WHERE FOOD MEETS FLOWERS
Jim Martin, EMC, of Compost in My Shoe,
integrates horticulture, farming and floristry.
Based in Charleston, S.C., Jim Martin, EMC, is a Renaissance man whose life in flowers is informed by horticulture, agriculture and art. Having named his business Compost in My Shoe after a popular gardening blog he started in 2011, Martin expanded to food and flower production while also studying and achieving European Masters Certification (EMC) in 2018 and cofounding Low Country Flower Growers, a nonprofit collective of local flower farmers, in 2017.
In his “day job,” Martin is the Charleston Parks Conservancy’s director of horticulture. He and his partner, David Vagasky, live, grow and entertain at their home and one-acre property on Charleston’s James Island, where there is a lush Southern landscape as well as a production garden for vegetables, herbs and cut flowers. Vagasky is a culinary instructor, talented chef and chocolatier, so it’s natural that the men have named their collaboration “Where Food Meets Flowers.”
“David and I have frequently entertained with his menus featuring the vegetables and flowers I grow, but we wanted to elevate our experiences to make something that’s memorable,” Martin says.
That melding came together recently for a dinner party honoring an artist friend for her 80th birthday, held both indoors and outdoors at Martin and Vagasky’s home. Martin’s two floral installations decorated the event, both in the kitchen and in the new outdoor dining room, with flowers suspended overhead and arrayed on the table.
“We’ve wanted to expand the property to allow us to host workshops and dinner parties that give us the ability to share the garden with our guests,” Martin explains. The USDA Zone 9a climate in Charleston is relatively mild, which means that there is always something to harvest, be it lettuce greens, parsley or Ranunculus. But given the unpredictable weather (James Island receives 60 inches of rain annually), they needed that space to be covered.
The November 2019 birthday celebration was the incentive for Martin and Vagasky to build a 36-by-14-foot covered extension outside their living room. “I love the idea that you can sit here and enjoy this space and also feel like you’re part of the garden,” Martin observes.
The party for 30 began indoors, where Vagasky served appetizers and one of Martin’s botanical sculptures took center stage. The designer knew he needed to create a skinny, tall, see-through piece to occupy a small footprint on the kitchen island.
“The construction itself spanned the length of the island, and I used skewers and orange mesh fencing material that I painted champagne color,” he explains. “I cut that material into strips and wove them in a way that would support the floral stems. It’s an interesting construction but also provides spaces to tie the flowers onto it for support.”
Astilbe, snapdragons, Lisianthus and Hypericum are threaded through the mesh or attached to the skewers, with the cut stems resting in shallow trays as the water source. Farfugium Japonicum ‘Giganteum’ (giant leopard plant) foliage hides the base. “Transparency was a must,” Martin says. “I wanted to focus attention on separate flowers, allowing each to be viewed on its own.”
Forty dream-catchers, suspended from cloth-covered piping above the dining table, continue the transparent linear motif. Martin wrapped the variously-sized rings with bullion wire, crisscrossing each with yarn, to create a dynamic armature through which are woven Chrysanthemum and clusters of windmill-palm berries painted gold.
He continued the color scheme on the table below, filling 20 glass vessels with roses, Hydrangea, Chrysanthemum and more of the windmill-palm berries. “I wanted to use glass for more transparency because of the lighting and colored candles,” Martin explains.
“The gold touches and all the other reflective materials add to the glimmer of the collection.”
Even though there was a chill on the late fall evening, freestanding heaters and extra blankets ensured that everyone remained at the dining table during the soup, entrée and dessert courses, followed by numerous toasts.
As the season unfolds, Martin will continue to reinvent some of the landscape’s ornamental areas to serve his floral design needs. “My idea is for this landscape to function in more ways than just being a pretty garden you can walk through. It’s a beautiful space, but I want everything we grow here to be more purposeful. For example, I’m bringing thornless blackberries on the site that we’ll use for cut stems. But we will also eat them.”
Taking a page from fashion to make a floral
statement with seasonal collections.
In this year’s “Slow Flowers’ Floral Insights and Industry Forecast,” which I released in Florists’ Review’s January 2020 issue, I named “Collections as a Marketing Tool” our theme Number 6. This design concept is so compelling that I want to expand on it here, with an interview featuring the seasonal floral collections of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Morgan Anderson, Ph.D., owner of The Flori.Culture.
Seeing the 2015 documentary Dior and I inspired Anderson to borrow from couture fashion and the “big reveal” of seasonal runway shows
to introduce and market a specific label.
Since 2016, Anderson has adopted floral collections as a way to communicate and promote her brand, her design services and educational packages for clients, primarily destination management companies (DMCs). She produces three or four floral collections annually, consistently photographing the pieces for her website and sharing thematic story lines with a featured “muse” or inspiration.
She named her first collection, designed for fall 2016, “Modern Harvest,” and within it featured nine floral arrangements, also each named.
“I needed to create something to sell to corporations for their events because that’s who was interested in my work,” she explains. “You can see
the development of my collections over time because I went a lot more corporate with the first couple of years – ideas that were more general
and ‘easy’ for clients to interpret. Now, I’m getting more abstract and avant-garde, and as I develop as an artist personally, I am marketing what designs I want to create in the world.”
Like fashion, some of Anderson’s concepts are edgy or wacky, like the series for Spring 2019, with the 1990s as her muse. The first arrangement of orange and yellow blooms explodes from a crushed Cheetos bag. “That was the one most posted on Instagram, which was so funny,” she recalls. “And it was good to show corporations that I could easily put their branding on a vessel and build a theme around it.” Other pieces in that collection were inspired by films of the ‘90s, such as the movie Clueless or the ’90s music sensations Spice Girls and Britney Spears. One of the most popular
groupings, called “Architectural Digest,” was inspired by every single-variety floral arrangement Anderson saw in her mother’s AD magazines
while growing up.
As The Flori. Culture’s studio has expanded beyond wedding florals to add educational-focused programming for the college curriculum
at Arizona State University and for corporate clients, Anderson now views the seasonal collections as a way to innovate as a floral artist.
“I design collections as my artistic outlet to keep me fresh,” she explains. “I want to use unique hard goods, such as Lucite blocks, acrylic sheets, electrical wire, vintage cans and candlesticks. Or vegetables and fruits mixed with flowers, inspired by a trip to the grocery store.”
There isn’t always a direct link between selling the collection to her clients and the time and resources Anderson invests to design the
concepts, source the vessels and flowers, set up her home studio and hire a photographer. But that’s not the point, the floral innovator explains.
“I don’t measure it, and I really design this way to nurture my personal connection to flowers. But I’d have to say that my clients now expect to
see my collection every season.”
The collections are basically a way to start a conversation with a client. “The designs aren’t so rigid that we can’t adjust them, make them larger or smaller, or use a different color palette,” she says. “I don’t always know what the DMCs are pitching to their clients, but the concepts many come back to are from my collections.” One of her best-sellers, called “Tropic Escape,” is from the Spring 2017 “Destination” collection. It features a grouping of tropical foliage stems in a tall, slender glass cylinder. “Past collections build on each other. We’ve sold that idea so many times for events,” Anderson notes.
Like a true artist who can be creative despite constraints, Anderson intentionally limits her floral budget when producing samples for photography, spending around $300. She partners with a young photographer who is also building a portfolio and willing to work with Anderson’s budget
by booking four photoshoots each year at a favorable rate. To keep the look of each shoot consistent, Anderson has invested in studio lighting.
She uses existing backdrops, such as her cement block dining table or pedestals or a white butcher-paper surface.
Anderson had an even tighter budget of $200 for her Summer 2019 collection, called “Desert Cubism.” “I was trying to save money to pay off
my floral van, so I thought, What can I forage? What do I have on hand that is intriguing to me? I think those constraints actually require more creativity,” she says. As a result, her desert-inspired collection featured lots of earthy elements — sand, rocks, sun-bleached branches and dried grasses — all readily available in her area. She incorporated cacti and Aloe plants in glass vessels and foraged for cuts from her garden and neighbors’ yards, sourcing blooms that are abundant in Scottsdale landscapes: Bougainvillea, Lantana, Aloe and orange trumpet bush
(Tecoma alata). “This was a popular collection, and the restraint really helped my creativity,” she says.
Borrowing from Dior has been a great model for The Flori.Culture, Anderson says. “The whole trajectory of Dior’s collections is so inspiring.
Why wouldn’t I look at fashion as inspiration and create my collections? People are loving flowers right now, and I think every florist should be designing collections.”
FLORALS FOR THE BODY
Susan McLeary shares her iconic approach to
designing floral wearables in her new book.
Full disclosure, Sue McLeary invited me to write the foreword to her new book, so this is a thoroughly biased article. When you see the beautiful images of McLeary’s creativity, as captured through the lens of her frequent collaborator Amanda Dumouchelle, I know you will agree with me that The Art of Wearable Flowers (Chronicle Books, March 2020) elevates floral accessories and jewelry to an entirely new category of botanical couture.
Florists’ Review first profiled McLeary in March 2017 for the “Creativity” issue, and I titled my article “A Curious Creative.” Indeed, McLeary’s inquisitiveness has fueled her to push the medium of floral art to new echelons as she seeks inventive ways to produce the ideas in her mind’s eye.
The Art of Wearable Flowers is filled with lots of instruction, including how-tos for 40 floral accessories that range from eye-catching succulent baubles and hyacinth hoops to a show-stopping petal necklace and luxurious all-white headpiece. Bracelets, corsages, fascinators and a petal bustier round out the many alluring projects, each designed with fine details and signature styling known to McLeary’s nearly 100,000 Instagram followers, workshop students and subscribers to her new online courses. Each design project includes an ingredients list, styling tips and easy-to-follow instructions paired with step-by-step photographs.
I recently spoke with McLeary to ask her to reflect on this book and how it has changed her as a design professional. McLeary is an award-winning floral designer known for her unique, boundary-pushing floral art. Her work has been featured by Florists’ Review, Martha Stewart Weddings, The Knot, Refinery29, SELF, Country Living, BuzzFeed and Modern Wedding Flowers. She lives in Ann Arbor, Mich.
SFJ: How do you describe The Art of Wearable Flowers?
SM: It’s a little love letter. It’s my take on why the ephemeral medium of flowers is so important. Creating floral wearables is my way to pique the public’s interest; grab the viewers’ attention. It’s fleeting. It’s unexpected. This book highlights the value I see in the medium of flowers. You’re forced to stop and appreciate these designs because they are so fleeting.
SFJ: Did writing this book and creating the projects for it change your own definition of floral wearables?
SM: Yes. The book allowed me more quiet time to think about why I do the things I do. Having to pause and think about my process and what
I want to communicate has been really helpful in my teaching, too.
SFJ: What do you hope the reader response will be?
SM: It’s not really about making something usable or realistic or functional even. For me, it’s about pushing the art of floristry forward a little bit, opening the public’s eyes to what florists are capable of and generating more interest in and respect for the craft.
SFJ: How did you come up with your list of 40 projects?
SM: Some of them are old favorites. But once I was given permission to daydream about what I would fill the book with, new ideas just started to pop into my head. There are some main-course kind of projects, and there are some little side dishes that are really simple. I actually like some of the simpler projects more than the complex ones because I think readers will want to try those first.
SFJ: I love your references to sources of inspiration for a specific design.
SM: My editors asked me to write headnotes for each project, so I had to think about where my inspiration came from. It was a fun exercise. I think it’s really easy to just pull ideas from other sources and forget the origin. I actually enjoyed remembering and noting why I first thought of an idea.
It was never my original idea but something inspired by someone else.
SFJ: The “Introduction” is your personal story, and I love that you titled it “My Floral Journey.” What did you want to convey?
SM: One of the topics I wrote about is addressing fear in the creative process, which I think might be different than other books.
SFJ: I love your carnation bustier. It is so remarkable, and when I look at Amanda Dumouchelle’s photography of that piece, I find myself thinking how cool it would be if some fashionista would commission it for a gala. Do you see this ever happening?
SM: It would be a dream come true to design wearable flowers for the Met Gala, like a floral shrug or an over-the-top floral tattoo. I’m hoping the book pushes open doors to opportunities like that.
SFJ: What kind of new projects are you taking on as a floral designer?
SM: I’ve launched what I’m calling the “Virtual Studio,” which is sold by subscription. It’s a small payment each month, and there are a lot of wearable floral topics covered. I believe we have 16 tutorials on the site now, with a new class added every month. There is an online group, so people who are part of it can request that I address specific topics. And I also bring on experts to chat with the group. I’ve had Alison Ellis and Tobey Nelson speak about sustainable design. Learn more at passionflowersue.com/virtual-studio.
From The Art of Wearable Flowers by Susan McLeary,
with photography by Amanda Dumouchelle
2 or 3 stems of white spray Chrysanthemum
1 stem of green antique Hydrangea
2 or 3 stems of Japanese spray rose ‘Eclair’
2 or 3 stems white Agapanthus
1 stem white hyacinth
1 stem blooming feather Acacia
1 Calocephalus (cushion-bush plant)
(herbs and bleached fern also work well)
1 bangle bracelet (the inner ring from a
spent stem-wrap tape roll also works well)
Floratape Stem Wrap
OASIS Bullion Wire (Gold)
OASIS Floral Adhesive
My dear friend Holly Chapple, florist extraordinaire, opened my eyes to this design years ago. We were hanging out at her floral conference, sitting at a table full of floral detritus – abandoned florets, stray greenery and herbs, and spent stem-wrap tape rolls. She showed me how to make a bangle using the tape roll by quickly whipping up the sweetest little floral bracelet using the ingredients on the table. This design is essentially a miniature wreath, made by laying little floral bundles onto the base (in Holly’s case, a spent tape roll that she had snipped open) one by one, each bundle covering the stems of the last until the circle is complete. This is a fun-to-make, fun-to-wear, playful alternative to the standard corsage.
Note: Some of the materials have soft stems, so it’s essential to tape them together first. This ensures that the wire used to bind them to the bracelet base won’t cut into their stems, causing breakage.
STEP 1 Prepare all your bundles before assembling. Cut the mums, Hydrangea florets, Japanese spray roses and Agapanthus florets to a stem length of 1 to 2 in (2.5 to 5 cm). Bundle the mums, Hydrangea and roses in 2- or 3-stem bunches, and bind them together with the stem-wrap tape. Gather the dainty Agapanthus florets in bunches of eight to 10 stems each, and bind with tape. Trim the sturdy Acacia and Calocephalus stems to your desired length; no need to tape these.
STEP 2 Choose a place on the bangle, and firmly wrap it with a little piece of stem-wrap tape; this is where you’ll start attaching florets. Roll out and cut a length of bullion wire, about 12 in (30.5 cm) long; for this piece, it’s much easier to work with when it’s not attached to the spool. Begin by attaching the wire to the taped spot on the bangle: press one end of the wire to the taped area, and wrap the wire over itself to secure it to the taped portion of the bangle.
STEP 3 Start adding materials: Press a floral bundle against the bracelet, pull the wire taut and wrap it around the taped portion of the bundle a few times. Continue to add bundles, alternating varieties and the direction the blooms are facing, working your way around the base. With each addition, pull the wire downward, keeping it taut, and wrap it around the taped portion of the bundle a few times to secure it to the bangle base.
STEP 4 Once you have added all the bundles, trim and secure any remaining wire to the bangle base. Now comes the fun part – add delicate hyacinth florets to the piece using liquid floral adhesive. Cut the blooms from their stems, dip them in the adhesive, and find secure spaces within the tight network of wired stems you just created to tuck them into. Cluster some of these delicate flowers together for interest and impact.
STEP 5 Add little bits of the Calocephalus plant, Acacia or Agapanthus buds to the piece, to complete it and add movement.
STEP 6 To prevent flattening on one side, take care to store this piece in a box lined with plenty of loose shredded paper.