Garden Club Notes : Natural arrangements
Nancy Cabot, artist and flower arranger extraordinaire, was the featured speaker at the July Meeting of the Martha's Vineyard Garden Club. Ms. Cabot's subject was "Arrangements with Natural Materials," all of which were found within walking distance of her home in West Tisbury, and none of which, as far as she knew, were planted by anyone.
Admitting to being a "menace" behind the wheel when she drives out looking at wildflowers instead of the road ahead, she prefers to walk with a bucket and clippers as she thinks of what to use in her presentation. An alternative title for her presentation might well have been "Green Flower Arranging" because she used a limited amount of color in her containers.
In terms of containers, Ms. Cabot asserted: "I didn't buy anything." All four of the shadow-box arrangements were artfully displayed in mason jars and one prized container came from the extinct West Tisbury dump. Although this old treasure came with a crack, the speaker dismissed this flaw by demonstrating how easily a coffee can could be inserted to hold the water and plant material.
Ms. Cabot proceeded to arrange clethra, or sweet-pepper bush, and the great looking pods from yellow iris, that highly invasive water plant, along with grasses that grow in damp places. In Ms. Cabot's view, "grasses soften an arrangement." Preferring to use natural bunches of cedar to anchor plant materials in a large container, she eschews the need for artificial oasis.
Dried blueberry branches and the dried tangles of bittersweet vines in the fall make "wonderful accents." According to Ms. Cabot's way of thinking about bittersweet, "Since it's here, and we'll never eradicate it from the Island, why not use it and enjoy it?"
Ms. Cabot has been dubbed "the stick lady" for her use of dried bittersweet vines in her arrangements, but she demonstrated how the bark of a dead birch tree could be used to cover the outside of a coffee can in order to create an interesting container. Her nephew, Teddy Howes, presented all of his aunts with these containers filled with Christmas greens. For the Garden Club audience, Ms. Cabot filled the birch-bark covered can with tansy, a plant that can be seen growing alongside of the road, and which she says "has a wonderful clean smell," sweet-pepper bush, and new yellow-green new growths of bayberry.
"When you are thinking about containers for flower arranging," advises Ms. Cabot, "it should complement the flower arrangement but not overpower it. If the vase itself is what you are celebrating, choose muted flowers that won't compete." I tend to choose containers that are understated, not more important than the flowers."
Arrangements of cedar, bayberry, and Queen Ann's lace, as well as tansy, bayberry, yucca leaves, and clethra indigo, can add interest to any humble Mason jar or re-cycled spaghetti jar. A checked dishtowel or discarded cloth napkin can accent the arrangement. Indeed, Nancy Cabot says that most anything growing around the foundation of one's home "makes great background material."