Glamorizing candlesticks, bedding down arrangements on artificial evergreens so realistic they appeared to be fresh, wrapping dried flowers to stand alone on a table top without the support of a vase -- those were some of the tricks of the trade presented at a holiday design symposium for retail florists and interior designers one evening early last month.
A sellout crowd of 400 or so flocked to the Pennock Co., a Baltimore floral wholesale house. They came from Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to pick up ideas for the holiday decorations they'd soon be preparing to offer to customers.
Providing inspiration were three of the industry's top showmen: Michael Reader, a co-owner of Michael Designs in Annapolis, and David A. Shover and Thomas Powell, owner and design manager, respectively, of the Flower Gallery in Washington. All three are members of the American Institute of Floral Designers, among other credentials.
While the designers worked, Hank Pattillo, Pennock's supply manager, briefed me on the latest in dried materials. I especially liked dudinea, a flower resembling hydrangea and glycerinized to prevent it from crumbling when handled. New and different, he said, is rice grass, for a wispy look, and milo, a type of mullein that's similar to the wild form commonly seen growing wild along the roadside.
Greens such as Scotch broom, springerii, tree fern, plumosa fern and peppergrass as well as baby's breath, all treated with glycerine to last almost indefinitely, are big holiday decorations this year, Mr. Pattillo noted. For wreath-making, he finds florists are snapping up mini-bell cups, lotus pods, protea hats and fan palms. Feather grass and wind branch in natural or Christmas colors are high-fashion items. Painted white and sprinkled with granules of sparkle, these materials blend in with just about anything.
Drieds materials in holiday arrangements have been gaining in popularity, Mr. Pattillo noted, but this year they have really caught on. Mauve and Williamsburg blue are still in demand for Christmas, but the hot color this season is gold, favored even over silver.
Returning to watch the designers, I saw Mr. Reader had started working some of the pink dudinea into a basket with pods, pine cones and millet, finishing the arrangement off with pink plaid ribbon. Mr. Shover, meanwhile, was gluing onto various inexpensive candle holders such things as sprigs of glycerinized cedar or springerii, pseudo-evergreens, Mylar ribbon, birds, tiny nests filled with eggs, silk roses or wisps of whitened dried wisteria vine.
It was interesting to see how the designers took apart a grapevine or wisteria wreath, cut the stands into sections and then used them as curving lines in an arrangement, providing it with height and rhythmic flow.
They demonstrated a quick and easy way of covering a block of floral foam, which is used in a container to hold stems in place and thus should be invisible when an arrangement is finished, by spreading Spanish moss (sold in bags in florist and craft shops) over the foam and laying on top of the moss a half portion of a commercially made polyvinyl evergreen swag gained by cutting a full one in two.
Both moss and evergreen are anchored in place with florist wire bent into hairpins. The hairpins are dipped in hot glue and pushed down through the greenery and into the foam. The remaining end of the swag can then be centered in an upright position on the foam to create the arrangement's basic line. Because the pseudo-evergreen branches are made on wire, they can easily be bent into a graceful position. The rest of the material is then inserted to follow the lines of the greenery.
Hot glue in a pan, as Mr. Reader and Mr. Shover demonstrated, is a wonderfully speedy and efficient method of attaching cones, pods and other ornaments to a wreath or decoration, bonding in no time. The men melted the glue pellets at 300 degrees in a mini (7 inches by 7 inches) Toastmaster electric frying pan (the model supplied for florists is called an Oasis Hot Melt Fry Pan) and kept a pan of melted glue plugged in on a low setting at their side throughout the day.
Mr. Powell showed how quickly a bunch of dried material can be spiraled into a free-standing bouquet. Using in one instance, a sheaf of rice grass and in the other, a bundle of huckleberry twigs, he trimmed the stems at the bottom to make them flush so they would stand up on their own.
With his hands, he lightly twisted each bunch (as though wringing out a cloth) to change the direction of the stems to run on a diagonal. He tied each bunch in the center tightly with strands of raffia. (Or you could use florist wire, string or ribbon.) With hot glue, he tacked on dried roses and birds.
Mr. Powell will be demonstrating holiday designs using all natural materials at the National Arboretum, 3501 New York Ave. N.E., at 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 5. Admission is free.