In the not so merry month of May baskets: Arranging for a traumatic experience

Reprinted courtesy of the Weston/Wayland Town Crier

She caught me off guard when she called – and besides, the event was at least three weeks away. I told her I’d had only one class in flower arranging, but she assured me it would be a wonderful learning opportunity. So, I agreed to make a May basket for the Wayland Garden Club’s informal spring flower show. The process proved to be traumatic.

As I knew there were many talented floral arrangers in the club, I decided early on that I couldn’t possibly compete with their arrangements of spring flowers. I decided I’d make a simple basket of woodland plants instead. In three weeks, I thought, there’ll be lots of things in bloom. But spring was cold this year and as I began scouring the woods and nearby fields, I found there was little to be had.

Then I received my basket and my instructions. Panic set in. Name everything? I didn’t begin to know the names of all the plant life in my woods. I called another garden club member for assistance and during the conversation she mentioned something about “hardening things up” for two or three days ahead. I had learned about the need to “condition” cut flowers, but what was I supposed to do with tree branches, ferns and mosses!

Four days before the event I took to the woods and fields with clippers and a water bucket in hand. My husband came along to make sure I didn’t fall into the creek, and our two golden retrievers thought this early morning exercise a delightful outing.

Previous scouting trips had enabled me to find my materials – cinnamon fern, and skunk cabbage by the creek, red maple boughs, pussy willows and multiflora rose branches at the woodland’s edge. I soon discovered that ferns grew on underground logs and skunk cabbages have roots that go clear down to the water table! Neither would yield readily to my trowel, which bent to the breaking point. Covered with mud, I returned triumphantly to the meadow and proceeded to cut my rose bush greens. The bush had a fine healthy crop of thorns. Now I was bloody as well as muddy!

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Heading home

Once we headed for home, my golden, Toby, decided to lead the way. Passing me, he managed to gather up all six rose bush cuttings in his long, feathery tail. When I screamed, he promptly sat down and proceeded to wag his tail furiously, beating my rose cuttings into the dirt. I spent the next 10 minutes pulling thorny rose cuttings out of his long tail feathers while my husband made remarks about this whole excursion being a “10 on the stupidity scale.”

Once home, I got out my floral arranging “cookbook” and proceeded to follow instructions.
Submerge clippings,” I read. I filled the bathtub, but the branches didn’t submerge. They floated. So, I got a heavy Turkish towel and forced them below the water’s surface. After their “bath,” the book said, they needed an assortment of “drinks.” “Some like it hot, some like it cold, some like it in the pot,” etc. Bleach and water for the Skunk Cabbage and hot alcohol water for the maples, it said. I gave the Skunk Cabbage two shots of Clorox and I gave the maples two shots of my husband’s Manhattan mix and hoped they’d all be happy.

Then it was off to the neighbors to look for violets in bloom. I found no violets, but I found Wood Anemones – which proceeded to wilt and die as soon as I brought them home. Back for more, which this time, I cuddled with the fern and cool wet mud and they seemed happier. I spent the next three days making frequent trips to the garage hovering over my specimens to see if they were still alive. I did not sleep for three nights. At 2:30 in the morning I was down in the garage checking the Anemones. I am going to make a fool of myself, I thought, in front of 100 women who know more about this than do I.

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When the morning arrived, I arose early and began my arrangement. I had been imagining it in my mind’s eye for days, but what was I really imagining? I knew virtually nothing about what constituted good lines. Maybe I’ll get points for creativity, I thought, because I sure won’t get them for design. Dear Lord, I prayed, please don’t let them laugh.

Finally, it was done and I carried it to the show. The judge took one look and said “Who did this mess!” When the judging was over, I had come in last. The judges found my plant materials “interesting” but my arrangement “off balance.” That, I thought, was an apt description of the entire scenario. (Post note, it was 20 years before I did another arrangement for a garden club meeting!)