College program helps floral designers to bloom

January 31, 1993|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Staff Writer

Studying the rainbow of blooms like an artist before a blank canvas, Charles Hopkins approached the vase and began arranging the fragile stems, each flower and green a brush stroke for the floral picture he coaxed into being.

In another room, Cindy Keller used equal care in choosing shapes and colors from a near-limitless range of artificial flowers, magnificent combinations of silk, polyester and plastic.

Mr. Hopkins and Miss Keller are "designers," graduates of Dundalk Community College's retail floristry course. Both work at Radebaugh's in Towson, where they interned while taking the course.

Bob Brown, a 41-year-old florist and the program's director since its inception in 1979, says the course, which has alumni in flower shops throughout the state, is unique in Maryland and the country.

Though some colleges offer floristry courses as part of horticultural studies, DCC has the only curriculum that can take a student from basic floral design to flower-shop management, said Mr. Brown. The courses are offered at DCC's campus and at Catonsville Community College.

Previously, floristry apprentices trained in the time-honored way, the-job. They learned what flowers and colors complement or clash in an arrangement, what shapes are best for specific holidays, birthdays, weddings or funerals.

These are the skills needed by Stephen Radebaugh's employees. Although a few of his 20 full- and part-time designers at his family's florist-greenhouse learned the craft the hands-on way, "the people from the course are further along than people off the street. They get a good background in the business," said Mr. Radebaugh, 43, who helped formulate DCC's floristry curriculum and has strongly supported the program.

When classes resume Jan. 26, about 100 students, most of them women, are expected, Mr. Brown said. Floristry flourished during the booming 1980s, but has leveled off in recent years.

"We haven't hired anyone in two years," said Mr. Radebaugh, who expects growth to resume as the economy recovers.

Not everyone takes DCC's courses to become a florist. Some take a class or two, such as basic design, for their own amusement. Others, such as 30-year-old Kathy Stumpf, take management courses to prepare to open their own shops.

A former legal secretary, Miss Stumpf knew she wanted her own business but the idea of becoming a florist emerged only after visits to a relative's flower shop in Pennsylvania.

In 1986, Miss Stumpf opened Somethin' Special on Bird River Road, in an industrial area of eastern Baltimore County.

The area has produced a substantial corporate clientele, she said.

Because floral designing is an artistic endeavor, each arrangement contains a bit of the individual who creates it, even arrangements copied from industry-standard pictures for long-distance orders, said Miss Stumpf.

"Many shops are content to put out carnation and daisy arrangements," she said.

"I like to make 'high-style' pieces. They are the expressive creation of the designer."

Stephen Formwalt, 33, differs in his approach. "I don't add a lot of glitziness; I try to make arrangements look natural, like the flowers are growing out of the vase."

Mr. Formwalt already had a degree in horticulture from Anne Arundel Community College when he enrolled at Dundalk.

"I liked the design and retail end of it best," said Mr. Formwalt, who owns Flowers Extraordinaire by Stephen, in Glen Burnie and Hanover, near Fort Meade.

In every case, the designers agreed, the object is to please the customers.

Designers should question customers because frequently customers don't know what they want and rely on the designers' opinion and skill, Mr. Formwalt said.

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