Designing With Daylilies...

One week ago I was in Springfield, Illinois viewing the results of the Central Illinois Daylily Society Daylily Exhibition Show. I traveled to central Illinois from Michigan to enter not only the horticulture division, but also the design division. On my list of "New Things to Do" in 2009 was exhibit in a flower show other than my own clubs' event. Since I grow about one hundred registered daylilies at my parent's house in Illinois, along with about 200 seedlings, this was the perfect opportunity.

Planning on my designs started about a month before the event. There were 6 different sections of design, and you could choose what designs you wanted, within the specified criteria. The show publishes a list of what each design sections theme is. The overall theme of the designs was "Your Tickets Please" and all sections had a Broadway theme. For example, "The Color Purple," "Topsy Turvy," and "A Chorus Line" are the three sections I chose to enter.

I have never entered a floral design competition before, but my mom is a florist and I enjoy putting together bouquets and arrangements from my own garden every day, so I thought I had enough chops to at least compete. I spent nearly 10 hours setting up my arrangements the night before, 2 hours selecting daylilies the morning of the show, packed everything up and started the 90 minute drive to the show. Assembling the designs on site was a challenge, as the car was about 100 yards from where I needed to be…so I walked…a lot…back and forth. With about 2 minutes to spare, I created 3 daylily dominated floral arrangements and entered 4 scapes in the horticulture show. I took a deep, cleansing sigh of relief when the closing bell rang, and I smiled with a satisfied sense of accomplishment and relief.

Judging is done behind closed doors and takes about 2 hours, so exhibitors have to find something to do until the judges are finished. I drove into downtown Springfield and had a fried bologna sandwich at the cutest little diner and shopped the fabulous 6th Avenue downtown. I headed back to Washington Park Botanical Gardens with butterflies in my belly. Weeks of preparation were over and all that was left were the ribbons. Sweet, beautiful, subjective ribbons.

This is where I tell you I got my backside handed to me.

Floral design is a science. It is a science with finite rules and unspoken undertones that would make the strongest gardener armed with her best vases shudder. My designs had panache. They had direct interpretations of the themes. They were well-thought out. I was well-read. I bought floral design magazines and spent hours reading websites dedicated to the topic. I downloaded the Judges Handbook for Floral Design and studied the standards. I thought I had a pretty good rookie shot, not to mention the fact I had Beginner's Luck on my side.

This is where I tell you that humble pie tastes great with sweet tea.

In the three sections I entered, I competed with three other designs. This translates to one design getting a blue ribbon (first), one getting a red (second) and one getting a third (yellow.) This means one gets nothing. To be fair, if none of the designs would warrant a first place ribbon, none would be awarded.

In the first section - "The Color Purple" - my design was not well received. The judges hated the container and did not think "my lines" were well defined. It was "maybe a tapestry design and maybe not." It was what I thought was my best entry - a tower of lush moss, dotted with eggshell white rugosa roses and spunky purple aster. No ribbon at all for me. Several hours of planning + $21.00 worth of materials + 4 hours of assembly = no ribbons and a ton of education about container selection.

The second section I entered was "A Chorus Line" and the criteria stipulated that a set of three or more parallel lines must be in the design. Done. I sketched a cool, tiered design that would resemble the long steps of a Mayan temple. I would use scapes as my parallel lines (after all, daylilies must be dominant in the design, so why not?) Cardinal Sin #1 of parallel design - the parallel lines must not intersect, on their own plane or visually at all. My design, when viewed straight on (as above) interprets the two sets of three parallel lines as intersecting. Big fat disqualification for my chorus line. No ribbon. Next.

The third design was the most challenging. It was the Broadway favorite "Topsy Turvy" interpreted in a hanging design. Yes, hanging. Actually suspended from a chain from the ceiling. No problem. I tried several contraptions before settling on a 10" hollow grapevine sphere. Hanging there next to the other three Topsy Turvy designs, I felt pretty confident. My design had girth and strength and the best interpretation of topsy or turvy. People ooooh'd and aaaah'd as they passed me assembling my design. Red Ribbon for me! Second place! The judges comments indicated that had I been in conformance with the schedule (my design was 1.75" too wide) I could have been a contender for first. Lesson learned - add a small tape measure in my design kit. I didnt even think to measure it again once it was assembled. I was aware of the criteria and did not take it in to consideration when putting the final touches on my piece. Most likely if I would have noticed it was too wide; I could have corrected it without losing any integrity from the overall look. I just didn't think about it. Hooray for the red ribbon and hooray for the lesson of checking the dimensions one last time.

Overall, I am so glad that I ventured into this new way to use daylilies. I have competed in daylily shows for ten years and this design level of competition is a whole new nut to crack. The jury is still out on if I will enter the design division again, but one thing is for sure - my bouquets from the garden have never looked better. The skills I learned while researching this type of competition have made me better at arranging the bouquets I bring into my home from the garden each morning. There are six gorgeous bouquets peppered throughout my house today and each one of them is fantastic thanks to the skills I learned because I had the courage to try something new. It was a bit humbling to read the at-times harsh comments from the design judges, but I respected it and chose to learn from it. I guess you can't be stellar at everything you try for the first time. Most of the time, sure, but not all the time! ;)

It was worth the risk to try, and I'm happy I did.

You should stretch beyond your comfort zone in some way, too. Try something that has some potential risk and tell me about it. I'd love to hear your tales of triumph!

P.S. The silver lining to all this is that my horticulture exhibit of H. 'Brookwood Mamasan' won its section of Small Flowers, competing against about 20 other small flowers and went on to compete on the head table for Best In Show! Some exhibits exude the quiet confidence it takes to win best in section and when I cut this scape the morning of the show, I knew it was a winner. Glad to know that I have one part of this exhibition thing figured out!


Catherine said...

I like this story and the way it was formatted into a blog.

I once tried to be a hip hop dancer and failed miserably. i did learn one good move from it though.


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