The Engineering

engineering the flowers (14)Don’t ask me for the particulars, but I do recall seeing a spot on television recently featuring lots of young people studying engineering.  Engineering?  It never seemed to me that a career in engineering was anything but sleepy-just one short step up from accounting.  But these young people had solving the problems of the world on their mind. Their projects were as diverse as they were complicated.  An artificial limb powered by nerve impulses, salt water desalinated for drinking. Housing simple enough to put up in just a few hours. I was impressed-enough to rethink my casual disdain.  In fact, every project requires some engineering.  A landscape design may require a grading plan, a drainage plan, a footing or a wall.  It may require sleeves under a driveway, or lighting.  It may require a flat plane of ground, or a slope that descends on a certain angle.  Projects with the most modest of goals have than engineering phase.  Cut flowers for an event of a certain scale and feel proved to need some careful engineering.

engineering the flowers (15)Any cut flower arrangement 6 feet tall and as wide asks for some engineering in advance-yes. Add to this call the fact that the flowers in question were calla lilies.  Arranging callas in a small vase is a challenge.  Consider their requirements.  Their thick fleshy stems resent water that is too deep.  They are not a good choice for a long term arrangement.  The juicy stems split, give way and go down long before the flowers.  Heavy, long stemmed flowers have a mind of their own.  What was my idea to arrange armloads of callas in the top of a glass vase sitting 48 inches off the floor?  The opening of the vase was big – 18″ in diameter.

engineering the flowers (19)I have Sunne to thank for this engineering idea.  The long time manager and special events coordinator for Mary’s Enchanted Garden in downtown Detroit, she brought years of experience in the floral industry with her when she came our way.  A clear plastic saucer of just the right diameter was placed into the vase full of water, and wedged level and tight.  This sounds simple, but it took a number of tries before Rob got it right.  The calla lilies would have the shallow water they prefer.

engineering the flowers (21)What came next was more about construction than arranging.  Each stem was placed with the idea of creating a structure that would be stable and self supporting.  After all, this event was not to take place in my office.  This would need to be transported, and transported without a hitch.  Callas have a naturally curving stem.  The early stems were placed with the natural curve down, so the faces of the callas were turned up.  Calla stems can be straightened with repeated pulling all along the length of the stem, but that takes a very skilled pair of hands that exerts just the right amount of pressure.

engineering the flowers (16)Other arrangements included white phalaenopsis,  green cymbidiums and white dendrobiums.  All of these flowers are orchids.  The flowers of the white moth orchids are exceptionally delicate, and come packed in white shredded tissue. Each curving stem may have 6 or 8 flowers. These stems were supported by a series of birch twigs, placed inside and outside the vases.

engineering the flowers (1)The twigs provided structure and support to the orchid stems.  Their dark vertical shapes are in stark contrast to the curves of the flowers.  Bark covered twine and moss completed the look. Next up, engineering the transport.

engineering the flowers (3)A platform dolly is a huge amount of help, but in the end, there is no substitute for the human hand.  We had stuffed the box that held the calla vase with bubble wrap, but there would be a lot more to do before this arrangement would be road ready.  The weight of the water in the vase was considerable, but the weight of the callas made the entire affair extremely top heavy.  There were a lot of skilled hands on deck for this part.

engineering the flowers (5)As I expected, water sloshed out of the top of the vase getting it from my office to the lift gate of the truck, but it wasn’t much. Much to my relief, the callas looked serenely indifferent to all of the bumps getting through the shop to the truck. Phase 2 of the engineering was about to get started.

engineering the flowers (10)The time it took to remove the box from the vase, screw 2 by 4’s over the blanket-wrapped foot of the vase, wrap the upper portion of the vase in bubble wrap, and secure the arrangement to the walls of the truck with straps was a considerable amount of time.

engineering the flowers (11)The juncture of the vase to the foot was very small, and vulnerable.  Great care was taken to protect it. Fine textured bubble wrap insulated the flowers from the straps.  All the engineering here was geared towards making sure the arrangement would not move in the truck.

engineering the flowers (13)The big vase  was finally ready to transport. I was sure the vase would ride up and down in tandem with the truck.  That said, I was glad it would not be me driving.

engineering the flowers (8)All of the smaller arrangements would ride on a two tiered padded cart. Just before loading, every empty crevice was stuffed with bubble wrap.  The cart would be strapped to the wall of the truck. It should be clear that the engineering involved in this project was the most important element.

engineering the flowers (9)I am happy to report that all the flowers got to their destination safely.

engineering the flowers (18)The time and thought that goes into the engineering of any project is time well spent.



  1. And it looks soooo simple – as in simply gorgeous. Thanks for the fascinating backstory

  2. Mary Vaughn says

    Just one word…WOW!!!!

  3. Aside from the engineering considerations for this project, what happens when the event is in January, with -20 degree weather outside . . . making sure the flowers don’t freeze between the design studio and the venue! Oh, the job of a florist is not as glamorous as it might appear! : )


    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Mike, the job of a florist is anything but glamorous-it is very hard work. We had espalier apple trees delivered on one of those super cold days-every new leaf and flower was damaged. But the trees recovered and sent out new growth-that would not be the case with vases full of cut flowers. What did you do?? Best, Deborah

      • Ran fast and heated trucks! ( I so admire the work that you do, both the landscaping and the floral work . . . . . fascinating to read your posts, Deborah! )

  4. absolutely fascinating deborah! engineering indeed, what a fantastic team you have


  6. Engineering is so very important & very lucrative in everything. My husband’s company can’t seem to pay enough for good engineers. They are all aging out of the work force.

  7. you are a florist supreme!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Buck, it’s the architect in you that loves how these arrangements were engineered. As for the flowers, they all come beautiful-that beauty is standard issue. Thanks Buck, Deborah

  8. Amazing! Nothing you guys can’t do….Stunning!

  9. Tom Baldinette says

    Pretty amazing is all can say.

  10. Ruth Wolery says

    This was unbelievable – transporting the orchid arrangements and calla lilies. It really must have taken much engineering talent to pull this one off. Whew. Amazing…

  11. Kris Munson says

    I am from a family of engineers, and I marveled at how you all positioned those flower for transport in the truck. Brilliant! Just goes to prove, there’s some engineering in art, and some art to engineering!

  12. Heather Burkhardt says

    We live in the land of naturalized callas, zone 9b in coastal Northern California. Their new foliage is just coming on after their time of dormancy, we are so looking forward to the first flowers. Beautiful bouquets.

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