One of the sublime joys of gardening is to witness flowers, foliage, berries, and even twisted twigs emerge from the ground.
Growing them is one thing, but artfully arranging them for indoor display is quite another.
Five-year-olds do it, quite naturally, when they put a handful of dandelions into a baby food jar. But adults become intimidated, thinking of line and design, balance and color.
So, we invited three local people who innately possess the arranging knack, or have learned it, to demonstrate how it's done.
The ground rules were simple: They could pick anything they wanted out of the shrub garden, where the perennials grow, at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, but they couldn't make forays into the tropical plant houses. The idea was to create a thing of beauty using what comes right out of our Western New York gardens.
Our gracious demonstrators include Babbidean Urban Huber of Amherst, a horticulturist and master gardener; Terri Lewin, a Botanical Gardens gardener, who teaches floral arranging, having learned from her grandmother, Bobbi Lewin; and Mike Monnat, a floral designer at Woyshner's Flower Shop in Lackawanna, who's worked with flowers for 37 years.
Armed with the tools of their trade -- sharp knives, a hammer, wire -- each took to the task, producing pleasing arrangements, all different in nature.
Huber, for example, combined a ring of hosta leaves, topped with coleus, to create an all-foliage low-profile arrangement. Lewin used foxglove, shasta daisies, yarrow and Lovely Fairy mini-roses, adding Daphne Carol Mackie for green contrast, in a traditional, colorful combination. Monnat went contemporary with the seed head of an Allium christophii as the centerpiece, surrounded by a dried columbine seed head, hosta leaves, with coriopsis and yarrow for color, all "framed" with decorative grass, which he tied at the top.
As he quickly picked up one stem after another and expertly placed it in just the right spot, Monnat said that working with plant material feels to him like creating a painting.
"I look at the container and I look at something in nature and I'm inspired," he said. "And sometimes it just depends on how I feel."
For Lewin, the process starts with getting the foundation, or the skeleton, in place. "Then the rest happens," she said.
It works best when you are aware of the specific needs of individual flowers, she said. For one, she usually wires roses because of their tendency to droop.
And she removes pollen sacs from lilies to keep the face of the flower from becoming dirty and the flower from pollinating itself. "You just have to remove the temptation," she said.
Although there are some things that never change -- such as combining compatible blooms and simply sticking them into a vase to create an instant bouquet -- there are always new ways to do things.
If you want to be trendy, use foliage only, as Huber did, and keep everything as simple as possible, perhaps limiting it to one color.
Another trend is to use large, clear, glass vases. "The nice thing about clear glass is that you need very little material because it magnifies what you have," said Monnat.
"And you can stick in a branch with some berries for a bit of color, or add a hosta leaf," said Huber.
Yes, submerging foliage underwater is a rule-breaker because it shortens the life of the arrangement, but it creates a dramatic display. Some designers put everything underwater with nothing peeking over the top.
If it doesn't work, that's OK, too. You get to try something new the following week.