Monday, April 18, 2011

Fun with Irises: A Novice Tries Her Hand at Artistic Design


Most of us love to have flowers in the house. Especially irises, since many have a wonderful scent to accompany their beautiful shape and rainbow of colors. Normally, I cut bouquets, choose a vase that doesn't clash, and that's about it. Then one day last month I saw a lovely iris arrangement on the San Fernando Valley Iris Society Facebook Page, with an entry encouraging members to enter the Artistic Design Division at the Spring Show in April.

Eventually, the desire to learn something about flower arranging overcame my fear of public humiliation, and I decided to enter. The Industrial Revolution class appealed especially, if only because my house and yard are littered with recycled and industrial materials. It seemed a natural fit.

Or, I could even get some new junk. My brother brought me three pieces of steel pipe. My husband warmed to the idea of flower arranging when he saw the pipe, and suggested that I use dry ice (steam! he exclaimed) and an Erector Set motor to spin the irises. Maybe sprinkle a dead iris stalk with coal dust? he asked, helpfully. Do they even still make Erector Sets? And where would I get coal dust? While he sulked, I wondered… China is industrializing…. How about a "Made in China" theme? My friend Walter even pointed out the beauty of this plan: I could go buy everything I needed at Wal-Mart. Hmmm… perhaps too subtle.

So it was with a bit of trepidation that I called to reserve a space for the Show, hoping an idea would materialize. Jan Lauritzen, the organizer, generously spent a half-hour on the phone with me, revealing her arranging secrets, giving me a list of materials to buy, and telling me about pitfalls to avoid. Especially the pitfall of “too many props,” which mollified my husband a bit. But by the end of the conversation, I had a new problem: Jan had cleverly maneuvered me into entering a second category, the Dark Ages. (Another glorious time for humanity. Another theme to consider.)

Thank goodness, the American Iris Society website has an invaluable resource: an iris arranging Design Tutorial by Jean E. Morris. The tutorial explains the process, the principles of design, and the elements the judges look for. These include balance, proportion, scale, rhythm, dominance, contrast, and unity. So “theme” wasn’t going to be my only problem. But at least I had enough background knowledge to begin designing.

I had an old rusted metal gear and a spool of greasy wire. My new cake pan was just the right size for a container, so I sprayed it with rusting chemicals. Scrambling through my sword ferns, I recovered three moth-eaten walnut leaves still attached to stems, and a stick with some dead pepper tree leaves still on it. I had the foliage and container for my first arrangement. Now I needed a suitable iris.


The only irises in bloom in the whole yard? A lacy orchid-pink Persian Berry and a dusky rose Lady Friend. Neither seemed suitable, name-wise, for the Industrial Revolution, but one would have to do. Orchid pink lace and rusty gears certainly do provide contrast, but the AIS design tutorial said not to overdo this element, so Lady Friend it was.





I was in a bit of a spot for the Dark Ages Class. I had purged all purples and blues from my garden six years ago in a vain attempt to achieve some sort of color coordination. Fortunately, I had planted these irises in my neighbor's yard. I liberated one large, modern black iris and two Lent A. Williamson look-alikes. Thank goodness the rules in the Artistic Division allow unnamed cultivars and flowers that were not grown by the exhibitor. I was ready for the show.

Next: Irises Don't Like Rides In the Car

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