingredients. The occasion: the monthly meeting for the Myrtle DeFriel Unit 16 of the Washington Park Arboretum.
This group of volunteers supports our local arboretum with fundraisers, but the members also gather for education and the pure enjoyment of a common love of gardening, horticulture and design. They meet monthly (except in July and August when everyone is probably too wrapped up in their own gardening projects or touring other gardens!) to hear speakers, so I was thrilled to be invited to talk about seasonal floral design.
Kathy is an accomplished plantswoman whose amazing garden on the shores of Lake Washington is featured in several pages of Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways, my book about fabulous backyard destinations (she has at least four incredible garden buildings, including a viewing tower that overlooks her knot garden and a sweet chicken coop called the ‘Palais de Poulet’).
This week, we gathered in one of her newest structures, ‘Doges Palace’, a shed-turned-fanciful building. And yes, after Kathy and shed artist John Akers were through, the once unsightly shack (its door was previously a dangling piece of blue tarp) was transformed into a mini-Venetian building for party-giving, children’s events and gardening classes.
At least one-half of the Unit’s fifty members arrived on Tuesday morning for my workshop, “Adventurous Seasonal Bouquet Design.”
We asked the members to bring clipped ingredients from their own gardens, including interesting foliage, rose hips, berries and branches. This bounty was to be enhanced with a selection of seasonal and sustainably-grown flower elements from Jello Mold Farm. Diane Szukovathy and Dennis Westphall did not disappoint. In fact, when my friend Nancy and I met Diane in a Starbucks parking lot early Tuesday morning, we nearly screamed when we saw the contents of her van!
I have learned that when working with local flower growers, it’s a good idea to give them lots of flexibility in assembling a flower order. This approach leads to some wonderful surprises.
The growing season is coming to a close, but the gorgeous selection of yummy, just-harvested ingredients from the fields at Jello Mold were excellent:
Dahlias - an assortment of vibrantly-hued blooms. Nothing too pastel in color, but mostly saturated brights and jewel tones.
Ninebark - also called Physocarpus ‘Coppertina’ – a woody shrub that produces deep wine foliage. (We also had some cool-looking branches of a different Physocarpus cultivar from Kathy’s own property).
Rosehips – awesome clusters that wowed everyone who saw them.
Baptisia – the wonder foliage. Blue-green in hue, with soft, flat, oval leaves, the leafy branches of this perennial create a great “base” to the bouquets.
Aster‘Lady in Black’ – a soft, interesting autumn perennial that helps build volume in an arrangement. I love its dark wine stems and foliage with wispy white flowers.
Echinacea – the spiny centers on purple cone flower are particularly dramatic in fall bouquets; the dark pink petals are pretty delicious, too!
Sedums - those pink, white, wine and green ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum heads are another backbone of bouquets. They serve as a great base into which one can insert and stabilize other flower stems.
Sunflowers - yes, even in mid-October, Jello Mold still has some beautiful sunflowers to jazz up arrangements.
Amaranth – I love this ‘Love-lies-Bleeding’ in all its forms, both cascading and upright. Diane gave us the coppery upright variety – yum!
Grasses – where would we be without ornamental grasses in the autumn bouquet? We had several terrific seed heads and tassels to work with, including the dark-tasseled Panicum violaceum and a charming variety of oat grass (Chasmanthiumsp.).
When we arrived at Kathy’s, there was another huge surprise in store. The workshop participants had also gleaned and gathered excellent floral elements from their own gardens.
Buckets, vases and pots filled with wonderful hydrangeas, crocosmia, persicaria, echinacea seed heads, Japanese maple branches with raspberry-colored samaras, Nandina, ferns, and more lined Kathy’s driveway and the entry patio in front of Doges Palace!
We oohed and aaahed over all the plant ingredients before we started the class.
This is a group of experienced, veteran plant-lovers and garden-makers. One of the insights I’ve gained from teaching these hands-on classes is that people who grow plants know a lot more about floral design than they are often given credit for.
Why? Because gardeners are observers. They watch and examine how a certain plant performs in their landscape, both when it’s at its peak and also before and after. They see the beauty throughout a plant’s life cycle, not just when it’s looking picture-perfect.
Those young buds and those drying seed-heads are as appealing to the gardener who tends to that plant as are the voluptuous blooms. All these ingredients at their various life stages delight the eye and become important elements of a natural, seasonal floral bouquet.
After a short presentation in which I introduced many of the flower growing and design ideas that David and I are exploring in “A Fresh Bouquet,” I grabbed my amber-colored glass vase to start the design process and show off a combination of Jello Mold Farm’s bounty.
My basic approach is to start with foliage (I worked with soft clusters of Baptisia) in order to build internal structure inside the vase.
Then I add the Divas (in this case, dahlias — deep wine-colored and coral-orange varieties). These are the starring ingredients, the show-stoppers, if you will. Every design needs that focal flower.
That’s followed with verticalelements (chocolaty-wine Physocarpus and coppery Amaranth). Just as in garden design and container design, giving height to the arrangement is important for scale and proportion.
And filler plants to add volume and dimension – in this case, some yummy rose hips.
But I still needed something to “spill” or ring the vase opening like a ruffled collar. On my way into the class I spotted a huge pile of golden hops, which one of the Unit members had recently cut down from her property. At this time of year, hops produce delightful seed heads; they dangle like little paper lanterns from the vines. Yes!!! That was just what I needed to have a cascading element emerge from the neck of my vase. In the end, I had a quintessentially autumn design.
The demonstration was over and the group spread out, working on tables, benches and counters to create their own autumn arrangements. The creativity among this group of about 25 women blew me away!
One of the goals of this morning’s session was to see favorite garden plants used in a new way. And everyone left with a new-found appreciation for the floral gifts from their own garden. It was quite gratifying to see the joy that comes from creating a bouquet of one’s own. These flower-filled vases will grace coffee tables, piano tops, mantels and shelves for the rest of the week – and then, all one has to do is step outdoors, look around, and find a new source of seasonal floral inspiration to design a new bouquet. Be amazed with your talent, ladies:
Thanks to everyone who participated in the class and who created such luscious designs to display in your homes. I am convinced that there is a growing shift among flower lovers. And that is having a passion for seasonal, local and sustainable floral design. Your enthusiasm reinforces that – each of you inspire me!