The story of Lewis and Clark and their corps of explorers has been told in song, picture and word.

And now, flowers.

The Sou'Wester Garden Club, a busy group of gardeners and people who love gardens, puts on its annual Flower Show Saturday and Sunday. And what better topic to build an event around than the story of the explorers who made their way to the Pacific Ocean? The show, which is open to all, is expected to draw dozens of exhibitors and their arrangements in categories such as "Behold the Pacific," "Clark's Desk" and "They Followed the River."

If you fancy yourself a floral exhibitor, yet don't know your way around a bouquet, Sou'Wester club members are very happy to show you how. I asked the show's organizers, Nancy Berry and Jan Lambert, if they would demonstrate how to make a standard "mass" flower arrangement using flowers and fillers found in our late summer gardens. Another good source for flower arrangers is the National Council of State Garden Clubs Inc.

Clips and tips

On a recent warm August afternoon, Berry gathered up a collection of flowers and greenery from her garden and met with me at the Bob Chisholm Community Center to demonstrate how to make a simple flower arrangement.

Her first arrangement, featuring ferns, Shasta daisies, crocosmia and salal, made good use of these area mainstays. Other late summer candidates might include foxglove, lady's mantle and daylilies. A second arrangement presented a mix of hydrangea varieties, punctuated by stems of fuchsias.

Berry also shared with me a list of basic "tools" every flower arranger should keep nearby.

That kit should include clippers for cutting flowers; a knife for peeling and nicking stems; a measuring tape for checking the length of line materials and other fillers; wire for supporting flowers and filler; frogs or pinholders to place at the bottom of the container to hold the flowers and fillers or oasis, the green florist foam; and florist clay to adhere frogs or pinholders to the bottom of the vase or to stick a leaf to a basket. Of course, a selection of vases, baskets and liners comes in handy. Berry said she finds many of her containers at yard sales or during the off-season. She paints baskets to fit a theme or color scheme.

Back to the flowers, Berry said when you choose your materials, consider that you will want five pieces of straight or "line" elements, seven round flower forms and five or six pieces of filler.

The line elements should be spiked, such as glads, liatris and snapdragons, or bare, flowering or green tree or shrub branches or even the strappy foliage found on flax, yuccas and irises. Ferns work well, as do our alder branches or crocosmia spears.

The round flower forms can be roses, daisies, carnations, mums or any similarly shaped flowers.

Filler materials might include a small leafed plant, particularly if the line elements are large leafed. Contrast is important and pleasing to the eye.

Rules of arrangement

Both of Berry's flower presentations would be considered "mass arrangements" in a flower show, and their construction became deceptively simple once Berry showed me how to break down the basic mass arrangements into the following steps. The directions below make an arrangement viewed from the front. A centerpiece arrangement follows similar instructions in selecting and preparing a container, but differs in placement of the main lines.

Berry carefully places daisies into the arrangement.First, choose a container and an appropriately sized piece of oasis, pinholder or frog to secure the flowers. Wet the oasis thoroughly or fill the container with enough water to cover the flower stems.

Next, select and prepare the line materials. For a medium-sized container, use five line materials. A small container might call for three line pieces, while a larger one uses seven or more. Use odd numbers. Pick a main line element, measure it and trim it down so that it is 1 1/2 times the height of the container. Before placing the main line, measure out the second line and cut it two inches shorter than the first - the third, fourth and fifth lines should each be slightly shorter than the one preceding it.

Berry starts her arrangement with tall ferns set into floral foam.Place the main line element slightly behind the middle of the oasis, if the arrangement is intended to be viewed from the front. The second line element should be placed slightly behind the first element. The third goes slightly in front of the main line. Put the fourth line element to the right of the main line and the fifth line element, the lowest and shortest, to the left of the main line.

The round flower forms come next. If the flowers are different sizes, make the smallest-budded flower the tallest and place it in front of the main line. Then, cut the remaining six stems in graduated lengths and insert each flower in a descending cascade to the rim of the container.

A Lewis and Clark themed quilt, created by members of the Sou'Wester Garden Club, will be raffled off Sunday at the flower show.The tightest and least opened flowers should be the tallest, while it is pleasing to see at least one flower draping over the rim of the container.

Finally, it is time for the filler. Filler works to obscure the oasis, to provide contrast to the line and flower elements and to add depth to an arrangement. Berry said the filler shouldn't overplay the main flowers, but instead "fill in" holes in the arrangement. Consider placing shorter pieces that hang over the lip of the container for a flowing effect.

If you are working with a circular arrangement that is intended for viewing from all sides, use the same number of flowers and fillers as the front-viewed arrangement, but start by placing the main line in the center of the oasis or frog. Then place the rest of the line elements, cut as directed above, followed by the flowers and filler. Make sure the filler covers the lip of the container and play with flower placement - big blooms on the top or bottom? The final result should be pleasing to view from all sides.

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