Notes From a Flower Farm: Summer Shells
Notes from a Flower Farm goes on vacation and gets inspired by the seashore's shells for her latest flower arrangements.
Since I was a child I’ve spent part of August in Desolation Sound, a group of islands halfway between Vancouver Island and the Canadian mainland. It’s a wondrous land of oysters, salmon, mussels, seaweed, bald eagles, and tide pools.
Marigold and Mint is an organic farm, a retail shop, and a studio. The farm is situated along the Snoqualmie River, about 30 miles east of Seattle and the shop is located in the Melrose Market on Capitol Hill in Seattle, Washington. Founded in 2008 by owner Katherine Anderson, Marigold and Mint reflects her lifetime love of flowers and landscapes. Trained as a landscape architect, she brings her affection for both clean and clear design and intricate patterns to Marigold and Mint.
It’s a break from all things floral before the heavy flower harvests on my farm in late August and September. The clean air and bracing waters clear my head and soothes my farm-worn body, and the materials on the islands inspire my work back home.
I had an extravagant clam shell (top) and a giant sea snail shell, or a murex ramosus, (bottom), hanging around my house. They were perfect to use as bases for seaside-inspired arrangements.
I found soft and faded late summer colors in my garden to complement the bleached shells. Among the things I cut were small hydrangea, viburnum berries, fern, sage, spray rose, hops, japanese anemone, dusty miller, oregano, and snowberry.
With each type of shell I let its shape guide the direction of the arrangement. The compactness of the hydrangea filled in the first layer in the snail shell, while the fern, berries and hops reach and curve like the spines on the shell.
Unless the shell actually holds water, you will need to cut floral foam (Oasis) to fit inside the shell, and soak it before placing it inside. Cut Oasis to size with a sharp knife, soak it* and carefully insert into the shell. If the shells won’t stand up on their own, driftwood or rocks would be just the materials for propping them up.
If your shell snaps apart, a few lengths of a bamboo skewer cut to the desired shell opening size, and with glue on each end, it can hold the shell together.
*Gently lower the foam into a bucket of water and when the foam is full with water (about 30 seconds), lift the foam out, and allow it to drain.
As these materials spread above the shells, they appear lacy and flexible, as if they would move in the current like seaweed.
With any of these, you’re really just making an arrangement that will last a few days; combining a bunch would be perfect for a dinner party in the summer moonlight.
I got a few scallop shells from the shellfish shop. (If you don’t have access to a beach for collecting your own, ask your local shellfish shop or restaurant if they’ll give you some. Taylor Shellfish, one of my neighbors at my Seattle flower shop, gave me some of his shells for this project.) Their bands of colors remind me of the landscape in Desolation Sound.
The shapes of the scallop and clam shells dictate fan-shaped arrangements. I filled this arrangement with lamb's ear, dusty miller, poppies, and roses.
I was also inspired to use some of the shells I collected at Desolation Sound last year to decorate some containers for flowers. (I got some extra oyster shells are from my local seafood shop to help complete this project.)
I used a low rectangular container turned it on its side, on which I hot-glued a layer of oyster shells on each face of the the box, with the shells all turned in the same direction.
I added a second layer, making sure to cover parts of the box that were still visible after the first pass.
I soaked a block of Oasis in a bucket of water and set it in a shallow tray inside the box. Next, I gently stuffed the Oasis with the roses, using longer-stemmed roses for the inner layers and allowing the roses to drape over the sides.
Oysters are an extravagant delicacy, so I thought that a completely luxurious flower such as the salmon pink garden rose Romantik Antik would be just right.
I used the roses that were nearly fully blown, almost on the edge of dying. This way the blooms feel worn and sun-soaked, like you do after a long day at the beach.
In a similar fashion, I hot-glued two layers of mussel shells to a mason jar.
And then I filled the mason jar with roses, this time with the soft white Helga Piaget variety.
At the end of a day on the sailboat, I lie in the hammock and dream of next summer’s trip. There’s always a new lake to discover, another swim to take.
And maybe next year I can figure out how to extract the meat from this crab and make a totally crazy arrangement!