A fresh approach to floral design

May 06, 2002|BY KATE COLEMAN

"Does this not look like spring?" asked Mary Ellen Bay, director of Maryland Federated Garden Clubs' fifth district as she held up an arrangement she had created during a recent program at Trinity Lutheran Church in Hagerstown.

Bay was in town to present a "casual morning of floral design," hosted by Town and Country Garden Club. Just more than a year into her two-year term, Bay already has led programs in 19 of the 25 garden clubs in the district that includes Washington, Frederick, Carroll, Allegheny and Garrett counties in Maryland.

Her designs drew "oohs and ahs" from the audience of about 100 women.

"I come to you today with no idea what I'm doing," Bay said.

That's not quite true.

Bay, who has a degree in fine arts and works as a landscape consultant, has been gardening since she was a child.


Her designs are not perfect pyramid-shaped towers of stiff round flowers. Her approach is free-wheeling and let-it-happen. "I'm not a symmetrical person," she says.

"Go to your garden, see what you can find and see what you can do," Bay advised.

Her first arrangement in shades of white included Scotch broom, bridal wreath, white bleeding heart and ivory dogwood done in a narrow white vase. "People think you have to use different colors," she said.

Not always.

"If you've got something glorious in your garden - use that," Bay advised.

Bay used ferns, tall blueish grass, gold-dust acuba leaves, flame-tipped spirea, variegated foliage - common garden delights not often seen in store-bought arrangements.

When you go to your garden, think of what you're going to arrange, Bay recommended. "I go to the yard with my coffee, bucket and container," Bay said. If she doesn't find anything - she gets a different container.

Sometimes the "something glorious" happens to be in color.

In a rectangular basket, Bay created a dining table centerpiece of golden yellow double kerria, wild mustard, lilac and large purplish pink azalea blossoms that did indeed look like spring.

She started working at the ends of the basket, inserting the twigs in the oasis foam. She filled in around the edges, leaving the center of the design until last. She frequently spun the turntable on which the basket sat, stepping back, viewing the design from different angles, including from above - the way it would be seen at a dinner party.

"Entertaining is all about putting the right thing in the right place," Bay said. First impressions are important, and she recommended using a hanging arrangement outside - on your front door or on a lamppost - to greet party guests.

Bay used an oasis-filled plastic paddle made for hanging. She filled it with a variety of whites and greens, including large boughs of blossom-loaded bridal wreath. "The thing that's nice about bridal wreath is that it will blow in the wind. You like a little motion," she said.

Bay does indeed like "a little motion" in her arrangements. Once you establish a line in a design, you have to keep playing with the line, she said.

She played with the hanging design, adding a streaming ivory bow with sheer stripes

"There," she said.

Tips for flower arrangements

Floral design tips from Mary Ellen Bay, District 5 director, Maryland Federated Garden Clubs:

Bay claims that she's not an organized person and that a record book helps her keep track of her gardening. She records all pertinent information about her plants - when she buys them, how much they cost, when she plants, when they bloom.

Go to your garden for cuttings before 10 a.m. or while the sun is going down - when the sugar in the plants is at its highest.

Bay creates her floral arrangements on a turntable, a Lazy Susan affair. She can spin it around and see all sides of her work in progress.

For an arrangement in a smallish strait-sided cylinder, Bay pushed a piece of chicken wire into the 4-5-inch-diameter opening, creating a holey holder for the flowers and greens.

Don't cut wire with your good scissors. Use wire cutters to cut wire.

Always recut your stems before you put them in the arrangement.

Because foliage can aid the growth of bacteria in the water or oasis, always strip foliage off stems before putting them in arrangement.

Place smaller, lighter flowers higher in the design. Larger, rounder flowers go lower in the arrangement.

Don't ever pull something you don't like out of an arrangement. Trim it off in the container.

Try to make a flower arrangement one and a half times as tall as the container.

Daffodils can be encouraged to stand up straight by "sticking pipecleaners up their little necks."

If you're having trouble making a sprig stay in oasis, put some hot glue from a glue gun on the end of the twig, then stick it in.

An arrangement that will become the centerpiece of a dining room table should be between one half and two thirds of the table length. The design should not be too tall. People need to be able to see and talk to each other without flowers getting in the way.

To keep an arrangement moist and fresh, put ice cubes on top of the oasis that holds the flowers.

Don't put an arrangement in a sunny window. Keep arrangements out of drafts. Air conditioning is hard on flowers.

Bay shared her experience of fooling Mother Nature when her farm was on a house and garden tour. Angelique tulips were going to bloom too early, so she covered them with sheets. Her Rosy Sunrise daffodils weren't going to flower in time, so she encouraged earlier flowering with two hair dryers.

Bay prefers odd numbers of elements in a design.

Don't be afraid to have your arrangement flow.

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