Churches bloom for Easter Lilies: Those breathtaking displays of Easter lilies are a credit to frantic florists in one of their busiest seasons and to the church volunteers who turn flowers into art.

March 30, 1997|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

Tommi White spent part of Friday hoping to create floral perfection, using white lilies surrounded by red tulips and pink hyacinths, on the altar of her West Baltimore church for today's Easter service.

White, 80, and two other members of Hunting Ridge Presbyterian Church in West Baltimore -- Anne Saltzman, 84, and Carol Bailey, 49 -- placed 39 potted flowers, which also included yellow and pink chrysanthemums, on a red-carpeted altar step that rises to the church pulpit. This scene was repeated in scores of Baltimore area churches last week as they prepared their Easter altars Friday and yesterday, with cut flowers and potted flowers offered by parishioners in memory of loved ones who have died, or in the name of people they love, or in thanks for their blessings.

As churches prepared for Easter, florists geared up for the onslaught of orders.

Many said that the days before holidays, including Easter, are their busiest times, with business sometimes ballooning as much as 1,000 percent. Some called in temporary help to make deliveries.

Most popular -- and it's no surprise -- is the pink or white Easter lily with its large pure blossoms that remind some worshipers of the pure new life that comes to them through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

"A worship service without flowers is truly missing something," said White, a former principal at Edgecombe Circle Elementary School in Park Heights who takes over this year as flower chairwoman at the Hunting Ridge church.

She, Bailey and Saltzman wrapped about 50 green plastic flowerpots in purple or gold foil, rested them on stacked books, and turned them in different directions until they were happy with the display.

'A lot like Easter'

"It's beginning to look a lot like Easter," said the energetic White as the sanctuary filled with the fragrance of hyacinth.

Then, the three arranged white lilies in the shape of a cross and surrounded them with more hyacinths, chrysanthemums and tulips.

Sometimes Saltzman fussed good-naturedly about how the flowers should be set up.

"We can't use the white next to the pink," she said. "We could use the tulips next to the. " Her voice trailed off as she puttered around the altar, seeking the perfect combination.

Volunteers at other churches in the Baltimore area, sometimes long-standing church members or those in church altar guilds, order potted or cut flowers from retail or wholesale florists. Most churches pay about $5 or $6 each for the potted flowers.

About 7,000 lilies

Dwain Wolf, sales manager at Fantom and Jah's Greenhouses, a wholesale florist in Perry Hall that specializes in potted flowers, said, "You start out with the retail customers. The last few days, all the churches want [flowers]. And then you have the cleanup people [who sell unsold flowers on the street] at the end."

Wolf said this year, like last year, their Easter season orders totaled approximately 7,000 lilies and 5,000 other flowers -- tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. He said most churches want about 50 lilies, but some have ordered as many as 140.

At Wilhide's Flowers, which has shops in Columbia, Elkridge, Ellicott City and Owings Mills, the Easter season has raised daily sales -- between $8,000 and $10,000 on a normal day -- to as much as 10 times that amount, according to Lee E. Wilhide, president of the family-owned business.

"At a real, real busy time, I guess I can't call it fun," said Wilhide. "Holiday times are extremely hectic."

Dramatic change

One church that ordered flowers from Wilhide is Trinity Episcopal Church in Elkridge, which bought 28 lilies, plus a few mums and gladioli, which the altar guild arranged yesterday morning.

"On Good Friday, the church is barren, so it's a real stark change, a dramatic change to Easter morning," said the Rev. John Steiner. "It's fairly simple -- it's just lilies, so it doesn't overwhelm the church. And it's really beautiful."

Pub Date: 3/30/97

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