GLEN ROCK, PA. — Glen Rock, Pa.--It's late afternoon -- the sun is coming in low through the west windows -- and Rob Wood is hovering as the last members of his latest class of wreath makers are just finishing.
"Which way do you think the top is?" one asks, turning her wreath in different directions.
"Right like that," Mr. Wood says, then adds, "Look at what she's done. My Lord. Isn't that gorgeous?"
Other wreath makers walk back and forth from two huge work tables to chose materials from a breathtaking display of dried flowers, grasses and seed pods underneath a bank of windows. Pale pink strawflowers, yellow ageratum, blue and pink statice, deep red celosia, starbursts of dried allium and dozens of others spill out of baskets and old wooden boxes.
Large cardboard boxes hold swags of dried sweet Annie, a dried flower that the class members have used as the base of their wreaths. Its fragrance fills the room, a large refurbished chicken barn used as the classroom and shop here at Spoutwood Farm.
"I think you all should be well proud," Mr. Wood continues. "You're taking beautiful things and making more beautiful things with them."
He has, without meaning to, just summed up in one short sentence what he and his wife Lucy have been trying to do at Spoutwood since they moved here from Baltimore in 1983: to take things from the natural world and to shape them into something even more beautiful. Then to share that with other pople -- and (no small matter) to make a living doing it.
So far things look pretty good. In the gardens they grow nearly 70 different varieties of flowers and herbs. People are coming from four states to attend their classes in such things as wreath making and flower arrangement. Their shop is open and selling their own handmade dried flower creations and local folk art. Their collection of animals has grown to number seven cats, four dogs and two horses.
And now they have just come out with their first book, "The Art of Dried Flowers: Inspired Floral and Herbal Wreaths, Bouquets, Garlands and Arrangements for Grand Occasions and Simple Celebrations" (Running Press, hardcover, $19.95).
Not bad for a couple of city folks.
"I guess it started in Baltimore," Mr. Wood says, after the class has gone, the work tables are swept of the thousands of sweet Annie seeds and he and Mrs. Wood have settled down at the dining room table with cups of steaming herb tea.
"We were living in York Court on Greenmount Avenue. We loved growing things and had a row house backyard. And we were trying to do more farming than we had any right to do.
"We were going down to the police stables and getting horse manure, coming back with garbage cans full of it. And at some point we realized that we had to expand our farming operations."
Mrs. Wood called a real estate agent and they began seriously looking for a place in the country.
"At some point Lucy heard about this place and came by," Mr. Wood continues.
The agent was discouraging, Mrs. Wood adds. "She said 'Lucy, it has a hot tub and a circular staircase,' and her assumption was that therefore it had had all its walls knocked out, and she said, 'It's a lovely modern place. It's not what you want.' But I was curious. It was the only farm I saw that I liked."
The circular staircase was old and wooden; and the house had hardly been changed since it was first built nearly a century ago. But the price was at first too high. Weeks later though, it had dropped and the Woods found themselves up on a hill overlooking the farm and having a conversation.
"I said, 'No, there's no way. Who is going to mow all this? Who is going to take care of all this?' The most I had taken care of was a row house," Mr. Wood says.
"I'd never lived in the country. I was a suburban kid . . . so we made an offer. Somehow the dream got hold of us more than the reality," he adds.
After they bought the farm, they still didn't know how just exactly what they were going to do with it. "We wanted to do something from the land, and have the land be our
livelihood," Mr. Wood adds.
Their first thought was something to do with herbs. But then they were asked to do a craft demonstation for their church, Emmanuel Episcopal Church on Read Street, and decided to do a wreath making workshop.
"We had such a good time at that we said, 'Hey, this would be good to do for the rest of our lives,' " Mr. Wood says.
Both of the Woods had backgrounds in art. Mr. Wood had been teaching at the Maryland Institute, College of Art before getting a job as art coordinator for senior citizen programs in Baltimore County. Mrs. Wood was teaching (and continues to teach) art at Towson State University.
Fate gave them a little nudge just about that time. As Mr. Wood was trying to make the decision to quit his job and devote full time to the farm, the federal funding for his job ran out. "From then on," he says, "we couldn't look back."