Anatomy of a winning design…

Flower Show Schedule

For floral designers, Magnificent Memphis began with thumbnail sketches of the works of art central to the theme of the show.  Each class had 4, 5 or 6 specially selected Impressionist paintings from the Dixon Museum permanent collection.

"the Visitor" by Mary Cassatt, 1880

“the Visitor” by Mary Cassatt, 1880

Thinking about designing began when the full page color photograph of the selected painting arrived.  “The Visitor” 1880 by Philadelphian Mary Cassatt who was 35 years old and living in Paris. When Mary painted this portrait of her younger sister, Lydia had just been diagnosed with Bright’s disease, a fatal kidney disease.

 Memphis practice

My first order of business was to mock up the size of the painting with a pedestal of the correct height and size, and to try out containers and styles of design.  Unlike the glorious work in the two previous posts (see Archive), I am embarrassed to admit it never even occurred to me to do a contemporary design.

 Paper Covered container

A basic tin flower pail from Michael’s Crafts, 12″ tall, gave the tapered form I wanted.  It had two handles that I compressed against the top with pliers, before covering it with this luscious artist paper from Dick Blick art supplies (  The paper is created with threads on the mold, before the paper pulp is pressed over them.

Memphis Container and mechanicsAt the show, the container was made Oasis-worthy and water proof by capping the top with a plastic food container lid.  The lid was edged in black tape so it wouldn’t show.  Florist clay was placed on the rim of the container, and also used to hold down the two Oasis designer pins on the lid.  An 8″ Oasis orb, already hydrated, was placed on the on the pins on the lid, and then, in a bit of overkill, also taped down.  Then the lid was placed on the container and smushed on the clay. A small bag of sand had been also placed in the container to weigh it down.  I was in a busy hallway so didn’t want to take any chances.

 Memphis Large AnthuriumIt takes a village to help me out!  Thanks to JJJ and Mrs. FASG for their help sourcing flowers.  I brought Amaranthus, stem-dyed black (found at Halloween) and dried Japanese maple with me.  These fantastic Anthurium from Green Point ( in Hawaii were very large in scale for the design.

 Manipulated Anthurium Memphis Anthurium placedNecessity being the mother of invention, I  manipulated them into smaller sizes, holding them in place with glue dashes.  This not only allowed them to be more to scale and show in two colors, but also hid their more aggressive assets!!

Memphis black callas

Black callas became the transition between the Amaranthus and the Anthurium.  I used half of a toothpick in each stem.  This acted like a fulcrum and went deeper into the Oasis to hold the downward facing stems more fully.  It also swelled with the water and wicked it up into the flower.

memphis TEsting height

I fussed around with all of that for most of the first afternoon, trying to avoid decision time about the rest of the placement of the design.  Go with another top ‘line’ or not?  This was what convinced me not to do so!

 Memphis David Austin Roses

From Garden District, Memphis’ premier uber-stylish florist (and right across from the hotel) I found some heavenly black Ranunuculus (thanks, Nikki).  In the end, I didn’t have quite enough for backup and I decided not to use them.  Further flowers, from the mid-bottom – Leucadendron ‘Safari Sunset’, a David Austin rose called “Juliet” (mid-top), peeking out next to it some blue larkspur florets, and, on top, a blue-edged Hydrangea.

 memphis galax and fiddleheadsGalax leaves, placed like stepping stones, completed the low area on the left side, with Hawaiian fiddle heads, Dicranopteris linearis, above and the tawny dried leaves of Acer palmatum just peeking out of the back.

blog Memphis Right Side

From the right side, a sweetheart rose in a vibrant peachy orange changes the textural pattern and just peeks out when seen from straight on.  It is important that all the flowers are not placed on the same plane – some should be deeper than others so the design isn’t flat.

Susan Detjens

Susan Detjens

The Memphis show requires a Statement of Intent for each design. I hate to do these.  (Mary didn’t write one for the painting.)  However rules are rules.  Therefore…..I wrote: “The tender face of Mary’s doomed sister Lydia emerges from the somber tones of suppressed grief”!!!



About Susan

Susan Detjens is a former landscape painter, she lectures, demonstrates and runs workshops on floral design for museums, horticultural organizations and garden clubs across the US.
This entry was posted in Art and Flowers, color schemes, floral design ideas, floral designs, flower arrangements, flower show, flower vases, Garden Club of America, Making containers, Memphis Flower Show and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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