Saturday, May 21, 2011

WFT Extra 008: Chicago Balcony Gardening

I just thought it would be nice to share my recommendation of perennial plants that you might want to consider growing on your balcony.  I am not a professional gardener, so these are just from four years of my limited experience of balcony gardening in the Windy city. 

- Clematis -> needs leading and trimming but pretty low maintenance.  almost impossible to kill it. 
- Phlox -> very strong.  grows a lot. 
- Campanula  -> it grows at decent rate. 
- Dianthus  -> depending on the specie, some gets weaker over the years. 
- Blue Salvia  -> it pretty much sustains the original size. 
- Iris ->  very strong.  it should not be planted with other plants. 
- Lily -> not over powering but very durable. 

- Muscari -> it came back every year but got weaker each time. 
- Lupine -> it was fine for the first 2 years.  do not like humidity.  
- Mum -> some looked very weak the second year. 

- French Lavender -> totally died after the first winter.  
- Any potted tree -> we killed two firs and a plum tree.
- Oswego Tea -> cannot stop growing.  it'll take over your entire balcony.  it looks like a weed. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

015: Flower Island

I was doing spring cleaning this past weekend and found a vase that I got from our friends' wedding that I totally forgot where I placed.  So I took the opportunity to used this vase as an inspiration of this week's WFT.  It's a shallow bowl that they used for center pieces.  We had the original plant (it was Japanese Peace Lily) for a while but it died when we went abroad.  We couldn't ask our cat sitter to sit plants as well... 

I went to Fleur de Lis this week for the first time in a while.  They had so many handsome flowers and I couldn't decide what to get again!  I got a stem of these pink flowers, which I forgot the name of, some purple Anemones and a stem of Dianthus.  My idea was to create an island with Dianthus in the center of the vase surrounded by water and the flowers were growing out of it.  Since we live in a condo and can't have a pond on our terrace, this is a quick alternative for a little urban oasis;)  I used a flower frog in the middle to make the island.  The vase was bigger than I thought compared to what I came back from the store, so I cheated a bit again and used my garden flowers.  I added Pansies and Phlox and made them floated on the water.  This is a trick I learned recently from a TV show to make an arrangement with a tight budget.  In the show, they used a mirror to reflect the floating petals.  I didn't have a large enough mirror to try it out but I thought it was quite brilliant and would like to try it sometime.

It was very quick from the start to finish but I am very satisfied with.  I think the key to make a quick good arrangement is not to have a very strong idea from the beginning.  If you do, then, you get stuck with what you want it to look like so much that you might kill the natural beauty of the flowers.  Now, the only concern that I have with this arrangement is my cats might try to drink water out of it!  Let's hope not.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

014: Fragrant Capsule

I had been looking for English roses to do some experimental arrangements by accentuating it's fragrance.  I just happened to be at Prentice Women's Hospital to see my friends and their new born baby and realized that when I was there to give birth to my son last summer, I always wanted to stop in to the flower shop but never got the chance.  Finally I got to check the shop out and it was very nice.  They have a good size inventory and the store set up is really interesting.  It is in the lobby and basically have no designated "retail space" but they are at one corner of the lobby and have a large exterior iron gate that separates their area and the rest of the lobby.  
I went in not expecting that they would have English roses but they had one!  And it's the light pink one that I really wanted get.  The shop clerk told me that it smells so good.  I was truly lucky:)  I got one stem that had a big blossom and a couple of more buds.  I also got stems of similar color Alstroemeria and some greens.

My idea came from a candle display at a flower shop in Paris called Odorantes that they had each one in separate glass domes and that captures the fragrance.  I was wondering if I could capture the fragrance of English roses in a glass capsule.  I only had various size glass vases and decided to use them upside down on a teacup saucer.  Because of the size of the vases, I was able to make three arrangements.  Though it took me about three attempts, I realized that I NEEDED to make more than one and killed some Alstroemerias.

At the end, I don't know if these were a success or not...  In terms of capturing fragrance, I did succeed.  It smelled so good.  But, I noticed that because they are living thing, it condensates in the glass.  Oh well, making unconventional object is not an easy thing to do;P

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

013: Gardening Season Begins

FINALLY!!!  The gardening season has arrived after months and months of cold grey winter.  This week, I didn't do $10 arrangement but I went to my favorite nursery called The Growing Place in Aurora, a far west suburb of Chicago, to get some plants to fill up my dead terrace.  The weather was wonderful and my son had an awesome time with his grandma walking around a beautiful garden while his mama being busy shopping.

I had been buying a lot of perennials since we moved into our current place in the city, which has a good size terrace with planters along the edge so that the flowers would come back every year.  But after trying this for several years and not being completely successful each year because the winter here is way too brutal for any plants in planters, I basically gave up on adding more perennials and went with all annuals.  I was ignorant enough not knowing that even though perennials come back each year, their blooming period is very short and you cannot enjoy them for a long time.  On the other hand, annuals are obviously not coming back next season, but they tend to have a longer blooming period and a lot of them bloom all summer long.  So this year, I decided to add more annuals to my "garden".

I wanted to get Rananculas every season but never got one because it's an annual flower, so I grabbed a yellow one first even though it is a spring flower and won't last incredibly long.  The reason why I chose yellow was that my mom told me that yellow flowers bring you wealth according to Feng shui;P  And I was going crazy going back and forth in the annual section and got about eight various flowers.  Of course I color-coordinated them imagining what goes where.  In addition to the planters on the edge of our terrace, I had several pots available this year that contained dead plants, and choosing the flowers for them was basically the same procedure as making bouquets.

The last item that I got was a bush of roses.  For a long time, I wanted to try growing roses but was hesitant to do it because it seemed like so much work and didn't think it would grow in a pot or a planter.  But I re-read an old magazine I got a long time ago that had some articles about growing different types of roses and they encouraged me to get one.  I was going to get a pot of English roses because one of the articles said it can be grown in a pot fairly easily.  As I was about to get it, I decided to ask a shop clerk there for her opinion.  She told me that English roses are very fragrant but only bloom once during the season, whereas spray roses bloom all season long.  She actually grew one herself once in a pot and was very easy and enjoyed it a lot.  So I went with spray roses.

I planted everything and now I can't wait to see everything settles and grows bigger.  I love cut flowers a lot but I also LOVE planted flowers.  They have a different kind of enjoyment.  They change everyday and grow more beautiful over time.  Also, you can enjoy some of them as cut flowers as well.  I am hoping that I can add them to my WFT arrangement sometime!  If you are hesitant to grow flowers or plants in your garden, please try it.  I love to garden because it makes me forget everything that's bothering me while I'm touching the plants and it works as a true therapy for me.


Monday, April 25, 2011

012: Easter Eggs

Happy Easter!!!  This week's WFT is something that I haven't done yet; Making my own vase.  It's not that I made a pottery or glassware.  I just used some usual object to make a temporary vase for the arrangement.  Because it was Easter weekend, I made some brownies and reused egg shells for the vase.  It was fairly easy to make.  You just need to know what to cook with the inside because you don't want to throw all of the edible stuff away. 

Here's how you make it.  Prepare half a dozen raw eggs.  Hammer the top gently with a spoon to crack just enough to take egg white and yolk out of the shell.  Wash and dry them thoroughly.  Put them together with a hot glue gun however you like, but the tip is to have three points hitting on the table so that it will balance by itself.  Now you can poor water into each egg and put some flowers in them. 
Since this "vase" is pretty small, I didn't need too many flowers.  I found a flower called Scabiosa (aka Pincushion Flower) at the florist.  It's a light purple flower with a lot of petals that are placed radially.  It is native in Europe and Asia.  I purchased two stems of it and a stem of green Hypericum berries.  Even though the vase is very small, I needed a few more materials, so I decided to add some leftover Ivy from last week and some Pansies from my "garden" that are blooming right now.  Having some flowers or greens in your yard is very handy when you make a small arrangement like this.  Since the main flower this time looks very wild, the supporting flowers don't need to be very "commercial" like store bought flowers.  So I put Scabiosas in the middle to make a highest point and Pansies on both sides that were lower than the center.  Then I added greens pretty much in each egg to create smooth transition between these two types of flowers.   I made this arrangement on a long ceramic saucer with some Spanish moss under the eggs to give them extra sturdiness. 

I started to like this type of "wild" garden type arrangement.  It's very challenging to make it look real and effortless but I now respect the natural forms that living objects take on much more than I did before.

Monday, April 18, 2011

011: Baby Shower

I need to apologize that this week's WFT is waaaaay over budget...  That's because I had the privilege to be a co-host of my dear friend's baby shower.  There were four of us hosting this shower and I got to take the decoration part of it:)  My idea was to bring spring elements with an earthy feel into the decor for the new arrival.  I made three major pieces; Crane Chandelier, Ivy Wreath and Landscape Centerpiece.

The Crane Chandelier idea was created with a series accidents.  I knew that I wanted to use Cherry branches that I saw at Cristine Noelle Design when I went in for the first time.  One of the co-hosts mentioned that her mom made a garland of baby t-shirts and socks for her baby shower and I was going to incorporate that into my branch chandelier.  When I went to the florist to pick up some of the branches, I realized that they weren't structurally sound enough to hang clothes, so that idea went down the drain.  Then my husband came up with an idea of hanging some origami cranes, which are super light.  That was brilliant!  That's something that I can create with my eyes closed (literally) and super airy looking as I was envisioning.  So here are some pics of the final product and additional branches with one crane that I put in a vase at the entry.  The straw-looking ribbon that I purchased for the last week's WFT came in handy to hang the entire chandelier from the ceiling to accentuate the natural look that I was going for.
The wreath and the centerpiece were sort of twins.  They needed to be cohesive to tie the entire decor together.  I don't know why I wanted ivy so much for the wreath from the beginning but I wanted them to look like a scene from Hansel and Gretel, so that was my inspiration for both of these pieces.  Since the baby is going to be a boy, I thought Muscari is appropriate for the main flower for the centerpiece.  I had been looking all over the city for potted Muscari for the past week but couldn't find one anywhere.  So while I was at the florist to pick up the branches, I asked if they could get me two pots of Muscari along with a pot of white Ranunculus, freshly cut Ivy vines for the wreath and some "sheet moss".  I was so happy that I could order everything at one place and didn't need to worry about running all over the city.  But things don't usually go as you planned, right?  They couldn't get the white Rananculus but got me Muscari, Ivy and "sheet moss".  When I went to pick them up the day before the party, I found out that the Muscari that they got me was way too young and I couldn't see its blue color at all.  I felt really bad but I needed to ask them to take them back as well and grabbed the rest of the items.  My mind went blank when I realized that I pretty much didn't have anything at this point.  So I basically ran around the city trying to find something I could use and luckily I found a white Rananculus and a blue Hyacinth for a substitute to Muscari at a hardware store.  I went back home and was going to start making the centerpiece.  Then I realized that the "sheet moss" was literally moss that was adhered to a sheet.  What I thought "sheet moss" was natural moss that I got for my "Moss Ball" project that comes "like" a sheet, not literally on a sheet...  Great.  Now I had to bring that back as well.  I felt really sorry for the florist, who tried their hardest to satisfy my request but I only kept the Ivy from the whole bunch.  Trust me, if it was for myself, I would have worked around with what I got but it's totally different when you make something for someone else.  Anyhow, long story short, I got all the materials I need including live moss from the florist when I returned the "sheet moss".  And this was about 4 hours until the party.  Then I put everything together super fast.  For both of the pieces, I added natural moss with some edible mushrooms from a grocery store.  They made them very earthy!  The good thing was that I had a vision of what these two pieces should look like, so it went very smoothly except that my son picked up some dirt off the floor and ate it!!  I had to shove a  wet paper towel into his mouth and clean it.  It was a very memorable moment to realize that I am truly the mother of a boy. 

The party went very well.  I'm happy that the mother-to-be seemed to like everything.  Other hosts did an awesome job cooking yummy food and baking a delicious desert.  It was a great learning experience for how to decorate a party with flowers.  I was exhausted afterwords but it's so worth seeing my friend enjoying it:) 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

010: Naturalism

Since I went to see cherry blossoms this past weekend, I planned to do something with branches for this week's WFT.  It was quite interesting how this idea popped up because the TV show that I started watching last week, "Super Flower Lesson", was about a bouquet with branches this week.  I didn't know about it at all and I even was going to do WFT before the show, but I decided to watch it just in case I might be able to learn more technical tips or to get other ideas from it.  But what an odd coincidence!!  It just happened to show how to arrange a garden style bouquet and the main thing about it was to add some branches in the bouquet to make it look more natural.  Apparently, naturalism is now a popular thing in the Paris flower scene.  Adding branches and other natural elements like berries are the key.  Also keeping the stems long and tying them with natural materials like vines or straw is very hip.  So I decided to give this a shot.

When I went to the flower shop, the person recommended me to try some large Tulips that are a very gentle pinkish orange color.  So I was all for them.  Then there was a gorgeous red Garden Rose in the cooler and I was going to get it but the color was a bit too bold next to the Tulips.  So I took that back and instead, I got two Calla Leaves that had an orange tint in the middle. And of course, I got a couple of Willow branches.  I was quite happy with what I got so far but after I left the florist, I thought that more "natural" elements could be added.  So while I was at the grocery store, I looked for some more natural looking greens.  Man, their flowers are so pricey...  Well, that's because they don't sell them individually.  Anyhow, I quickly gave up on getting additional items at their flower section.  In stead, I found a bunch of Dills and some orange Habanero Peppers in the produce section and decided to use them.  Dills look pretty much like Cosmos leaves and I knew they'd fit in the "garden" bouquet theme.  Peppers might have been a little bit of a stretch, but I needed some more pop in the bouquet.  So I took a risk and got them. 
 It was a bit harder to arrange because Dills are not flowers and are very flimsy.  But I managed to put them together after 5 attempts!  From the TV show I learned what's called the "Spiral Technique" that you put flowers diagonally and making them a spiral.  If you are right handed, you hold the flowers on your left hand and put flower closer to you and stem away from you.  This was much harder than I thought.  In the middle of doing it, I was confused if I was right handed or left handed...  Because I realized that I always used to changed hands when I made a bouquet.  Also, I sometimes do things left handed like snow boarding or backwards skating.  So I tried both and still don't know which one I'm good at!  Finally I became satisfied with how it looked and was able to tie the stems with straw ribbons I got from Paper Source, another great store down the street from my home.  To make it a Parisian bouquet is to wrap the ribbon wide and cut it very short to minimize distraction to keep the main attraction still be the flowers, not the ribbon.

When my husband came home and saw the new bouquet on the dining table, he LOVED it!  He totally got the theme right away, and that means this was a huge success!!!