Wreath Party at Plant Masters

2017 has been an amazing year with more incredible opportunities than I knew existed for me! I started the year off in January with my project Four Seasons of Local Flowers featured in Florists' Review. It was authored by Debra Prinzing of SlowFlowers and documented my year designing with only locally grown flowers and foliage grown on Plant Masters' farm in Maryland.   

I found it only fitting to end my fantastic year on their farm celebrating and thanking many of the local wedding creatives that have made 2017 a huge success for Petals by the Shore .  

Alexandra & Samantha Jaeger, Me, Rebekah Coxe & Joy Michelle of Joy Michelle Photography, Katie MacGregor of Rose Gold Events & Styling, Kirsten Smith of Kirsten Smith Photography, Aimee Griffin of A.Griffin Events  and Leon Carrier of Plant Masters.  Photo by Kirsten Smith Photography.  

Alexandra & Samantha Jaeger, Me, Rebekah Coxe & Joy Michelle of Joy Michelle Photography, Katie MacGregor of Rose Gold Events & Styling, Kirsten Smith of Kirsten Smith Photography, Aimee Griffin of A.Griffin Events  and Leon Carrier of Plant Masters.  Photo by Kirsten Smith Photography.  

So instead of elaborate gift packages ending up on their door step I wanted to give them an experience to ignite the holiday spirit and let them know how much they mean to me - what better way than with a wreath making party at Plant Masters' flower farm in Laytonsville, MD.  

With the help of Leon Carrier and his staff at Plant Masters we planned a fun morning for all these wedding industry creatives!  Coffee, hot cider, pastries and holiday music awaited all them as well as a station for each of them with gloves, shears and a little present - a bucket list notebook because, well life is too short and we need to have some amazing bucket list adventures planned!!! 

Kirsten Smith of Kirsten Smith Photography was kind enough to come with her camera in hand and document our morning so I can share with all of you and also remember one of the best mornings I've had in a long time!! The temperature was perfect for December and Leon had a fire burning - it was the perfect ambiance to get in the spirit for all of us who do not take enough time to do things for ourselves to unwind.  Wedding season is no joke and we all just put our heads down and work our tails off to make dreams come true but it can take a toll on our health and our home lives so we have to make sure we take time for self care and for family time!  Yesterday morning full-filled that self-care, pampering to-do!  

I just love this b/w of Aimee Griffin!  Look at that smile - pure joy being in her element!!

I just love this b/w of Aimee Griffin!  Look at that smile - pure joy being in her element!!

Leon guided all the girls in choosing their greenery and berries which included ilex berries, holly, white pine, cryptomeria, spruce, juniper, magnolia, thuja, cedar, nandina, blue atlas.  They all made 10 lush bundles that they would then gather and place onto a wreath form and clamp with a foot crank on the wreath machine.  I then handmade big bows of their choosing - reliving my Michaels' Arts and Crafts days where bow making was my jam!  Side note: my first job out of college in 2003 was lead floral designer at the Rockville, MD Michaels' Arts and Crafts while Joe was serving in Iraq.  I'd choose fresh flowers over faux any day - though I did create some beautiful things! 

With Joy & Rebekah of Joy Michelle Photography

With Joy & Rebekah of Joy Michelle Photography

Thank you Leon & Carol for being such great supporters of local designers and of the local wedding industry!  I love that I was able to bring them all to your farm and have them experience why designing with locally grown and American Grown flowers and foliage is such a spiritual experience for me and one that fuels my business!  We had a amazing morning on your farm and our doors and mantles are festive because of you!

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My journey with American Grown Flowers to Alaska, Part II: The Field to Vase Dinner

From the moment I stepped off the turbo prop plane in Homer, Alaska I was welcomed with open arms by Beth and immediately felt at home.  I knew when I met Kurt and Beth in Washington, DC in May for the American Grown Flowers-sponsored First Lady’s Luncheon that this was a uniquely special couple.  I saw how they jumped in among the 20 designers offering to fill buckets, process flowers, prep vases and design with passion and ease.  They quickly become beloved friends among all of us.  When I returned home I had this burning desire to go be with them and support them for the dinner they were hosting on their farm.  I had only known them for three days but I felt like I had made life long friends and traveling 3,000 miles to their home, Scenic Place Peonies, in Alaska only seemed natural.  So I bought a plane ticket.  I was embarking on this solo trip for the pure reason of adventure and the need to continue this journey I was on to be a part of the fervent American Grown Flowers movement. Becoming the featured floral designer wasn’t even on my radar.  

When the opportunity was presented to become the Field to Vase floral designer Beth and I spoke almost daily discussing the layout, her vision and how I could execute it.  I usually see my venues before my events understanding the scale of how I should create my designs and what products would lend best to the architecture and ambiance of the space.  For this event I had to rely solely on Beth’s descriptions and our FaceTime calls where she would walk me around the property.   The recurring sentiment that I gleaned from our calls was that Beth truly wanted this dinner to reflect Alaska and Homer’s culture.  Homer is a vibrant fishing community with panoramic views of glaciers, snow capped mountains and the famous 4.5 mile Homer spit with a bustling dock of fishing boats.  The mountain range shifts in colors throughout the day providing a painterly backdrop, ever-changing ombre of glacial blue.  From the backyard and flower fields at Scenic Place Peonies you constantly have a breathtaking view of the glacial vista as the farm sits high above Homer on a bluff.  This view, the fishing culture and the peonies were to become the inspiration for the tablescape that 116 guests would dine among.  

The view from the peony fields at Scenic Place Peonies' Homer, Alaska flower farm.  Photo by Joshua Veldstra Photography

The view from the peony fields at Scenic Place Peonies' Homer, Alaska flower farm.  Photo by Joshua Veldstra Photography

Syndicate Sales, a major sponsor of the Field to Vase dinners, graciously provided all the vases and supplies. Their ombre blue Lula glass vase was the perfect complement to the glacial vista and the peonies.  Weeks before the dinner I created a mock up at home in Maryland with a variety of their vases and flowers similar to what I would be designing with.  As I designed I felt that the pink and coral peonies would be best highlighted with the color palette I was creating.  I also began playing with craft style fish netting, nautical roping and pieces of driftwood I had lying around my house.  I FaceTimed Beth when it was completed and asked what she thought.  She loved it but quickly informed me that their fishing netting and roping was very different than what I was using as well as their driftwood.  I wanted this to be authentic Alaska so I asked if she had the type of netting (seine) and roping (halibut line) that would be most appropriate.  With Kurt being a fisherman she of course did.  The tablescape evolved over the next weeks leading up to the dinner and even within that week.  Once I arrived and began to get a feel for what Homer and it’s community was I began to add the final elements that would tell a beautiful story.  Photos below by Joshua Veldstra Photography

After flying for 17 hours from Washington, D.C. to Homer, Alaska, I was exhausted, but as soon as I stepped on to the farm I was quickly jolted with renewed energy and sheer joy as Beth gave me a tour around the property. Walking among her blossoming peony fields with 20 cultivars (14 which are cut varieties) was like nothing I had ever experienced.  Not only did I quickly notice their oversized blooms but their fragrance and the sheer volume of blooms that dotted the fields was intoxicating.  It was a moment that truly took my breath away.  It was the most beautiful experience that overwhelmed all my senses.  I don’t think you even have to be a peony enthusiasts to be swept up in the romance of this flower en masse.  With the view of the Kachemak Bay in the background, rolling hills of colorful peony fields, the buzz of their honeybees and the screech of bald eagles above I knew this was a place that I never wanted to leave and a place that truly deserved to be celebrated.

Being such gracious hosts, Beth and Kurt took me down to the Homer Spit for the grand tour and to treat me to a dinner at The Fresh Catch where they provide beautiful weekly table arrangements. (Almost every small business I visited throughout the week had at least one small arrangement showcasing the local peonies – the Homer community is incredibly supportive!)  I believe it was 8 or 9 pm when we were finally sitting down to eat but I’m not sure because the entire week I had no concept of time with the sun constantly high in the sky and casting a perpetual daylight glow.  Afterwards we drove to the end of the Spit and walked the beaches and began scouring for driftwood to adorn the Field to Vase dinner table.  The beaches were lined with these beautiful thin grey rocks and pieces of lava and coal.  They were very different than what I was used to on the East Coast beaches and not a beach that you lay on or walk in flip flops with sand between your toes.  They were rugged and quintessential Alaska.  I knew I needed these rocks on the table too.  Quickly my understanding of how this table was going to reflect the farm and the community was coming together. 

Wednesday and Thursday a storm moved in and heavy fog concealed the amazing view.  While mystical in itself I certainly missed the way the sunshine danced on the bay with the kaleidoscope of color in the distance.  During these two days I began to unpack and prep all the vases and supplies provided by Syndicate Sales.  I loved working among the crew in the packhouse as they meticulously cleaned each peony before storing in the walk-in cooler.  At times there were seven people processing hundreds of peonies.  The mornings were for preparing and sending out orders and the afternoons into the evenings were when they harvested, if it was not raining, and then cleaning of all the peonies.  This is not for the faint of heart – there is serious time consuming work that goes into providing a quality product!  It’s not just cutting a stem off a plant and shipping it in a box.  There is perfect timing required to harvest, and hours of detailed work.  Then there is the organizing of the peonies in the cooler and checking counts for orders and specifically that week for the dinner.  To bear witness to this well oiled machine gave me even greater appreciation for flower farming, especially this farm.  Additionally, somehow in the middle of all this, lunch would be prepared and served for everyone.  Whether it was Beth’s mother Margaret who was bringing down a pan of meatloaf she had prepared or Beth whipping up sandwiches for everyone – the crew was cared for and loved on even during the most stressful and exhausting time.  The feeling of family and camaraderie was ever present.

Everyone knew what their job was and worked hard to get it done.  On top of the regular crew,  Beth and Kurt had incredible support from friends and family from all over the country. Lifelong friends traveled from Anchorage, Kurt’s childhood best friend came from Texas, Kurt’s sister flew in from Michigan, Lisa Thorne of Thorne & Thistle came from Alabama, a few of Beth's daughter’s friends showed up offering their help, Debra Prinzing of Slow Flowers offered her design help as well as Rachel Lord of Alaska Stems and even Shirley their next door neighbor pitched in.   All gave so many hours and days of their help all for the love of this couple .  The support and excitement that filled the farm was undeniable.  Everyone wanted to see this dinner succeed and be the shining moment for this farm and for Alaska peonies.  And it was. 

To create the floral designs for the tablescape, Lisa Thorne and I harvested from Beth’s 30 ft by 70 ft high tunnel which felt like a Garden of Eden in itself .  Knowing that the centerpieces would need more flowers than just peonies Beth planted an array of flowers and foliage just for this event.  Thursday morning we gathered arm loads and buckets full of foxglove, delphinium, salvia, larkspur, snapdragons, bells of ireland, bupleurum, dusty miller, kale and lady’s mantle.  We also foraged around the property for ferns, alder greenery,  wild monkshood and Alaskan fireweed. Then with the help of Ashley Johnson, a designer and future dahlia farmer who was spending the summer working for Beth, we designed over 130 centerpieces for the two kings tables, cocktail area and bars.  We adorned the necks of all the ombre blue vases with halibut line and added oysters collected from the bay to each centerpiece for that authentic Alaskan maritime vibe.  

Friday we began our 16 installations around the farm.  I wanted every area where guests would be mingling or dining to be transformed into a peony wonderland. From the moment they entered the property they were greeted with the enchantment of lush peonies and a nod to Homer’s fishing community. We added all the installs Friday and greened up everything so that Saturday morning we could add all the peonies.  To be able to design with an unending supply of peonies was incredible!  If we ran out as we were designing we simply went into the fields and cut what we needed.  How lucky we were!  If only every event could be like this.  

As guests arrived on Saturday they were welcomed with a bouquet of peonies nestled in an Alaskan crab cage.  As they made their way down the dirt road there were more crab cages adorned with peonies and ferns from the property.  They checked in at the house and gathered their place card under a patio awning draped in white and pink peonies and a mix of American Grown greenery.  From here they made their way to the boutonniere bar where pre-made floral combs of white peonies and pre-made boutonnieres with peony buds could be chosen or they could try their hand at making their own creation with the pre-cut flowers and foliage. Some guests got creative and adorned their summer hats with blooms.  Everyone was in the spirit of celebrating.  Photos below by Joshua Veldstra Photography

Guests then ventured to the back of the house on the lawn with the view of all views for the VIP reception.  Here they could get a glass of California wine from Geyser Peak Winery or Passport to Dry Creek Winery, enjoy a freshly shucked oyster from Jakalof Oyster Company and then take a picture in the oversized pink peony frame with a perfect backdrop of the Grewingk Glacier.  Certainly a cocktail hour to remember! Photos below by Joshua Veldstra Photography

,The night was just getting started.  Guests were invited to a personalized tour of the farm led by Beth and Kurt, as they walked among the lush fields of peonies in full bloom and learned about the history of the farm and the variety of peonies they grew.  I gave a brief welcome and demo discussing the 14 cut varieties of peonies grown on the farm showcasing each in their bud and full bloom form.  Sara Lowe of LoweLove Calligraphy had created beautiful charred salmon planks with each of the peony names, which I commissioned just for this event.  During the reception, event chef Delicious Dave treated everyone to a live fish filet demonstration.  This portion was a last minute surprise as Kasey Cronquist had caught, the day before, an almost 45 lb King Salmon.  Not only did Kasey gift it for the filet demonstration, guests enjoyed it as part of the entrée which he deemed a true "river to table" meal. Talk about authentic Alaskan experience.  Photos below by Joshua Veldstra Photography

When guests were invited to the tent for the dinner, coordinated by event planner Rebecca Kopperud of La Boum Events, they walked over a small bridge lined with peonies and greenery. On each side of the tent were collections of crab pots and shrimp cages that also were adorned with bright peonies and ferns.  As everyone found their way to a seat, the scene unfolded: a lush tablescape of varying heights of vases filled with only peonies, flowers and foliage harvested or foraged on the farm.  The tables were lined with seine netting under the vases and in between the designs were pieces of driftwood, grey rocks from the shore, authentic glass seine floats that Beth and Kurt had collected from friends and votive candles nestled in sand collected from the Homer beaches.  On each guest's plate was an oversized bright pink peony tucked into the napkin and tied with glacial blue ribbon from Torn & Tied.  Overhead in each of the three tents, hung lushly draped greenery and peony chandeliers as well as giant hanging orbs from Syndicate Sales that were filled with peonies, moss, sand and votives.  All of these designs drew your eye out past the property where guests took in an amazing view of the glaciers and mountains.  It was a feast for the eyes!  

No detail was spared giving this Alaskan dinner an authentic feel.  Photo by Joshua Veldstra Photography

No detail was spared giving this Alaskan dinner an authentic feel.  Photo by Joshua Veldstra Photography

The Field to Vase Dinner’s philosophy is to not only bring floral enthusiasts and flower farmers together but to foster fellowship and to “break bread together” through a family style meal.  Volunteer servers passed trays of Delicious Dave’s “Neil Young Salad” adorned with locally grown nasturtium, platters of King and Sockeye salmon with a chimmichurri sauce and dishes of roasted carrot, beets and rainbow chard adorned with peony petals (all of which was locally-grown and harvested from various farms between Anchorage and Homer.) 

The wine flowed, friendships were made and we celebrated Scenic Place Peonies,  Homer and all of Alaska's peony farmers.  Guests left that evening with a beautiful bouquet of peonies and monkshood as a well as a Field to Vase Dinner Tour tote bag filled with the perfect swag for any floral aficionado.  The dinner left a lasting impression among all who came and brought more attention and support to the Alaskan peony movement solidifying the importance of the Field to Vase Dinner tour coming to Alaska!

 

More of my favorite images captured by Joshua Veldstra Photography

 

My journey with American Grown Flowers to Alaska, Part I

 2017 has been a whirlwind year and one that I will never forget.  For the last 6 years, since I opened Petals by the Shore in January 2011,  I’ve dreamed up what life changing moments I would experience.  I dreamed of traveling and designing in beautiful locations where the scenery influenced my creations.  I dreamed of finding my own style and my place in the floral design world and I dreamed that I would find my true calling.  2017 has provided all these fulfilled dreams, and more, because I decided to welcome change and challenge myself.  Two years ago I had a simple idea to design a bouquet, each season, using only what grew on one local farm.  That idea exploded into life-changing opportunities to support and design with locally grown and American Grown flowers for events that are inspiring others to embrace and support our American flower farms. 

One month ago I boarded a plane from Homer, Alaska to fly home to Maryland after spending a week on Scenic Place Peonies farm – a Certified American Grown Flowers and Certified Naturally Grown farm.  I was there as the featured floral designer for the Field to Vase Dinner Tour put on by Certified American Grown Flowers.  With tears streaming down my face, that morning, I knew I was changed forever.  This was the week that had fulfilled my long held dreams and cemented my future.  Never had I been so blown away by the hospitality that was shown to me or been completely enamored by my surroundings that every moment took my breath away.  I had found my place of inspiration. 

Spending a week on an Alaskan peony farm was incredibly eye-opening, humbling and inspiring.  Alaskan peony farmers are fierce!  These are dedicated, hard working flower farmers that push it to the limit to provide a premium product for the world.  No where else can you get peonies in July, August and September.  They harvest from sun up to sun down, which mind you is often 20 hour days of sunshine.  The weather can also be unpredictable – but they remain steadfast through all the trials nature throws at them to grow a product that is like none other.

I realized during my week at Scenic Place Peonies that designers in the lower 48 do not understand how amazing and superior Alaskan peonies are.  There is a disconnect between what we see online and what we understand of the Alaskan peony.   These peonies are often three times the size, up to eight inches across, of what we receive during the other months of the year from the U.S. or abroad.  The colors and varieties are more vibrant and richer due to the long hours of sunlight.  They grow at a rapid rate, breaking through the soil to flowering within four weeks. That’s half the time it takes for peonies anywhere else in the world.  These are flowers that can change our entire event work and elevate it to a level that we didn’t know could exist in late summer.  

What is also incredible about Alaskan peonies are the farmers behind them.  With Alaskan peony farming only coming to full fruition in the last ten years the growers of those peonies have created a strong community with a desire to mentor one another that's much stronger than I’ve seen among other flower farmers.  They rally around one another as a new farm opens and support one another as a tribe.  While they are all competitors they also know that they must work together to advance the awareness and sale of their product.  They have  formed the Alaska Peony Growers Association which hosts conferences, has established growers’ schools and has also developed a certification program for harvesters.     

Alaskan peony farms are part of a resurgence of American flower farms that are popping up around the U.S. in all communities.  The desire for locally and American grown flowers is growing stronger, thanks in part to Certified American Grown Flowers and their Field to Vase Dinner Tour.  This tour, which travels around the country, highlights America’s most beautiful flower farms, and offers attendees the opportunity to immerse themselves in an evening of dining among flower fields, meeting and talking with the flower farmers and enjoying a slow food meal with other American grown flower enthusiasts.  It’s about celebrating a rebirth of American flower farms and celebrating a sense of place – of community.  

It was a powerful and beautiful thing to see so many seasoned and new peony farms attend the dinner - all for the love of peonies and for the appreciation that the world was taking notice and celebrating them.  It truly was a weekend of celebrating Beth Van Sandt & Kurt Weichland, of Scenic Place Peonies, as gracious hosts on their breathtaking peony farm but also celebrating Homer, Alaska – now the “City of Peonies.” According to the Homer Chamber of Commerce website there are over 25 peony farms in Homer that are successfully selling their product at farmers markets, to all 50 states and overseas.  From Homer to the North Pole there are over 100 peony farms in the state of Alaska.  Having the Field to Vase Dinner come to Alaska was the perfect opportunity for their movement to shine on the national stage.  

When Kasey Cronquist, the CEO & administrator of American Grown Flowers and creative behind the Field to Vase dinners, called to ask me if I was interested in being the featured floral designer for the Alaskan dinner there was a moment when I couldn’t discern if he was really asking me or it was a dream.  I couldn’t believe he was offering me another unbelievable opportunity to be a part of the larger picture and help inspire others for change.  I am incredibly grateful that my growing dedication to sourcing and designing with local and American grown flowers has led me to these moments of working alongside dedicated, hard working, like-minded people in the most awe-inspiring locations.  

Scenic Place Peonies' farm sits high above downtown Homer overlooking Kachemak Bay with the most incredible, breathtaking view of mountains and glaciers. 

Scenic Place Peonies' farm sits high above downtown Homer overlooking Kachemak Bay with the most incredible, breathtaking view of mountains and glaciers. 

Long days of sunlight provide evenings with a perpetual glow.  I could never grow tired of this view.  This is close to sunset around 11:30 pm looking out from Scenic Place Peonies' farm. 

Long days of sunlight provide evenings with a perpetual glow.  I could never grow tired of this view.  This is close to sunset around 11:30 pm looking out from Scenic Place Peonies' farm. 

With Beth Van Sandt in her peony fields alongside Lisa Thorne of Thorne & Thistle who was there that week helping Beth & Kurt and also part of the design team. 

With Beth Van Sandt in her peony fields alongside Lisa Thorne of Thorne & Thistle who was there that week helping Beth & Kurt and also part of the design team. 

Kasey Cronquist and me in the lower peony field at Scenic Place Peonies.  To walk in a lush peony field like this was a magical experience. 

Kasey Cronquist and me in the lower peony field at Scenic Place Peonies.  To walk in a lush peony field like this was a magical experience. 

If the sun was out it was time to harvest.  With Beth and Debra Prinzing of SlowFlowers who was there to attend the dinner and also provided great support and design help throughout the week. 

If the sun was out it was time to harvest.  With Beth and Debra Prinzing of SlowFlowers who was there to attend the dinner and also provided great support and design help throughout the week. 

The size of the Alaskan peonies at Scenic Place Peonies was incredible!  Some varieties were three times the size of peonies that grow in the lower 48. 

The size of the Alaskan peonies at Scenic Place Peonies was incredible!  Some varieties were three times the size of peonies that grow in the lower 48. 

She was my favorite for sure!  This was Solange and I think she stole the hearts of all of us! Apart from her size and her unending layers of petals her scent was intoxicating.  

She was my favorite for sure!  This was Solange and I think she stole the hearts of all of us! Apart from her size and her unending layers of petals her scent was intoxicating.  

So happy to have finally met Rita Jo Schultz (and her husband, Leroy) of Alaska Perfect Peony.  This was the first peony farm that I bought from in 2014.  What a beautiful farm they have!

So happy to have finally met Rita Jo Schultz (and her husband, Leroy) of Alaska Perfect Peony.  This was the first peony farm that I bought from in 2014.  What a beautiful farm they have!

Meeting Michelle LaFriniere of Chilly Root Peony Farm was such a treat after corresponding for the last few years and seeing the beautiful farm where I bought some of my peonies from summers past. 

Meeting Michelle LaFriniere of Chilly Root Peony Farm was such a treat after corresponding for the last few years and seeing the beautiful farm where I bought some of my peonies from summers past. 

These two!! I just adore them!  Beth Van Sandt & Kurt Weichhand are two of the hardest working people I know!  I'm beyond grateful that they welcomed me on their gorgeous peony farm for a week and gave me a one-of-a-kind experience that I will never forget! 

These two!! I just adore them!  Beth Van Sandt & Kurt Weichhand are two of the hardest working people I know!  I'm beyond grateful that they welcomed me on their gorgeous peony farm for a week and gave me a one-of-a-kind experience that I will never forget! 

We are LIVE!!! New website - New branding

Thanks for stopping by to check out the exciting and beautiful new website!   We have been working for months to pull all our best work over the last 6 years together to showcase what Petals by the Shore is all about .... highly textured designs, our love of locally and American grown flowers and foliage, an array of color palettes, big organic bouquets, small intimate details and most importantly events crafted to reflect our couples and their story.  2017 is starting out pretty exciting and this is only the beginning!  Cheers to a beautiful year.