February Floral Inspiration: The Making of a Showstopper

This month I am giving you a little break from my own clumsy attempts at floral design to bring you the stunning work of professional floral designer Michelle Pedersen, owner of The Art of Forest Blooms.

Finding Michelle

My mom, Erika, and I recently attended the 2016 Northwest Flower & Garden Show in Seattle.  With its fantastic display gardens, this show is a feast for the eyes – well, all the senses, really: The air is fragrant with hyacinths and daphnes, bird songs are piped in. We are always transformed to a magical place.

But my favorite feature of the show is the floral competition where the most innovative floral designers in the region display their creations. This is where floral design becomes fine art.

And this is where I fell in love with Michelle’s whimsical floral sculpture.

Across the wilderness - Floral Design
Image courtesy of Michelle Pedersen.

It is called Across the Wilderness; ‘til paths be wrought through wilds of thought, and you’ll learn why in a minute.

Across the wilderness - floral design

We thought at first that the tree trunk was made of sculpted metal, but then we realized that we were actually looking at the brown, leathery undersides of magnolia leaves.

Across the wilderness: Magnolia leaf bark - floral design

Truly amazing.  My favorite floral designs are ones that imagine new uses for natural materials.  I was so intrigued that I had to meet Michelle and learn more.

Michelle has kindly agreed to give us an inside look at the process of creating this floral masterpiece – from finding her inspiration to the actual construction.  And as you will see, sometimes things didn’t quite go according to plan.

Michelle Talks About Her Floral Sculpture

Hello fellow flower lovers,

Six years ago my life journey took a turn towards floral design and man am I glad it did. I have always had a love affair with trees, branches, and flowers – maybe a borderline obsession. I am in awe of them: How incredibly different and beautiful they all are; perfectly imperfect and happy just to be. They bend and reach for light and life amongst environmental and human restrictions. They inspire me to see the beauty of the simple things and they continue to teach me to overcome obstacles whether man-made or from Mother Nature herself.

The creation of my floral sculpture started over the summer when my sister-in-law sent me a link to Holland’s festival of flowers, featuring Van Gogh (the link is posted on my Facebook page).  I immediately added the festival to my bucket list and thought, “I want to make something like this someday.” Around the same time, an episode of How It’s Made showcased the making of silk bonsai trees, and I thought, “I could do that. I even have all of the materials here.” With these two seeds and the impending floral competition, my mind started spiraling with possibilities.

With time, a vision of a tree appeared: A purple tree. I wanted it to look like the purple trees I had seen while I was in Australia and Brazil but with a bonsai flair. I also wanted to include moss on the branches – the essence of the Northwest forest. I just love mossy branches, especially when ferns are growing from the moss patches…truly amazing.

I didn’t know how I would do it, but I knew I had to create it. I thought deeply on the internal structure:  How to make it, what to use, how it would support flowers and water. I decided that I would buy a tree structure and add the flowers to it. I eventually found what I thought to be a perfect pre-made tree, because it was made from branches and wrapped with wire (and looked like something I could create). I tried to figure out how I would attach the flowers and keep them hydrated.  But after three months, I couldn’t seem to get it, and with one week before the show I rethought the structure and decided to build it from scratch.

I dug into my art materials and found two metal pipes. I bent and contorted them into the shape of branches and then coated them with floral oasis foam. I used chicken wire to secure the foam and give shape to the body of the tree. Once I had a sturdy frame and had it attached securely to the base, I started to add plant material and bring it to life. The shape of the tree was inspired by my logo, which I had drawn over the summer.

Image courtesy of Michelle Pedersen.

The first element I used was contorted willow branches for the trunk, fork, and the main branches. The natural curves of the willow accentuated the curves of the tree. I then created the tree ring/branch collar out of a vine-covered wire.  Finding the material for and creating the bark was a difficult step. I used the back side of magnolia leaves and pinned them onto the trunk for bark. A combination of myrtle and berzilla foliage was used for the leaves and small branches, and wax flower for the blooms and other small branches. As for the moss on the tree, I used gypsy dianthus.

Across the wilderness - floral design

Surrounding the base of the trunk I used more of the gypsy dianthus, green trachelium, Kermit mums, and green sheet moss to create the feel of a meadow. I splashed a few sprigs of yellow solidago for wild flowers, and silver brunia for the stepping stones.

I added a bench at the base of the tree because I wanted to provoke a sense of wonder by inviting the viewer to imagine sitting under this magnificent tree and soaking in the views of our national forests.

Across the wilderness - floral design
Image courtesy of Michelle Pedersen.

Since this year’s theme was America the Beautiful, I found the title of my sculpture within the lyrics of the song. I combined two passages that spoke to me: “Across the Wilderness; ‘til paths be wrought through wilds of thought.”

The creation of my floral tree sculpture was fun, exciting and frustrating. In all I spent six months planning, sketching, and gathering materials and 10 hours building it. I am thrilled with the final product and all of its positive reviews. I feel a sense of accomplishment for creating the beauty I wished to see because that is my guiding light in life.

How You Can Find Michelle

See more of Michelle Pedersen’s creations at www.theartofforestblooms.com/.

Thank you, Michelle, for sharing your floral design adventures with us.  I will be posting more inspiration from the Northwest Flower & Garden Show in the weeks to come.

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