Four years ago, I made my Northwest Flower & Garden Show debut with a Northwest nautical container garden display I called Seaside Succulents. Creating that garden was one of the most intensely creative experiences of my life, and I couldn’t wait to do something like that again. Then life got crazy, and it took a few years to reach a new kind of normal.
This year, I felt ready to go back to the show. I envisioned a botanical bakery, with a pastry case full of succulent tarts and moss ball truffles and plenty of cakes. I scoured Craigslist for a vintage bakery case or a cool old stove. But this still wasn’t the year for something so major, and I almost backed off completely until Robin Haglund, my garden coach of many years, suggested I enter the Floral Design competition, and I started to have a vision of one fabulous cake.
I’d planted cakes before, for my own garden and as centerpieces for a friend’s wedding. I’d been collecting vintage cake pans for years and still love that look, but the show called for something more elegant, more of a statement. I needed height, I needed to integrate some seriously awesome cut flowers, and I needed to know that I could pull it all off.
I decided to head to Portland, to the studio of Francoise Weeks, for her 3-day Wedding Design Workshop. Francoise is astonishingly resourceful and inventive–she can take basic materials like cardboard and Saran wrap and use them as the basis for transcendent floral magic. I learned a lot of techniques, but more importantly, I internalized her inventive spirit and came away with the confidence that I could do it.
So I bought wire mesh and cutters. I gathered wood and metal plates, platters, and pedestals. I went on long walks, picking up stray moss and lichen on sidewalks and in alleys. Finally, I started to build, using duct tape and glue and wire reinforcements. I ordered a big box of moss and covered my form. Debra Prinzing told me about Floral Soil, an organic alternative to Oasis floral foam, and I drove to Bellingham to get a box. I realized it looked like chocolate cake when I cut into it, so I cut it in wedges and put it on a cute plate.
Over two weeks, I kept adding little details to the cake–tiny turkey tail mushrooms, seams of lichen, bits of succulents. I wanted it to be immediately stunning, but I also wanted it to reward close observation because that’s how I best love experiencing the natural world.
Here’s what went into it, beyond the structural elements. Unless otherwise specified, I got all the live plants at Swanson’s and Sky Nursery. Note that the moss and lichen can be gathered and stored dry, then revived with a quick soak when you’re ready to use them.
- Floral Soil
- The Moss Sampler Set from Moss Acres, plus more varieties of moss from anywhere people won’t miss it. Golden Spikemoss from the nursery is lovely. San Juan Island moss is especially plush and awesome. (Just don’t take too much from the same place!)
- Lichen bits of all sorts, most easily found after a wind storm
- Soft Shield Fern
- Platt’s Black Brass Buttons
- Red Hook Sedge ‘Belinda’s Find’
- Heather ‘Wickwar Flame’
- Cyclamen ‘Speedy White’
- Veronica ‘Georgia Blue’
- Muscari ‘Blue Magic’
- Albuca spiralis ‘Frizzle Sizzle’
- Grevillea, berzelia, and a variety of Protea from Resendiz Bros. (via the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market)
- Pieris japonica ‘Valley Valentine’
- Eucalyptus seeds
- Burkwood viburnum buds
- Pink and black pussy willow from Tosh in Snohomish (via the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market)
- Cape Restio
- Sempervivums (a.k.a. hens and chicks)
- Sedum ‘Dragon’s Blood,’ ‘Blue Spruce,’ ‘Cape Blanco,’ and ‘Purpureum’
- Air plants
I’ve probably forgotten some bits, but these are the ones that really made the cake work.
Four years ago, I made my Northwest Flower & Garden Show debut with a Northwest nautical container garden display I called Seaside Succulents. Creating that garden was one of the most intensely creative experiences of my life, and I couldn’t wait to do something like that again. Then life g