Flower Guild Activities

Grace Church Harvest Festival 2013
Charleston, South Carolina

By Carolyn Ellis, St. Peter’s Flower Guild Co-chair

This fall I traveled to Charleston, South Carolina for the Grace Episcopal Church Harvest Festival 2013, October 30 – November 1. The festival offers training in arranging flowers for sacred spaces, and it is attended by members of flower guilds primarily in the South and Southeast representing many denominations. I traveled with arrangers from Episcopal churches in Dedham, Milton and Winchester and from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Associates flower team.

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We arrived in Charleston on a sunny, 70-degree afternoon. Following an early supper we gathered in Grace Church for the first of three flower arranging demonstrations by the 2013 Seminar Demonstrator Alan Beatty of Ireland. Beatty is a National Association of Flower Arranging Societies (NAFAS) demonstrator and judge.

The Rev’d Canon A. Michael J. Wright, 10th Rector of Grace Church welcomed us on Wednesday evening. He said of flower guild ministry, and I paraphrase, God has given us His creation — flowers, foliage, twigs, seeds and fruits, and to Humanity he has given the gifts to gather these and arrange them into beautiful displays. I love this perspective on our work.

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In his flower arranging seminars on Wednesday evening and Thursday and Friday mornings, Mr. Beatty created 6-7 major arrangements in traditional and contemporary styles. He used copious amounts of foliage, freshly cut from Charleston gardens. These ranged from arching holly fern and myrtle to the palm-size fatsia leaves.

With ample amounts of Oasis floral foam, stacked to 6 or 8 or 10 inches high, Mr. Beatty was able to bring these elegant foliages long and low. He blocked and terraced them by type and used many different forms. Charleston gardens offer New England style foliage as well as tropical plants with huge and unusual leaves. Flowers he used often included carnations, roses, delphinium, gerbera daisies, snapdragons, and dendrobium orchids.

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For me, the most interesting arrangement was what he called a still life. He used a footed container and a wild variety of flowers. In this one, he used much less foliage than in all his others. He also used two of many flowers – two pink roses, two sunflowers, two lily blossoms, when it’s more common (we are taught more correct, more visually pleasing) to use three or an odd number. He went on to explain that as in Dutch master paintings, the still life was an analogy for much of life – birth, death, decay — and he included a peeled lemon and some grapes on the table to that end.

On Friday morning Grace Church was bursting with flower arrangements done by flower guilds throughout Charleston. These appeared under each stained glass window, on pillars, at the baptismal font, in the courtyard and on the ironwork between church and parish hall. The arrangements by Alan Beatty were set in appropriate locations where their trailing foliage and exquisitely placed flowers could be seen at their best.

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Grace Church has been recently renovated and the interior is a stunning cream and gold, highlighted by stained glass with lots of yellow, green and white and blues and reds. As the sun passes over the building the interior shimmers and glistens. It is magical. On Friday and Saturday Grace Church welcomed members of the public to enjoy the flower arrangements and to have tea. Information is available at www.gracechurchcharleston.org under Ministries/Worship Support.

I must mention another highlight of our trip — watching the Red Sox on Wednesday evening beat the St. Louis Cardinals to win their third World Series championship!

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I attended the 2010 Harvest Festival and a report is also included here in Flower Guild Activities.

flowerguild_11Grace Episcopal Church Flower Guild
98 Wentworth Street, Charleston, South Carolina

Harvest Flower Festival
October 27-31, 2010

By Carolyn S. Ellis

On October 28 and 29, I attended the Grace Church Harvest Festival in Charleston, South Carolina. Every other year Grace Church Flower Guild presents a flower festival with arrangements by their guild members and guests from Charleston area churches and with flower arranging seminars by an internationally recognized demonstrator. This year the presenter was Margaret Fairhurst of Devon, England.

flowerguild_12Grace Church, dating from 1848, has been under restoration for three years, and everyone was very happy that the scaffolding had come down in time for the festival. We entered the 19th century Gothic sanctuary through an arched entry garlanded with magnolia leaves and lemons, oranges, and mums.

Inside the church early on Thursday morning, arrangements were appearing on pillars, pedestals, the baptismal font, and along the walls. The morning sunlight turned the gold-trimmed, limestone interior into a kaleidoscope of color as it moved around the building. Women and men, most in khaki shorts and skirts with colorful golf shirts and blue Grace Church aprons, were working quietly in pairs, getting their exhibits ready for the 3-day open house. It was 80-degrees and heading upward and plenty humid outside, but indoors air conditioning kept flowers and workers comfortable. Libby Metzger balanced barefoot on the box pew rail as she installed a braided palm wreath decorated with hydrangea and aspidistra leaves on a pillar.

flowerguild_13Gardens in Charleston yield many beautiful greens. Besides aspidistra (cast iron plant), fatsia, photinia, palms, and holly fern are among the most useful. Margaret Fairhurst is a gardener, and she loves plant material from the garden. She used David Austin roses, beauty bush with white and purple berries, and hydrangeas brought by guild members in her arrangements.

In the seminars I attended Margaret demonstrated pedestal arrangements, crescents for the reredos, a vertical arrangement for the floor in front of the altar, fruit and flowers atop an urn, an exuberant candlestick arrangement, and many others. She worked from the outside in, often doing what I would call loose color blocking, getting flowers of the same type together but not packed tight into one mass. She is fond of long-stemmed carnations and used the ones with slender stems to hang gracefully along cascades of Italian ruskus.

I was very happy to see two friends from my time at Washington National Cathedral in January 2009, Lisa with whom I arranged flowers for the St. John Chapel (see photos in my reports from Washington) and Cindy who lives on Edisto Island in Charleston.


I learned about the Harvest Festival from Carolyn Yarbrough when I interviewed her for an article I wrote on flower guild ministry in 2009. She and Terry Ritchen are co-chairs of Grace Church Flower Guild. You can learn more at www.gracechurchcharleston.org. You can also view sample pages and order a copy of “Grace in All Seasons,“ an engagement calendar for 2011 published by Grace Church Flower Guild. With each photograph of flowers, you will find a list of plant materials from the florist, from the garden, and materials from the flower room.

Click here for more photos from the Grace Church Flower Festival

Carolyn Ellis is chair of St. Peter’s Flower Guild. She attended the Washington National Cathedral Seminar, Flower Arranging for Holy Spaces in 2009. She recommends both programs to church flower arrangers.

The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts
Congregational Resource Day 2010

September 25, 2010
Bentley University, Waltham, Mass.

“Flower Power: Making the Most of Flower Guild Ministry”
Presenters: Carolyn Ellis, Betsy Ridge Madsen, and Laura Keery

Our one-hour seminar covered the four elements of parish life that flower guild ministry serves: worship, pastoral, fellowship and adult education. Betsy is from the Flower Guild of Church of the Advent on Beacon Hill and Laura and I are from the Flower Guild of St. Peter’s, Weston. We gave a power point created by Betsy with slides of the beautiful arrangements done by the Flower Guild of Church of the Advent directed by Tom Sopko as well as a selection of photos from St. Peter’s.

Our two churches have very different architectural styles and our flower arranging reflects the range, from the 19th century High Gothic of Advent to the Georgian colonial (mid-20th century) of St. Peter’s. While I spoke and they both contributed to the discussion, Betsy arranged seasonal flowers for the reredos at St. Peter’s in our Tucker Vase and Laura created twin arrangements for the chapel altar.

Carolyn Ellis, Flower Guild


flowerguild_15Washington National Cathedral Flower Guild
“Flower Arranging for Holy Spaces” Seminar
January 2009

Report from the Seminar Part 1 of 2

by Carolyn Ellis, St. Peter’s Flower Guild

Day 2 is drawing to a close here in Cathedral College, where 25 of us participants in the 2009 seminar, Flower Arranging for Holy Spaces, are staying for the week. I am the only New Englander, although we have some from Ohio and Pennsylvania. This geography is only pertinent because it has snowed all day, and the southerners are totally in awe. There is less than 2 inches on the ground, but the Cathedral, related buildings on the property, and the gardens are lovely outlined in snow. And the city is quiet, as events are cancelled and people stay home.
flowerguild_16We have been busy with flower arranging demonstrations and a slide show, and had tours of the Cathedral, including its public spaces and the back-of-the-house areas, especially those related to flowers. Tonight we were treated to an introduction to change ringing and had a tour of the Cathedral bell tower. We climbed 100 spiral steps, half covered in snow, to the 7th floor room where the bell ringers stood on a circular platform and rang patterns with the bells above, which range in weight from 600 to 3,600 pounds. Tuesday is practice night and the neighborhood knows it.
I am learning much more than I ever imagined about flower arranging from Linda Roecklein, director of the Cathedral’s Flower and Altar Guilds, and several volunteer arrangers from her guild, as well as the talented participants in the seminar. We share all our meals so we have time and a lovely setting in the college refectory to compare notes. This afternoon we went to our workspace, the St. Mary Chapel (you really have to see this to believe it), and on long worktables replicated an arrangement demonstrated for us this morning. 
flowerguild_17I learned today that Massachusetts has an important presence in this holy space. Besides our state medallion and state flag, the sculptor Walter Hancock created the focal point of the high altar, Christ in Majesty, and the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Bay. The rood beam, screen, choir pews and wood work were all carved in Boston. And in the narthex, there are four stone end caps that tell the story of the Nantucket sleigh ride. I’ll let you come here to figure that one out.

Tomorrow we will be arranging flowers again, watching demonstrations, and having an evening sightseeing tour of Washington. Several of us are meeting to attend Morning Prayer before breakfast, and if the snow subsides, we should have another opportunity to attend choral evensong with the boys’ choir. My best to everyone at St. Peter’s.  Carolyn Ellis, Flower Guild

Washington National Cathedral Flower Guild
“Flower Arranging for Holy Spaces” Seminar
January 2009

Report from the Seminar Part 2 of 2

by Carolyn Ellis, St. Peter’s Flower Guild

Although we sit atop Mount St. Alban, the highest point in the District of Columbia, the sun is beginning to soften as it drops below the tall walls of the Cathedral. Our classes are over and tomorrow, Friday morning, we will each create an arrangement in the Cathedral for the Diocesan Convention that begins at noon. My assignment is St. John’s Chapel, adjoining the high altar, and I will be working with Lisa, my classmate from Virginia. It should be lots of fun and a great learning experience, not to mention the spiritual significance.


Wednesday, Day 3, was a beautiful day, unusual for Washington, D.C. because everything — from the Bishop’s Garden to the walkways and rooftops — was coated with snow and ice. The three schools on the cathedral grounds were closed, and the city was quiet. Staff at the Cathedral College stayed overnight so our cook and our teachers were with us, and our program went on as scheduled.

After a Holy Eucharist we organized in the library, our morning class was demonstrations — arrangements of palms and foliage, an everlasting wreath, a linear table garden, a Paschal candle garland, a tied bouquet, and another oval arrangement.

After lunch we gathered in St. Mary’s Chapel, our incredible workspace, to make our own miniature gardens. We got our assignments for Friday morning, and visited the spaces where we will design.

St. John’s Chapel, Washington National Cathedral, Carolyn and Lisa’s completed arrangements, January 2009.

In the evening, we went by coach on a guided tour, “Monuments by Moonlight.” We stopped to walk through Union Station and the Korean War Memorial, each impressive in its own way. From the coach we could see the Mall, the major monuments, the White House, the Capitol (the lights were on!), the flame at JFK’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery, and many other highlights.

Today we woke to sunshine and our first view of blue skies over the cathedral. Our seminars focused on the mechanics of flower arranging with one and often two arrangers from the Cathedral Flower Guild explaining technique as they worked. In the morning we watched the creation of a Thanksgiving arrangement, a flower garland suitable for pulpit or window, a large plaque of dried materials including challah bread and bagels (yes, a harvest theme), an arching pair, a pedestal, an English stook, and a glass compote filled with spring flowers. (A stook is a circular arrangement of cut grain stalks – wheat, barley, oats – in preparation for threshing. A real stook you would find in a field; this one was a miniature version, using flowers.)


Tomorrow we head home after Holy Eucharist and lunch, blessed by what we have learned and the presence of those who have been with us as teachers and students. See you soon!

My best to everyone at St. Peters,
Carolyn Ellis, Flower Guild