My Sentimental Garden

May 14, 2012

I come from a family of serious gardeners. Beginning with my Italian grandparents, virtually everyone in my family has had a flower and vegetable garden. In the case of one sister, it’s actually a small farm in southern Ohio, which requires tractors and other serious implements.

The passiflora vine

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February 14, 2012

I grew up in Bakersfield, in California’s hot, dry Central Valley. Each year my family would travel to San Francisco to visit my grandparents, Italian immigrants who lived on the slopes of Telegraph Hill under the shadow of Coit Tower. The Hill was still wild in those days, with trees and vines covering the spaces where expensive condos now stand. It was paradise for kids – we could run through the gardens and vacant lots, up the paths and down the old brick staircases from the time of the Gold Rush that wrapped around the Hill and served as the streets. The lush greenery and plants that thrived there in the moist, foggy San Francisco climate – hydrangea, calla lilies, eucalyptus – seemed so strange to us, so different from those that grew in our sun-baked home.

My grandparents had a garden that ran along the Greenwich Steps, clinging to the hillside in a way that must have reminded them of the childhood home in the Italian Alps which they had left behind. Of course they grew vegetables, and also simple, old-fashioned garden flowers such as daisies, fuchsias and roses. The garden was beautifully tended, but in spite of that they permitted a certain amount of wildness to remain, and tolerated plants like the ivy and nasturtiums and baby’s tears that crept in from the untamed edges of the Hill, climbing and filling the empty spaces with enthusiasm.

Of all these wild garden “volunteers”, my favorites were the bunches of tiny blue forget-me-nots that popped up in the shadiest part of the garden. The tender green leaves and the bright blue flowers were so fresh and cheerful, and so unlike anything that would have survived in our hot Bakersfield garden. Whenever my grandmother asked me to go into the garden and pick flowers for the house, the forget-me-nots were always my first choice. Mixed with daisies, they fit perfectly into a tiny pewter vase she had brought with her on the boat from Genoa so many years before, a parting gift from her beloved little sister, Adriana. Forty years later, the memory of that farewell would still bring tears to her eyes when I proudly put my little arrangement on the table next to her bed.

The day of my grandmother’s funeral, I put the same beloved little vase, the same favorite blue and white bouquet, on a small table set in the vastness of the Italian Church, to keep company with the simple brass box that held her ashes. Beside it was a photo of her, happy in her garden, a basket of flowers on her arm.   Now I see the bundles of tiny blossoms at the Flower Market, blue eyes twinkling from their newspaper wrappings, and I’m the one who pauses and drifts back in time. They are the key to so many memories, so much a part of childhood and family and San Francisco, a token of what is past but not forgotten — so perfectly named, sweet little forget-me-nots…

This time of year we’re all beseiged with donation requests from worthy organizations.  We all have our favorites, and mine happen to focus on the arts and on developing and empowering young women.

My top 3 choices for giving this year are as follows (drum-roll please!!!!):


The Imagine Bus Project 

This organization got its start by filling an old school bus with art supplies and teachers and driving around to schools that had lost their funding for art programs.  Building from there, it’s now grown to serve over 2,000 children and youth in San Francisco and Sonoma Counties at 11 community sites, public schools and juvenile halls.  The Imagine Bus Project invites us all to continue to invest in the lives of underserved Bay Area children and youth, and make certain that they have the opportunity to access the joy and pride of creative experiences. 


The Princess Project

The Princess Project is a 100% volunteer-run effort that provides free prom dresses and accessories to San Francisco Bay Area & San Diego high school girls who could not otherwise afford them.  The Princess Project collects new and nearly new formal dresses and accessories from women, girls and companies, and distributes them free of charge to the girls at fun-filled spring events in San Francisco, Silicon Valley and San Diego.  The Princess Project began in 2002 and since then has served over 15,000 girls, and this year hopes to serve roughly 2,500 in San Francisco alone.


Oasis for Girls

Oasis For Girls is a safe space where girls and young women are inspired and empowered to become strong and creative leaders in their communities. It provides culturally relevant and gender specific Arts and Arts Education, Leadership Development, and Life Skills Education programs that support the growth of low-income and immigrant girls and young women of color in urban communities. Through these programs, girls and young women have access to a community of adults who support them in creating change and integrating their skills to address issues they face in their lives and in their communities.

People always tell me how lucky I am to be a florist, and most of the time I smile and remind them that it isn’t all pretty flowers and smiling brides. What I do every week is incredibly physical, and there’s a lot of wet-cold-messy-heavy involved in every arrangement I create. However, I do admit that my work is incredibly fulfilling, and not only because I work with beautiful things. I have the good fortune to be surrounded by and supported by people who are equally committed to the work we all do, and right now I’d like to give thanks for their presence in my life:

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“Vivid colors and textures for fall arrangements”

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Chrysanthemum – botanical name chrysanthemum (fam. Compositae)

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Dahlia – botanical name dahlia (fam. compositae) 

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Sunflower – botanical name helianthus (fam. Compositae)

This cheerful bloom practically shouts “Summertime!”. Whatever the size or color variation, the sunflower is exactly what its name implies: a burst of sunshine. 

Though often associated with Europe, the sunflower in fact originated in Central America and was domesticated by 2600 BC. It is widely found in the Western United States and Mexico and was sacred to some tribes as a symbol of the sun. 

Seeds were taken back to Spain early in the 16th Century by the conquistadors, and the plant was quickly adopted in Europe for its seeds and the oil that could be produced from them. Sunflower oil was used especially in Russia, and the sunflower is the national flower of Ukraine. 

Meet Platón.  He’s an old friend of mine — in fact, I don’t remember a time when his happy little face wasn’t on the kitchen shelf. Acquired at some point from my grandmother (who was a treasure trove of interesting and often obscure items she received from her clients), he was the first vase I remember being permitted to fill with flowers.

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For most brides, the biggest floral decision is selecting their bouquet. White or colorful? Garden style or exotic? Traditional or trendy? Luckily there is no “right” answer, because the bouquet should add the final touch to the bride’s look for the day, and so it’s all about reflecting her personal style and taste in the choice of her flowers. Being creative is what it’s all about, and today’s bride loves to be original! 

“bright color works with this flamenco-style gown”

Bright color is definitely something brides are more open to than in years past. A pop of color against a white dress is dramatic and lively — and photographs so well!    Read the rest of this entry »