Thursday, October 6, 2016

For the Roses- again

Last night my friend Max asked me what my favorite flower was (ah, the question that keeps on keeping on). Hers are/have been peonies, though there are flowers one is smitten with for a day or season.

Hmm... what will it be -martogon lilies, frittalaria, scabiosa, scented snapdragons, hellebore, violets in bunches, foliage of any kind, the variety of peonies that finally turn the color of slightly steeped tea, one sprig of some wild weedy thing .....??

It only took a second to say "roses". 
Not standard roses, but blown open, multi- layered old fashioned garden variety roses. They have been on my mind recently. One day I realized that I had showered with a moisturizing, rose scented soap, drank rose tea, and was treating with good results-  vaginal dryness with a specialized rose oil 
( I mean, come on- how did roses know?)  

What a reciprocal relationship we have with them. We keep their species going by hybridizing the heck out of them (and keeping the old species varieties going) and they serve us with food, healing benefits, and beauty for the soul.They have for centuries been a symbol of love.

But wait. In pondering the favorite flower question I had to ponder the orchid. What did I do for ten recent years but study and make painting of orchids in a series called "Orchid Dreams".

They are completely compelling and other worldly. I loved studying and painting them, but I didn't love them. But when I think of roses, I associate them with puppies and Mom's manicotti and all things dear and familiar. Maybe if I grew up in a tropical climate and picked orchids to put in a jelly jar, my feelings towards them would be different.

A few from this year: A spring rose, a late autumn rose and some standard spray roses leftover from an event.


Thursday, September 22, 2016


Sad to say, our families are scattered over the US of A. Given a ruler, pencil and a paper map I could draw a pretty straight latitudinal across America marking our family homes in Maryland, Colorado, and Northern California. It takes longer than we want to drive to Maryland and it's not exactly a short jaunt to Colorado Springs, Co by car, but we enjoy the drive so much we've made it many times over the years. It was time to go home.

East of the Sierras, we face a couple of long road days across high desert, the True West. It is a rugged, spare landscape. Home of Big Sky, country music, a high ratio of cheerful cashiers, ranchers, geologists, Mormons, Right Wing Politics, casinos, and if you hit the right mark on the map you will come across  some spectacular Red Rock Country.

We usually take Highway 50, called the Loneliest Highway in the country.

To me it's some of the most beautiful nowhere; long expanses of sage and rock and dirt. Dry mountain ranges in the distance with towns few and far between. It's a real change for a lush flower lover. Where are they? Out here there they are a rarity; mainly wild, small, and subtle. Which frankly is a jarring, but appreciated change. Sometimes it's good to take a break from the abundance and recharge. I like the way it forces me to slow down and find the beauty in what first appears to be an inhospitable environment.The design elements are light, shape, color, and weather. So grateful these huge expanses of our American landscape are still here.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Window Box Arrangements

It was a happy day when window boxes decided to jump off the house and join the party. I was 5 years old when my parents bought two window boxes that happened to be attached to our new house in a recently built housing development. The development was carved out of beautiful, rural farm land in Baltimore County. It's embarrassing to admit this, but that purchase was part of a white exodus that began when the black population of Baltimore began migrating from the inner city to neighborhoods like the one we were about to leave. Baltimore was very segregated at that time. My five year old mind knew that segregation was wrong and didn't jive as my friend, Elizbeth's wood desk sat right in front of mine at St. Bernadine's. 

But I digress. On this property every spanking new home came with two empty window boxes. While a homey touch,  they seemed more appropriate in the narrow streets of Europe flanked by shutters painted a regional color. There, they  were close enough to admire on foot rather than a blurry drive by in a decidedly car oriented way of life.

The contemporary cut flower take on this traditional form of outdoor planting is extraordinarily variable. It's a long, horizontally oriented arrangement. It seems a fitting aesthetic with modern decor, rustic or contemporary. The flowers can be much more relaxed than a traditional arrangement. The container for my first one was made out of chicken wire. No chickens were harmed in the making of this arrangement.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

A tuberose by any other name is a Nardo

 A few years back someone told me that the name 'Nardo" is the name of a white flower that grows in Spain. Feeling such a long and profound connection with plants, this felt like an affirmation of the latest evolution of my life with plants as a floral designer. It didn't matter that I personally wasn't Spanish, but Sicilian. Spain was but one of the myriad countries that invaded and occupied Sicily throughout it's history, so I come up with this little scenario...

Perhaps some of the little tubers were carried across the sea in the corset of a courtesan. Once established in the newly acquired royal garden on Sicilian soil, the tubers were thus entrusted to a peasant, well known in the land for their talent in growing. The flowers grew so abundantly in the familiar hot summer conditions that great bouquets of Nardos filled the church on Worship Days. Henceforth, the gardeners that were charged with growing the seed - oops, little tubers were also called Nardos and thus.....therefore, thou....

Fantasy aside, (plus my brother, the family historian, tells me that our surname is not derived from a flower), plants often were transported from one Continent to other as another form of extreme souvenir collecting. This was sometimes benign; in others thorough enough to decimate entire plant populations. A little online delving reveals the tuberose was subject to this form of collecting as it is native to Central America. While the Spaniards were  conquering in the Southern Hemisphere they must have found this new flower with it's heady perfume and long lasting waxy flowers quite appealing; surely a discovery to impress a queen. It could have taken many lost tubers to learn how to keep them viable from the journey from the New World to back to the Old World.

It was only slightly disappointing to learn that the white flower was the tuberose, a flower I've avoided using the past few years, because the double blossomed, cultivated variety is just awkward and clumpy, somehow. The scent was sometimes too overpowering. However the native single blossomed variety is a different creature for me, each flower separate on stems that have curves, movement, and a delicacy it's much hybridized relatives lack.

Two weeks ago, this flower became available from my favorite grower at Front Porch Farms in Healdsburg: 

As Zoe relates, "the tubers were given to me by an old man from North Carolina who's been farming for 40 years. They were given to him by a woman who was old when he was young. These things are special, that's all I'm getting at". After a week, the scent is still going strong and the flowers continue to bloom with a little clipping of the spent blossoms. I couldn't agree more Zoe!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Chicken Wire Workshop

Yes siree, by gum; it was an emergency. Time and time again I've gone to our local Marin County Farmer's Market this summer to be seduced by bucket after bucket of one amazing flower after another to choose from. 

The wet winter allowed a particular abundance of flowers, but more than that; growers have been listening to designers and growing flowers that are more nuanced in color and shape. This year the selection has been outstanding.

I knew better than to hold a class during the summer when everyone was sunning and eating barbecue or jetting off to Iceland, but yet again- the flowers were flowing. It couldn't be helped.

So time to call an Emergency Chicken Wire Workshop! Yes, a few fell to the siren call of other summer activities, but these women knew where the real action was taking place. Here is their fine work.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Daily Vase

In the news today:

Donald Trump is nominated as President of the Untied States at the Republican Convention

Bodycam shows Baltimore driver admitting to playing Pokeman Go after plowing into Police car

Brussels Man surrounded in Bomb Alert

An international tribunal in Hague names China as primary driver of reef destruction in the South China Seas.

How do we humans hold this complexity?
When I can't handle anymore, I have to go to the flowers for solace. Flowers, medicine for mind and body. Our unknowable companions on this planet.

One big dahlia and one stem of cosmos in one lovely vase.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

On the Water

Here are just a few photos from events I've done recently, both on the water in Sausalito and Lake Tahoe. When water is in the background I think a lot about it's sparkling, moving, transparent quality and try to reflect that in some way in the containers and flowers.

Monday, July 11, 2016

How to Make Store Bought Bouquets Look Great, Workshop 101 rides again.

This basics workshop was held in June, but vacation and other flower related work delayed this posting of the fine work of all these new (to me) fellow flower lovers in the art and craft of floral design.

In a sense it's not so bad that time has passed. The flowers are long gone and there is just enough time to have forgotten them to be able to revisit and say wow, I made that! Whether you're pleased or not, you all made a great start and are on the road!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Adventures with the Martagons

Jon, will you hand me the binoculars?  What is that bright orange thing?  The first time I saw, really saw- this flower was nine years ago when Jon and I were traipsing in the Navaro River in Northern Ca. It was mid- July and we were on a camping trip and looking forward to swimming those lazy waters. But where had the river gone? We faced a pebbly dry river bed pock marked with an occasional amount of water that was swimmable for a few feet. Dang……

 After our initial weeping and throwing of pebbles we went on a lazy ramble doing a combination of scrambling over rocks, meandering, wading, and finally swimming. It turned out to be a great naturalist’s adventure, stopping to examine every insect, piece of animal poop, interesting rock and listen to bird calls. But what was the bright orange thing I spotted from afar? Not a bird, a butterfly, definitely a flower and unfamiliar to me in the wild. I took this photograph then, which marked the beginning of another flower adventure.


 I identified it as a lily, looking- wow!, incredibly exotic. It's always startling to discover that an amazing cut flower is an abundant native growing out yonder, in this case on the fringes of northern redwood forests. This native lily is the Humboldt Lily; Lilium humboldtii. This variety is native in the US and Canada, though other Martagons are native in other parts of the world. It can grow from 3-7ft- so they say, and is known either by the name Martagon or Turk’s Cap Lily.



I continued to spot it in our travels up north. One time I came upon so many, I brought my rule about not cutting natives and brought a stalk home.

Finally this very same lily started appearing in certain floral blogs, only in a much more subdued color. It’s not the bright orange of native varieties, but a beautiful hybrid called “Tiger Babies”. I simply had to grow them fussy as they might be. And here they are, blooming on a very short stalk this first year. I feel so lucky they came up and hope next year they will return as their tall selves.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Color me happy

This is one of my favorite color palettes this season- and aren't those tree peonies amazing? Why does the description "vintage" come to mind? It's the color. Remember Bakelite plastic jewelry? That is plastic cast, chunky jewelry popular in the 30's and 40's. It still has a following these days. Sort of vintage meets modern. The distinctive colors were bright with a little white and maybe brown or black mixed in.

So much to experiment with in floral design and color has been one of the the most elusive and difficult aspects for me. Many designers work with variations of one color. It's a safer way to handle the whole color dilemma and a very effective one. My background as a painter asks for more.