Floral Design

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Let’s Picnic on a Country Road

Sounds delightful, right? Renee Shamosh and Ellen Shapiro entered the Exhibition Table class at “Take Me Home Country Roads,” GCA’s 2023 Zone III meeting hosted by the Bedford Garden Club and the Rusticus Garden Club. A project like this is always fun, challenging, and a great learning experiences.

Here are the steps that were taken to to enter… and win the Second Place award.

1. Decide on a theme and color scheme. In this case, a picnic in a meadow beside a country road. It’s summer in idyllic Westchester County, New York. We start by choosing props, beginning with a yellow and white checked-gingham tablecloth and some vase choices. What are the picnic-ers doing? Sipping rosé wine and enjoying ripe seasonal fruit; sketching the surroundings, reading poetry, perhaps. To create this tableau, we review GCA rules and plan a composition on a 36″ round table that will include no actual food, drink, or silverware.

2. Using silk flowers, we try out the elements on a round table. What about this vase? A vintage poetry book, perhaps the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám? And a basket and sketch pad?


3. We begin choosing and collecting real flowers: Daisies and blue Bachelor Buttons from another member’s front garden. At their best, GCA flower show competitions are group projects with several club members participating.

4. Next, a visit to the Irvington Farmers Market for more inspiration. Which of these beautiful bouquets has flowers that will work best? After an internal debate, Ellen chooses this graceful blend of early summer flowers to add more color and charm to the arrangement.


5. We make the final vase choice and finish the arrangement at home, adding Aruncus, Loosestrife, Astilbe, and Chamaecyparis from our own gardens, plus a few stems of globular “Billy Buttons” from Irvington’s Seasons on the Hudson flower shop. Ellen draws a country road scene in the sketchbook, dumps out the rosé, and fills the wine bottle with tinted water. We fill out the entry card listing the botanical and common names of 15 plants in total. We pack carefully and bring everything to the venue, Bedford’s 1806 Historical Hall. There, we do a final edit. No poetry book. Fewer pieces of paper mâché fruit. We groom the flowers to remove wilted leaves and crushed petals.


6. We take a look at the composition from every angle to make sure the emphasis is on the flowers, not on everything else. Time’s up! Exit the premises.


7. Now it’s time to enjoy the fruits of our labors. And learn from the judges’ comments: “Selection of plant material epitomizes a country meadow. The abundance of components detracts from the presentation.” Where is Renee in this composition? Attending to her responsibilities as co-president of our club; speaking to representatives who’ve gathered here from all over Zone III, New York State.


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A Spring ‘Seasons’ Arrangement

Miko Akasaka of Seasons on the Hudson flower shop on Irvington’s Main Street recently visited the Garden Club to demonstrate her artistry and techniques. With the assistance of floral designer Manny Afshar, she created a stunning, romantic English Garden design that would be appropriate to welcome guests at the entrance of a hotel, restaurant, or wedding venue.

Here are the tips that Miko offered as she worked. Each step looked beautiful and ready to display as-is—until she added the next flower, demonstrating that the same steps could be successfully followed with smaller containers and fewer varieties.

1. Fill your container with oasis soaked in hot water—the hottest you can get from the faucet. It helps the flowers live longer. Add a packet of powdered Floralife.

2. Start with greens, in this case magnolia. Using very sharp clippers, cut the woody stems at an angle and split them so they will drink more water. Place the cut stems all around the container so the leaves begin to spill over the edge.

3. Next, circle the container with large blooms like hydrangeas to make a base. Cut them short, also at an angle. Cover the rim, the oasis, and any tape. You don’t want your underpinnings to show.

4. Add tall stems like forsythia. Make a pyramid, like a big triangle..

5. Fill the spaces with showy flowers like  lilies. Keep some foliage and strip off leaves that would clutter the composition. The pollen can be dusted out with pipe cleaners. Just like when making a painting, it’s important to step back, look at the composition, and make adjustments

6. Monstera leaves, which are usually used in tropical arrangements, are next. Mixing styles in floral design is fine, like mixing antiques with modern furniture in home design. Drooping leaves can be propped up with magnolia leaves.

7. Add a touch of a contrasting color, in this case blue delphiniums to the mostly pink composition. The stems with the strongest color can go in the back. Like a gradient, the color fades to lighter on the sides. Some stems are still in bud, giving the arrangement longer life as they bloom.

8. Roses are next. Group blooms so they become more visible and act as visual surprises.

9. Lastly, an accent like bouvardia, with its clusters of small flowers. The arrangement can be touched up when it’s on display, removing any deadened flowers and moving others around.

Miko considered putting a stem of orchid in the center, but the Garden Club ladies said that the arrangement was perfect exactly as it was.

Seasons on the Hudson is located at 45 Main Street, Irvington, NY 10533 and can be reached at 914.591.7377. Seasons NYC is at 888 8th Avenue, New York, NY 10019, 212.586.2257.


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Preparing for a Flower Show: Tips from a Pro

LauraHaleyLaura Haley is a 23-year member of the Little Garden Club of Rye (NY) and is currently serving on the Executive Board of the Garden Club of America as a vice president. A longtime Floral Design exhibitor, judge, teacher and mentor, she was also the coordinator and editor of GCA’s online Flower Show & Judging Guide, aka The Yellow Book.

“The single activity that best satisfies the mission statement of GCA is a flower show, which focuses on a love of gardening and is the most significant way to recognize members’ talents,” she says. At a joint meeting with the Little Garden Club of Rye and the Garden Club of Irvington—both of which have Flower shows coming up this spring—she gave a presentation on how to best design and prepare Floral Design entries. Here are some of her slides:


Laura Haley shows a miniature arrangement, a frequent Flower Show class, in scale next to a dime.

Even the Queen enjoys flower shows, it seems.

Even the Queen enjoys flower shows, it seems.

Pot et Fleurs

Slide demonstrating a Pot-et-Fleurs, a class that combines rooted plants and cut flowers.

Here are highlights of her presentation.
Make sure to:
• Carefully read the schedule, which defines the requirements for each class, such as its maximum height and the criteria by which the arrangement will be judged.
• Consider the scale of points. Check the yellow book on the GCA website, as all old hard copies are obsolete.
• Follow the elements and principles of design. Useful PDFs including book list and a photo library of design styles are available on the members-only section of the GCA website via the sidebar  “Planning and Entering Flower Shows.”
• If you have a question, ask the class consultants.
• Construct a mock-up of your arrangement. Create it at the height it will be judged. Practice different ideas.
• Check for invasive species, which may not be used.
• Do not over-interpret the theme.
• Condition your flowers so they last the duration of the show. If you Google the term ‘conditioning flowers,’ you will find many tips, including YouTube videos that demonstrate techniques.
• Let your design stand overnight to assure stability.
• Floral Design, unlike Horticulture, is passed in place. Arrive at the show venue early if you have a preference of spots, and don’t forget to bring extra flowers!
• Think about how you will transport your entry to the show, even if you are going a short distance.
• Enjoy, and enter often!

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Challenge Class 101

“The most important thing is that you enjoy doing it. And that you free your creativity.” Those were sage words of advice from master flower arranger Rev. Richard McKeon during his workshop. The principles he follows have helped him win many ribbons for arrangements at GCA flower shows. Among his tips:
• Assemble a kit with your tools: frogs, tape, wire, clippers.
• For long life, condition flowers according to directions available on many web sites. Just enter the flower name to find out the temperature of the water and what to add (crushed baby aspirin and drops of liquid bleach are common conditioning elements).
• Don’t cut stems until you’re sure of the height you want.
• A good rule of thumb is that the arrangement is twice as high as the container; or of the overall composition, the container is one-third of the height/mass and the flowers are two-thirds.
• Three is the magic number: no less than three of each flower or element.

With those words of advice, and under Richard’s guidance, it was amazing what members were were able to do. The workshop, organized like a “challenge class,” gave members the opportunity to design instantaneous arrangements with provided materials: a moss ‘purse’ container and a selection of flowers including white roses, carnations, and calla lilies; green eucalyptus and love-lies-bleeding; and hot pink gerbera daisies. Richard then (gently) critiqued the results the way GCA flower show judges might, evaluating composition, line, eye-appeal, and workmanship and overall creativity.


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Choosing Components

by Rev. Richard McKeon

“Component: That which is used in a design—plant material, container, mechanics, background, base, accessory, etc.” —The Garden Club of America Flower Show and Judging Guide

Chair of GCI’s Exhibition and Judging committees, the Reverend Richard McKeon, explains how to use components in a successful flower arrangement

It seems logical to begin the discussion of flower arranging with a look at the physical foundation of arrangements, called components. Often a component, such as a branch, a piece of driftwood, or a container, that inspires a winning design.

Here are a few pointers:
• Keep in mind the rule of thirds: the arrangement should be twice as high as your container.
• Consider contrast: an angular arrangement will look good in a round container, and vice-versa.
• If you are creating an arrangement for a GCA flower show, consult the schedule, which will describe the lighting, background, and what’s allowed or not allowed. If in doubt, call the class consultant.
• Mechanicals—what’s holding the arrangement together—should not be visible. Floral foam is often preferred, but frogs can work well and all the flowers to take in more water.
• The container should not overwhelm the flowers. Don’t use anything too elaborate or too shiny.
• Accessories like tablecloths should be simple and not distract from the flowers.
• Be flexible and play until it looks and feels right.
• If it catches your eye, it will catch the eye of judges and the public.


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A Winning Arrangement

Blue-ribbon winning arrangement at 2010 GCA Annual Meeting, New Brunswick, NJ

Judging at GCA flower shows is based on the principles of design: balance, contrast, dominance, proportion, rhythm and scale; and the elements of design: light, space, line, form, color, texture, pattern and size. Creativity is important, as is distinction, conformance to and interpretation of the class and schedule. All entrants are encouraged to carefully read the show schedule and to read and follow The Garden Club of America rules (in the “Yellow Book”).