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Pacific Northwest | May 23, 2004Pacific Northwest MagazineMay 23, home
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A World View
In the art of arranging, the globe is her garden
Remember when cut flowers were pretty much limited to carnations, overpriced, unscented roses or a skinny-stemmed bunch of spider chrysanthemums? Now grocery stores are well-stocked with seasonal flowers from tulips to lilies, and the selection at florists and the Pike Place Market is truly sumptuous. Even the most transitory of garden flowers like peonies, poppies and sweet peas can be bought.

We've moved from wondering where to get beautiful bouquets to asking where in the world all these fresh flowers are coming from, and, especially with the more exotic selections, how best to arrange them?
Reminiscent of girls in pretty, floral party dresses waiting to be asked to dance, a vintage enamel flour bin holds sweetly-scented stock, while the pink plastic woven basket on the right is stuffed with sweet peas, white peonies and lilacs.
Ask no more, because British petal guru Jane Packer has written a beauty of a book. "World Flowers" (Conran Octopus Ltd., 2003, $29.95) is oversized and filled with photos as lovely as the blossoms themselves. Packer is largely credited with bringing a whole new look and cachet to flower arranging. With flower schools and shops in New York, Korea, Tokyo and London, Packer's influence is as far-flung as the locations from which these flowers come. Yet despite the sophistication of Packer's arrangements, many are quite simple, and her enthusiasm for flowers shines through the highly designed pages of her book. Her flower-care and arranging tips work to magnify the essential attributes of flowers you pick from your garden as much as the orchids and gilded roses pictured in the book's glossy pages.

Arranged geographically to give the flavor of the countries where the flowers originate, the book unabashedly celebrates globalization. Whether as simple as red Mexican geraniums lined up in brightly striped drinking glasses, or as luxurious as a velvety pyramid of Moroccan roses, each of Packer's arrangements fizzes with instant impact. Clean-lined, often architectural, always startling, some may be a bit contrived, but none is fussy or familiar. Clear instructions are given about how to select containers and condition flowers to reproduce the effects shown.

Packer is fearless in her creativity, hoping to inspire readers to revel in the colors, textures and shapes that nature (or rapid, refrigerated shipping) provides. Perhaps her most unusual creation is a rose-studded, pearl-handled evening purse shown nestled in a plush theater seat. I love that Packer explains her inspirations, nudging each of us to plumb our own memories, seek our own influences, as we gather and arrange. The idea for the rose-laden purse was seeded in a comment from designer Christian Dior comparing women's dresses to flower petals.

After Packer works her way through 14 countries as diverse as Thailand, Australia and South Africa, she includes a directory of her favorite flowers, with information on their availability, uses and possible substitutes. No flower snob, the directory lists dahlias, forsythia and gladiolas as well as grevillea, heliconia and echeveria. And would you ever have thought of using strong florist's wire or a cocktail stick to create a fake stem for an echeveria rosette?

I learned far more from the book than florist tips. While I'll rarely, or probably never, buy masses of orchids or enough baby olive trees to create a glass-encased grove, I learned much about flower display and care. I gleaned a few practical lessons from this most glamorous of books, too: hydrangeas, roses and pansies look contemporary with the stems cut so short that the flowers just barely overhang the lip of the vase; it takes only a repeated thread of color running through flowers with disparate shapes and sizes to effectively unify a display; grouping small containers holding single kinds of flowers has more impact than a mixed bouquet of those flowers, and everything from the patterning on book spines to the color of shoes can serve as inspiration for flower arrangements.

Speaking of the power of shoes, I heard that Sarah Jessica Parker (the shoe-obsessed Carrie Bradshaw on TV's "Sex and the City") made such a fuss over her love for carnations on the show that they're resurging in popularity. With Packer's book in hand, we can do far, far better than carnations.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle free-lance writer and contributing editor for Horticulture magazine. Her e-mail address is

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