Holiday Décor from a Master

| December 2, 2012 | 0 Comments

Because the Mission Hills Garden Club’s October meeting was a pumpkin carving event, I chose to cross the bridge to Coronado’s Beach and Bay Garden Club to see another René van Rems’ spectacular instead. As usual, he was introduced as an award-winning floral designer, teacher, author, stand-up comic and popular speaker. René studied floral design for six years in his native Holland and has taught it for at least twenty-five.

René believes that good floral design comes from inspiration and education. It should be fun; with René in the room, fun is a given. His inspiration comes from many sources. It may come from nature. Perhaps a vase inspires a specific design. Color can inspire him as well.

René believes people are happier with live plant matter in their homes. To help us arrange and add longevity to it, he gave us tips. Although he said those of us who had taken his classes (I’ve taken two of his semester UCSD classes and attended myriad talks) would not learn anything new, I not only learned new things, but I was able to see old knowledge in a new way.

Beginning the first demonstration, René explained that floral foam (oasis) must be pre-soaked. This means putting the foam in water and leaving it until the entire block is fully saturated. To save time, his floral foam was already wet. He cautioned us about decorative containers; they may leak. To avoid damaging furniture, always test the container first. If it does leak, use a smaller leak-proof container inside it or line the container with heavy trash-bag plastic.

René placed the wet oasis into a vase with an inch or so of oasis rising above the vase’s sides. He covered the foam with large leaves. Next he placed some pomegranates with their stems in the foam and the fruits peeking over the container’s edge. As he worked, he explained what he was doing. Making a fresh cut to each stem is essential for a long-lived display. René advocates using a floral knife or garden clippers.

“Never use scissors; they crush the stem and prevent the plant from absorbing water.” René created a monochromatic arrangement composed of hues of red from pomegranates and coffee beans to red macara orchids in a red container. Slicing each orchid’s stem at an angle so the stem has more area from which to draw water, he casually stuck the stems into the leaf-covered foam. Poking fun at the typical matron agonizing over the placement of each blossom, René cautioned, “Don’t make love to it.” He continued jabbing more stems into the oasis adding, “Remember, less is more.”

Repetition of texture, shape, and form creates a more cohesive design. As he added a few sprigs of coffee berries, René pointed out that the coffee berries and the pomegranates helped tie the arrangement to the container. A portion of one leaf poking over the container’s edge further emphasized this connection. As he finished the creation, René explained that European floral design had spread to the United States, but now the more contemporary American designs were appearing in Europe.

René’s second arrangement borrowed techniques from Ikebana as it was done with no oasis. Instead, René made a grid of curly willow inside a tall red vase. He worked rapidly never ceasing his entertaining commentary. He pointed out that it is important not to cut too much from a stem. “You can’t cut it longer,” he advised. In this project, René added a few flax leaves. To help the vase and the plant material flow together, he cut a few more flax leaves between one and 2/3 and one and one and ½ the height of the vase. He glued these to two of the vase’s sides using double sided tape (Either use You Glue or carpet tape). Coffee berries picked up the vase’s color, and five deep red anthuriums completed the display. René called this arrangement “Ikebana times twenty.”

His tips included a way to save a dying arrangement. Just spray it gold or whatever color you wish. The paint keeps the petals and leaves from falling off.

Cut flowers are best if purchased while the buds are closed. You can always speed the blooms’ opening by putting the stems in warm water and, if necessary, covering the blooms and container with clear plastic. When you bring flowers home, make new diagonal cuts on them stems (Cutting them under water is best as the water prevents the stems from “scabbing over” allowing them to absorb as much water as possible) Store these stems in clean water in a cool place.

When you are ready to arrange them, cut each stem diagonally as you place it in your design. Once you have made your arrangement, remember to make fresh cuts to the stems and change the water and food daily or every other day.

A wilting blossom can often be revived with a fresh cut and a soaking in a little warm water. All cut plants’ water needs attention as well. The plant food that comes with some bouquets is good; home-made plant nutrients work too. You will need an aspirin or some other acidifier, a bit of bleach or other bactericide, and a bit of glucose (sugar, honey, or corn syrup) mixed together. Then put a tablespoon into a quart of water and stir well. Adding nutrients to the water prolongs a cut plant’s life.

Still another tip was if you are tempted to use Pyracanthas, don’t. To protect your carpet from stains and your hands from scratches, use cotoneaster, which doesn’t stain or scratch.

René made eight arrangements, cracking jokes and explaining his techniques the entire time. What a treat it was to see him again. If you’d like to learn more, sign up for a class. Call 760 804 5800 –Holland Pacific Floral Training Center , Carlsbad, CA. His web site is

January 25, 2013 will feature John Beaudry, “Designing a Bungalow Garden.” Meetings are at Mission Hills United Church of Christ, 4070 Jackdaw, between Fort Stockton and West Lewis. Doors open at 6 p.m. with the meeting beginning shortly thereafter. Meetings end by 8:00 p.m. Guests pay $10.00 which may be applied to their $35.00 membership fee. Memberships are good through August, 2013.

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About the Author ()

Barbara Strona is a native Californian who grew up in the Mid-West and Los Angeles. She and her architect husband, Carl, came to San Diego in 1968 and have lived in Mission Hills since early 1971. Barbara received a Bachelor of Arts from Scripps College with a major in English, and a minor in Art. She attended UCLA graduate school and received a General Secondary Credential. She taught English in Los Angeles, Pennsylvania, and at Point Loma High School. She has been a Realtor specializing in residential sales since 1984. Her passions include her job, reading, writing, foreign languages and foreign countries, animals (feathered or furry), theatre, and her family: husband, two adult children and two grandsons.