Shrubs – The Backbone of Floral Design

There is a lot of attention and excitement in American grown flowers. Flower farmers are pushing hard and working long hours to grow and supply gorgeous designer flowers to the markets and florists in their community. But having gorgeous blooms to work with is not all a floral designer needs if they desire to create organic, garden styled bouquets and arrangements. We need a strong backbone and supply of greens and shrubs can be the answer.

Almost twenty-five years ago I took a flower arranging class at the Biltmore Estate. As I look back on that day the highlight for me was walking around the shrub and walled garden. Our discussion centered on what things could be used for structure and greens in flower arranging. We even got to cut a few things to add to the flowers we were supplied. I made a pretty arrangement that day and came home excited and inspired to build the backbone of my garden with a wonderful variety of shrubs.

Hummingbird summersweet clethra

This experience was defining and timely for me as we had purchased our first home in North Asheville. I was beginning to plan and plant my own flower garden. I determined to put in my shrubs first and considered the usefulness  of each thru every season. The shrubs would be the backbone of our landscape and guide the shape and structure of all the flower arranging that would come out of my garden. I would hear from time to time, “Your arrangements look so natural and unique.” I recognized that the difference was the shrubs and other things I cut from my garden.

The Biltmore does not do this type of  workshop anymore…..maybe I will work on that! But for now I would love to share my top 10 favorite shrubs with you.   I welcome you to contact me with any comments or questions. I do not know all the technical Latin names of each shrub but can share what I do know. Find a good garden center and wander around in the shrub section. When possible buy native plants and don’t fuss over the ones that just don’t like your climate. My husband teases me when I talk to my plants and try to make them happy. Plant each shrub where they can do their thing and be the size and shape they were meant to be and you will both be happy. When cutting, only use about 1/3 of the plant and give them plenty of time to get established.

Boxwood is such a good filler. The woody stems are great for making grids and covering chicken wire. There are many cultivars so pick the one that fits your space and needs.

Camellia shrubs produce gorgeous dark green leaves. I suggest planting both Japonica and Sasanqua camellias. They bloom at different times and the leaves have various shapes and sizes.

Forsythia is such a great woody shrub and holds up in the heat out of water on arbors. I love to use it to give shape and size to my large arrangements. There is a new variety that remains low and the leaf structure is closer together and smaller. Plant both if you have space!

Hummingbird summersweet clethra is striking when planted in mass and has very fragrant blooms that attract butterflies. I love to use even in the fall when the blooms go to seed and add a textural element!


Leucothoe – Girard’s Rainbow

Leucothoe is a wonderful evergreen that is graceful and adds beauty to my garden year-round. I have Girard’s Rainbow variety which has a green and rosy pink to burgundy variation. In the spring it has a small white flower.

Nandina is tough. I use for greening containers and has a similar look to ruskus. It is also great for bouquet and bout work. Plant several varieties in various places so they turn color throughout the season. This shrub also has a wonderful berry.

Otto luyken English laurel has a dark green leaf that I use year-round. In the spring it becomes covered in white flowers which  bees love.

Spireas of any type are a must for your shrub collection. I have a low spreading type – Gold Mound Spirea – that blooms early summer and has a bright yellow/green leaf. I also love a sprawling old-fashioned variety that blooms white in the spring.

Virginia sweetspire has bright green leaves that turn a deep scarlet in the fall. It has arching branches that produce a long white tassel type cluster of fragrant flowers in early summer. This shrub can be a nuisance in that it sends out runners and takes over….so plant accordingly!


Weigela – Wine & Roses

Weigela is an old-fashioned shrub yet recetnly some new and amazing varieties have come into the nursery centers. I have Wine & Roses which has a dark burgundy foliage with deep fuchsia trumpet like blooms and grows to around 4”. Weigelas can get very large so pick the one that fits your space and needs.

Hope this is helpful and gets you started thinking about which shrubs to add to your garden. You’ll be adding the structural bones to your landscape and growing an endless supply of greenery for your floral design. (Actually I’ve got more than 10 favorites.  I’ll share more in a future post including my favorite hydrangeas.)

Old Dog – New Tricks

“Why I Value Professional Development.”

The saying, “You can’t teach an old dogs new tricks” is true if they are left to themselves and never taught anything new. Over 12 years ago I began preparing for my final season of work. But what would that work be?

I knew I was way out of touch with computers and social media which would be crucial to future work and relationships. I enrolled at the community college in Asheville and took three computer courses. As my son David was helping me with a computer issue he lovingly said, “I think you should ask for your money back!” Yet I was determined to not let my “technology issues” and need for personal and professional development stop me.

Life was training me to always be ready for the next opportunity. During the years when my children were small I was able to stay at home investing in my children and cultivating my flower and vegetable garden. As my garden and children grew, I had an incredible opportunity to mentor and coach “Princess Warriors” as a high school basketball coach. It was in the later years of this season of work that I knew I needed to re-tool for the emerging season of owning and leading a floral design company.  While I didn’t know what all was needed at the time to own and lead a floral design company, I knew I needed to find training to help me learn new skills and techniques.  Unfortunately, it turned out that my desire was greater than the resources available at that time.

When I rebranded my flower business a few years ago, I knew I had to move beyond the training void I had experienced in those early years. So, I set a budget and a plan to attend one workshop yearly and actively look for opportunities to be inspired. I determined to cultivate friendships with photographers, event planners, venue owners…and I prayed a lot.

Growing personally and professionally is a priority for me and ensures that I don’t get stuck in a rut or out of touch with the trends. Plus, these opportunities have grown my confidence and competency in floral design and business practices. My clients deserve my best effort to design and create beautiful and memorable floral pieces for their very special celebrations of life. The skills and knowledge gained thru these opportunities helps me remain relevant and effective in mentoring and influencing others in my community and industry. Professional development pushes me to remain open and curious so that I am always learning and growing.

Professional development also provides the vital link to connecting with other floral designers for support and collaboration. Kelly Perry (@Kelly_Perry)and Team Flower (@TeamFlower) have become an invaluable resource for me. I cannot begin to list off all the amazing resources available through the web page. Go check it out yourself! (You can thank me later.)

I attended the Team Flower Conference in Orlando in March of this year. I was struck by the friendships that had been forged thru a Team Flower workshop and saw how precious and important it is to build these special connections. I also have begun following many of the florist who have attended a workshop and can see how the concepts as well as time to practice and create has helped develop the participants eye for detail and design. I feel I could learn so much about listening and following my heart in business and in my design work. There is a time and season for all things and this seems to be a time where I could use encouragement to press on and not grow weary. Time to work with flowers and tap into the deep well of my soul would be time so well spent! And although I am an old dog there is still much to be learned.

I believe professional development thru floral workshops will renew my spirit, connect me with others, and train me in some new tricks.

Check your ID

It is mid-morning and dirt is under my fingernails, sweat is running down my nose, and a feeling of satisfaction spreads across my face. I have spent the morning deadheading (terrifying term) and weeding my little garden. I sit down on my porch steps and begin thinking about fall and all the garden task ahead and events around the corner. I think about dreams — that the only ones worth dreaming come with hard work, sweat, and tears. Dreams never come easy. They are realized sometimes after much deadheading, pruning, fertilizing and weeding. They bloom after many days of uncertainty. They become a reality in the midst of much adversity.

This spring I found myself trying to recreate a business dream. After a really dark and hard winter, I faced the task of beginning over. The first dream had to be let go. The hard work of building a foundation and the years of experience were not lost and would be put to
good use. If you have ever started a small business or if you are dreaming of starting a business I hope this will inspire you and encourage you to forge ahead. The identity of your business flows from who you are and what you believe in. Giving your business a name that reflects this will take creative time.

Have you ever searched the internet for business names? It is fascinating. There are so many wonderful and creative people and ideas out there in google land. Choosing a name for your company is like naming a child or a special pet. The name has to be just right! It has to fit your dream and hopes.

The naming of a business is a critical step in establishing a business presence. Words matter and can speak of the heart and mission of the business. So I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted my new business to represent and communicate to those I would serve. “Inspired” – a simple definition is “that which is of an extraordinary quality Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 1.30.04 PMor is arising from some external creative impulse.” “Design” is the work or planning process. Design work is time consuming yet crucial in moving the vision to a reality and reaches beyond just an idea to the creation or implementation. I desire work that is inspirational. I discovered that naming ideas come as you listen and reflect over why you do what you do. The divine spark is the driving influence. So many ideas rolled around in my head and then off my tongue. I was straining to hear the purpose and the heart of the work for this season of my life. Ultimately the decision to use Inspired Design came down to what I believe my work would say…there is an extraordinary quality that I want to deliver because I ultimately work for the Master Designer.

Once I felt sure of the name, it was time to research. The name has to be available and a domain purchased. So I went to and searched for name availability. It looked like my name was available. I was thrilled! So my lawyer drew up the papers, a check was written for the fee, the envelope addressed and stamped, and put out in the mailbox for the afternoon mailman. Two weeks went by. No response. Three weeks…then early in the fourth week I called the state office and discovered that the woman in charge of this process was on a leave of absence. My letter and fee were in a pile on a desk collecting dust! Thankfully another state employer picked up the request and pushed it forward.

In just a few days, I got the news… “the name Inspired Design is unavailable”. I was stunned. My lawyer was surprised and went to work to figure out the problem. It was explained that little words like “by” are thrown out in the process so a company in the Chapel Hill area with the name Inspired by Design was too close to my precious name. So my ID had to be tweaked. We also had to check for domain availability. Again this took time a little research and locking that down before finally feeling right to name my baby, Inspired Design of NC, LLC.

When I meet someone for the first time I try to say their name a few times to just make sure I have it and will remember it. This blog is my introduction and invitation to get to know my story and consider the artistry of working with flowers and styling events. But it will also be a place where I would like to get to know you. Let’s ponder and reflect on all things that inspire.