New Design Sponge Series: Sound Garden

Angela alerted me to yet another wonderful new sub-column from Design*Sponge: “Sound Garden” by Sarah B. Essentially, florist extraordinaire Sarah B. takes her favorite album covers and translates them into beautiful floral arrangements:

Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life”

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Ikebana, NYC

For anyone interested in learning Ikebana (Japanese flower arranging), Ikebana Flowers in NYC is offering a variety of classes for personal and professional development:

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End of Flower School and Next Steps

So instead of letting myself get lonely over the holidays, I met up with Stacy and her friends in Atlantic City and then went home with her and her hubby to DC for a couple days. Besides the fun I had with her, Stacy as usual is one of the most grounded people when it comes to advice, so by the time I returned on Saturday, I was back to being strong in my decisions. And to all my other friends (and Moms) who have been taking me out and giving me support – love and thanks!

Well anyway, two tears in a bucket, motherfuckit. Let’s get back to business.

FIRST 3 PHOTOS: Advanced Week 3 – Oval Centerpieces
Starting in the same vein as the Tradition Low Centerpiece (attaching the Oasis foam to the pie plate ala floral tape), pine branches are then arranged at table-grazing level, with longer branches on 2 sides, therefore creating an oval. Next come the table-grazing level of deep pink roses, followed by spacing them equally around at mid level, top level and top top level (like what was done with the Tall Centerpieces).

Then comes the interspersing of small white carnations, pine cones and Satan-in-plant-form: Holly with red berries. I compare holly to Satan because of the stigmata like effect that happens when you’re gored by their jagged leaves. Not pleasant, but the way you attach pine cones is interesting. First you circle the pine cone (at the widest end) once with floral wire, then wrap the ends of the wire around a small pointed stick. Stick goes in the foam and pine cone snuggles into the arrangement. Simple. And Le George said he thought this one was my best yet.

LAST PHOTO: Advanced Week 4 – Christmas Wreath
Despite M. George suggesting the week before that we do yet another Wreath Centerpiece (seriously), we managed to convince him to, you know, maybe teach us something new. So starting with an Oasis Wreath Base Frame, small pine branches are placed again at table-grazing level (the wreath lays flat as you work). Then we were given 12 each of red and white carnations, pointed towards boxes of pine cones and Christmas balls, and told to go nuts. English Boxwood is used to hide the foam on the inside circle, as well as filler along the outside and anywhere else its needed. The ribbon was attached to the foam with small pieces of floral wire bent like vintage hair pins. A bow could have been added as well with a similar technique.

Maybe it’s because I’m honestly just not that familiar with the myriad of wreath designs, or maybe I would have appreciated being given a model to work from, but I struggled with this. I also think at this point I was tired of the long-ass commute to Long Island. But now that’s over.

Which brings me to the question – what’s next? In my very first flower class, I told my teacher I worked as a graphic designer and he immediately said “well, why don’t you become a landscape designer then?” I hadn’t given it much thought until now, but due to all the Adventures in Natureland I’ve been experiencing these past several months, I realized how much I do love (and miss!) being out in nature. So taking what I’ve learned so far, I’m going to register at Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, not for supplements in floral design, but for the full Certificate in Horticulture. Sounds fun…and sciency, with botany and plant identification! Since I came to this decision a little late for Winter/Spring sign-ups, I’ve put myself on the waiting list for the beginning courses. In the meantime I’ll take the Horticulture elective course: History of Landscape Design, while continuing research on my own. Onward!

An (Un)connected Weekend with Kado

Last weekend I chose to wake up at the same time I do during the week to take the F train to the Shambhala Buddhist Center to train with Marcia Shibato who is “is one of the strongest inspirations behind the resurging practice of Kado, the contemplative art of flowers and branches.” In fact, during the course of the weekend, “students learn to create flower arrangements, and experience Kado as a creative and meditative dance with nature, space, and perception. Like meditation, Kado teaches us to really look at what is before us.”

Somehow this is what did happened and, at the same time, what was would have been more likely to happen, if I already subscribed to Buddism, meditation and other specifically related spiritual practices. Which I don’t. That’s not to say I don’t respect Buddhism, and I do understand why, when learning the discipline of Kado, why each day began with 30 minutes of meditiation (like I say – It’s all relative), I just know that organized religion is not for me*.

Ok, just wanted to file a disclaimer of sorts. Shall we begin?

[First off, my teacher, Marcia Shibato, was wonderful. Very patient and totally not-caring that I was the only non-Buddhist there. She got a kick out of my western floral design training and said that’s how she was first trained also. She then told me that there are plenty of ways to incorporate my urge for “less is more” into western design: “Turn the flowers to the light” and “use the space as an object.” I feel validated!]

Kado (or, Ikebana) starts with very basic principles and techniques, and evolves from there. There are rules, and there are no rules. For example, in the Basic Upright arrangements (both Left and Right) that I learned, you start with the “heaven” branch (which is the length of the container you’re using plus half), the “earth” plant (half the length of heaven) and the “man” branch (2/3 – 3/4 the length of heaven) – or you can use your own judgement based on the materials you’re using, the container, the environment you’re working/showing in and make heaven as big/small as you want (with the others following suit).

Either way, each branch has a specific place, and angle in respect to the “sun line.” This is basically imagining that the sun is directly above the “viewing area” (see, Basic Upright has only one direction from which to view it, which, believe me, makes it easier), and that the major branches are responding to the light it gives.

In Kado, you welcome the space around the flowers, instead of filling it like in western design. Anyone who knows me and my graphic design style knows how much I love white space, so this was perfect! However, you do need to form connections between heaven, earth and man using “helper” materials, usually of the “soft” flower variety (as opposed to the “hard” wood material of heaven and man). This is where it gets tricky – you don’t want to make it heavy, but you do want to add weight.

The container I mentioned above is actually called a suiban, and is specifically for Kado. The shape I used both days was a basic rectangular shape (please, all the other details were confusing enough!), but I saw a variety of other more beautifully geometric shapes. The plants stand up the way you want, because you place a kenzan (common slang – pin frog) into the suiban to poke the stems into. While you’re working, there is just enough water in the suiban to cover half of the pins in the kenzan, but once you’re finished, you add a final amount of water based on what season it is (self-explanatory: also includes based on how hot/cold your apt is).

Now for some pics:

The first row are the left and right Basic Upright arrangements I did. The first photo is more to show my little work area (yes, we sat on cushions and used low tables) and the next two photos are shot from the correct viewing angle. [Sorry about the one photo looking like crap – for some reason I brought my old camera in that day and it is pretty much broken at this point.]

The next two rows are arrangemnts by others in the class, including the teachers. I won’t tell you which were hers, since the whole refreshing point of Kado (when compared with western style) is that while you may be using the same materials, the end result is not supposed to look exactly the same.

At the start of the last two rows is an “abstract” arrangement I did the second day. We were told to pick an emotion and, forgetting all principles we had learned so far, creat an arrangement in any way we wanted. The emotion I chose at first was “hesitation” but during the 45 minutes we worked, it changed into “vulnerability.” A very interesting excercise – One doesn’t usually think “free form” when it comes to floral design. Reminds me of a certain elusive flower artist…

The rest of the photos show some at-home arrangements I did with the leftover flowers from class. Since Advanced Floral Design also ended (that post coming soon!), I’ll have to wait until Dumbo gentrifies some more before I can buy some quality flowers in my neighborhood.

Phew! Ok, my computer is only adding to the disgusting heat in my apt, so until next time…

*For those who are wondering if I’m an atheist – no. I was raised lazy-Jewish and with a deep respect for Nature. Last year I discovered The Path of the Feather and haven’t looked back since.

Flower School: Beginning of Advanced

Ok here we go now!

TOP ROW: Advanced Week 1 – Tall Centerpieces
According to Le George, this was supposedly the hardest arrangement we’re going to do, but I actually found it easier than last week’s wreath centerpiece. Just more proof of how backwards I am! Ok, so for this arrangement, we started with the same basic method as the traditional centerpiece, only this time you cut the foam in half, stack it in the pie plate, then push chicken wire into the foam on three sides (then tape it and soak). The chicken wire is used because this is a circular arrangement, meant to be viewed from below, so the flowers have to be arranged at 360º, and still be secure.

We used pink roses, pink carnations, Belladonna (Delphinium), white Snapdragons (aka Antirrhinum coulterianum), “Nikko” Blue Hydrangea, and our old “filler” friends, purple wax flower and pitusporum. This arrangement thrives on symmetry, and the best way to acheive that is to place each kind of flower at different levels (lower, mid, upper, and top) but spaced so that they are never directly above or below another of the same kind. This is done differently for each flower depending on how many you have. For example, I had 24 roses (easy to space mathematically) but only 4 Snapdragons and 10 Delphiniums. So it can get a little challenging. After placing all the major flowers (with the Hydrangea last, cut to be lower than the rest), the waxflower and pitusporum fill the leftover holes.

In a more finished state, this centerpiece would be on top of very tall vase filled with water for weight and random flowers for looks. But in this case, we were working on top of black water buckets so as not to break the lower level flowers. Fancy!

SECOND ROW: Advanced Week 2 – Wreath Centerpieces, take 2
Ugh – did I not say I disliked doing these? Sometimes I think M. George has us repeat projects so he doesn’t have to think of something new for us to do. Ah well, at least our flowers he mixed it up a little with the flowers. This week I used hot orange roses, sunflowers, green mums, brown oak leaves and orange Day Lilies (aka Hemerocallis Fulva). I really love orange Day Lilies and Hydrangea, because they remind me of the flower gardens at my parents’ old house. They’ve started new gardens at the Lake House, which include lilies, but no enormous Hydrangea bushes yet. Again, I found the correct placing of flowers in the wreath centerpiece strangely difficult. The end result is still good, but I need to acheive that second nature of placement that I can summon in other arrangements.

These photos were taken by my teacher since my camera was behaving weirdly, so there’s a BONUS photo of me hard at work in class – such skill!

2 BOTTOM ROWS: Home arrangements
With the extra flowers, I made an arrangement for home and work. I used a few extra Day Lilies and green mums, as well as unused white Hydrangea, Green Spider Mums, red hypericum berries, and Red Rover Mums. I even gave a free flower arranging lesson at work to one of my coworkers who had received some purple orchids.

So only 2 classes left until I’m officially certified! In the meantime, I get a week off for Thanksgiving, and a weekend long Japanese Flower seminar. Stay tuned!

Flower School: End of Intermediate

Here are some shots from the last 2 classes of Intermediate Floral Design, plus a couple arrangements I put together at home:

TOP ROW: Intermediate Week 3 – Handheld Bouquets
I know, I know – these photos don’t show a bouquet exactly, but try to use your imagination for a minute, and envision these flowers tied together outside of the vase. Anyway, the method to creating a handheld bouquet is fairly simple: Start with a large chunk of filler (in this case, treated oak leaves – yes those are real!), and then, while incrementally turning the growing arrangement with one hand, adding similar patches of flowers to both the inside and outside of the bouquet with the other. [Sidenote: I’m sure it helps if you don’t have midget hands like me, but it really wasn’t too difficult.] Then, while still holding the bouquet together, you trim all the ends to the same length (not too short!) and wrap a rubber band around a couple stems, the whole bunch of stems, and then a couple again to secure it.

I would have had more photos of what I actually created in class, but I was at the peak of my first extreme cold of the season and almost passed out on my worktable, so this is what you get. The other flowers we used were sunflowers, hot pink roses, reddish hypericum berries and white daisies.

MIDDLE ROW: Intermediate Week 4 – Wreath Centerpieces
Start with inserting cut Galax leaves at table grazing level around a soaked Oasis foam wreath dish. Then place “Green Spider” Crysanthemums, Hot Pink Roses, Yellow “Sweetheart Roses” (mini-roses) and “Wood Roses” (aka Merrimia Tuberosa) in evenly space increments around the circle. Make sure each flower gets equal attention/space – don’t overpower one with another. Cover any remaining visible foam (mostly on top) with varigated pitasporum. Finish by placing a hurricane lamp with candle in the center.

This lesson was another example of me feeling stifled with the materials at hand. I wanted to place the flowers at more irregular intervals, but as Le George pointed out, it just doesn’t look good (with this particular setup). I belive that if I had possesed less traditional items, I could have done something a bit more interesting. But ah well, you must first learn the rules in order to break them!

BOTTOM ROW: Extracurricular arrangements
Here are a couple arrangements I made with the leftover flowers from the final week of Intermediate. The first, with the roses in the fish bowl is something I’ve been wanting to try. Besides using it as regular filler, I used the pitasporum in the same way as the curly willow from Beginner’s Week 1. I’m not a huge fan of plain ole roses, but there is something nice about them when bunched tightly together in a perfectly even dome shape.

The second is with the sweetheart roses, pitasporum and some green hypericum berries. I like the yellow and green color scheme, completed with the matching green vase. My vase collection is steadily growing, thanks in part to mom sending me home with a bunch of hers, and to the salvation army, which is the best place to find a cheap (and sometimes unusual) variety.


Oh Yeah, Right…Flower School

I have really not been keeping on a very good sched. for class recaps. But I don’t feel too bad because the slots were being filled by nature-full inspiration stations, which are probably more interesting to my readers* than me sticking a flower in a vase anyway. That being said….here are some flowers in vases:

TOP ROW: Beginners Week 4
In which we took leather fern, pink roses, purple wax flower, fluffy white hydrangeas & pink lilies and made a “traditional low centerpiece.” This is done by first attaching the Oasis foam to a plastic “pie plate” with floral tape. I just want to pause for a minute to say that there is nothing more satisfying than slicing through Oasis foam with a knife. It gives me shivers. Once your foam is attached, you submerge it (pie plate and all) in water until thoroughly soaked.

Then with the leather fern, you start camouflaging the foam, starting at table-grazing level, making sure not to waste any little frond (since in “the business” you’re charging for all materials x4). Then come the roses, first in that old North, South, East, West and Straight-up formation, then slid into the foam elsewhere at varying degrees to fill the space. After having done this a couple times, I’ve found to not use the “elbow-to-fist” measurement for the rose length. Instead, having the roses a little shorter leaves less room to be filled, and results in a more compact looking little bundle of goodness.

After the roses came the 3 hydrangea, placed near the top, then the lilies (handled last since they’re the most delicate), with a small cluster at the top and the others place sporatically. With lilies, you must always remove the little pollen anthers, or they will stain everything! Finally – the wax flower is used as filler for any empty spaces. When stabbing anything into floral foam, get it right the first time or you’ll be left with gaping holes that won’t hold anything.

MIDDLE ROW: Intermediate Week 1
Corsages and Boutonnieres. Prom? Gross. Gross and crippling. I was all claw-hand by the end of this excercise. I’ll explain. First you trim the roses and/or orchids(!) to just a li’l stem, slide a 9″ length of floral wire through the ovule located beneath the petals and at the top of the stem (which, according to this drawing, is where the ovaries are. Oof.). The wire is then bent in half on either side of the stem, and floral stem wrap (pretty much the equivalent of sticky green bandage tape) is expertly twirled down the length of the stem/wire to mask it all. Sound easy? It’s not – that’s where claw-hand happened. I also got my shirt caught in it. Don’t ask how.

After doing 3 of those, you do the whole stem wrap process again, this time to attach/mask the wristlet. Oh, but don’t forget to add flair (aka a wee leaf of Italian Ruscus) to each flower, or you’ll have to unwrap and do it again…like me! Then snip the wire-wrapped ends and tie an elaborate four faced bow (watch this lady do it – actually one of the easiest parts of this whole mess) to finish it off.

The boutonnieres were less labor intensive – just the initial stem wrap over wire and then use a stick to curly cue up the wire-wrapped end like a pig’s tail. You would package this up with a special pin for attaching it. Apparently you should also include this pin with the corsage in case the lady wants to wear it on her dress, or Frida Kahlo-esque suit, whatev. Intense, huh?

BOTTOM ROW: Decorating my desk at work
So every week we get to take home our flowers, either in the arrangement or loose. I was extra excited that we got orchids, so I brought them into work, along with a vase, some stones and a little berry twig thing Felicia had given me. And this is what I made! I cannot stress enough how pumped I am for that Japanese floral seminar. Definitely more my speed.

And finally, Intermediate Week 2 ended up just being a review of what we had learned so far, which I at first thought was lame, but once I started fumbling around realized how useful a mid-program review was. Duh.

Now we’re all caught up. At least until class this week!

*I can act like I have “readers,” because apparently – I DO! I’ve been getting up to 50+ hits on some days, and I have no idea who these people are (besides la familia), since every time I talk about my blog, my friends go “You have a blog?” Great job!