Peonies, air plants bring the garden party indoors

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      A good rule of thumb for bringing the outdoors inside this season is that there are no rules. Or at least it’s time to throw out some of the old rules for indoor plants and cut flowers. Red roses, carnations, and flute-shaped vases, begone!

      Look around the chic Garden Party Flowers warehouse—a two-storey, concrete-floored industrial space (at 415 Industrial Avenue) that defies the stereotypical image of the floral boutique—and you’ll get the idea. Downstairs, workers are at long tables putting live herbs—parsley, lemon balm, grapefruit mint, thyme—into boxes carpeted with moss. Upstairs in the ultra-mod black-and-white boardroom, the table’s centrepiece is a glass sphere filled with a mossy twig, a long sprig of cotton plant, rocks, and starlike air plants—organic rusticity set against shiny, hard surfaces. On a side table, an antique-looking mercury-glass vase bursts with a huge, loose bunch of lilies of the valley. And over in the 200-square-foot cooler, it’s all about fluffy, cabbagelike garden roses, double-petal tulips, and unusual greenery and succulents.

      With so many plants at hand, there seem to be no limits to what can be done with arrangements these days. Well, at Garden Party, there may be one: “We don’t like to mix too many colours here into an arrangement,” says owner Amy Hu, who also runs do-it-yourself floral workshops in the warehouse space. “I like the same colours put together and then different foliage textures.”

      Hu—who has travelled to Amsterdam, London, and Frankfurt to scope out trends and train with floral designers—sat down with the Straight to talk about what plants are hot for decorating this summer. A Taiwan-born psychology and education graduate of SFU, she ended up in floral design because of its creative, calming qualities, and says she draws on everything from ikebana to Dutch arranging for her style. After first setting up shop in a small boutique in Kits, last August she moved into bigger, nontraditional digs to take a multifunctional approach to floral design—workshops, Internet orders, an onsite retail shop, and wedding planning.

      Before she even talks plants, Hu wants to stress the importance of stylish vessels when it comes to cut flowers. Stark cylinders are cool, and for contemporary spaces, think square or rectangular glass vases: “That way, they can fit easily into a corner on a counter or table.” Also hot this year are canoe-shaped ceramic dishes, and a range of glass spheres that can act as terrariums—some can even be hung from the ceiling if you don’t have table space for a bouquet.

      Trends in the last few years have found compact bouquets taking the lead, but Hu says that’s changing this season.

      “People want something lush and romantic, the natural, vintage, English-garden look—not so compact,” she says.

      Which brings us to her favourite flower of the moment: the peony. (There’s even a workshop devoted to them at Garden Party on June 10.) When she can’t find them, she uses garden roses, which have a similar, full look.

      “When you see something fluffy, well, to me I link that with cotton candy,” says Hu, who loves grouping the flowers on their own, in either white or soft pink. “The texture of the flower is so pretty, and it’s just so romantic.”

      At the other end of the spectrum are her second favourites: air plants, specifically tillandsias, which require no soil and gather nutrients and water from the air. In other words, even the worst black thumb might not be able to kill these babies.

      “Air plants—I’m loving them. They’re super low-maintenance: you don’t have to do anything!” enthuses Hu. “We just soak them in water every two to three weeks for two hours. I don’t think it will be a brief trend; I think it will last really long. Until now they have been too expensive, but now we’re able to bring in the mini ones that are so affordable and easy for people to decorate with.”

      In a terrarium arrangement, air plants run anywhere from about $35 to $100. Hu’s team mixes the green starbursts and anemone-like tillandsias with rocks, moss, and twigs in round and rectangular glass containers.

      Elsewhere, Hu is still using a lot of succulents and even citrus fruits to set off her floral design. And artful herb planters, which people can keep on a windowsill or transfer easily to their garden, were selling big-time around Mother’s Day.

      Still, there’s no debating the colour of the year: just like it rules everything from runway fashions to nail polish, tangerine is big in floral décor too. Hu says she’s finding the best orange hues in garden roses, dahlias, calla lilies, and orchids, and it’s chic to mix them with silvery grey, such as sprigs of velvety dusty miller.

      Tangerine is hot right now, but don’t see it as the rule, the free-spirited Hu warns. “Sometimes you follow a trend and it’s gone,” she warns, and then the psychology major in her comes out: “I still strongly believe that it’s more important knowing what you really like.”



      May 19, 2012 at 9:33pm

      Amy, you have successfully run a shop and it is talent plus hard work. Good on you.

      cool stuff

      May 26, 2012 at 12:55am

      great story and cool company!


      Jun 2, 2012 at 10:26pm

      Amy, great interview - such creative ideas. I look forward to visiting your store soon
      Mr. Matalas