"I love working with orchids because of the variety, and because they're a hearty flower that will last in an arrangement for a few days. Rhododendrons and azaleas are in season now though, so I'll have to see what's available before I start my arrangements," Alice Tung of Mountain View said as she surveyed her backyard garden.
Tung will be among more than 100 amateur and professional floral designers, children and flower enthusiasts who will be participating in this year's flower show at Filoli in Woodside May 8 to 11. "Country Elegance" is both the title and theme of Filoli's 20th annual flower show. The four-day event is meant to evoke its original owner's vision of Filoli as a rustic, though refined country estate, and designers from San Francisco to Carmel will contribute floral and table-setting art.
Karen Flores of Woodside, who began taking flower-arranging classes at Filoli 10 years ago quickly developed a passion for the art as a creative outlet.
"I had been doing gardening for some time, but eventually I wanted to bring some of that work inside. I started taking classes at Filoli with Anne Patrick, who still teaches beginning to advanced classes there, and soon after I became a volunteer flower arranger at Filoli," Flores said. She is also an active member of the Woodside-Atherton Garden Club.
These days Flores is an instructor herself, teaching a class at Filoli called "Family Fun with Flowers," which is designed to be taken by a parent-child team.
"We have kids as young as 4 come to the class with a parent. The teams all start with the same materials, and it's up to them to go in whatever creative direction they choose. The younger kids sometimes aren't as motivated or focused as others but they always wind up having fun," she said.
This year will be the fourth May flower show for Flores, and the second for the Brownie troop her twin daughters belong to. The group of 6- to 8-year-olds will contribute their designs fashioned around the theme with materials they select from flower markets, as well as those they grow in their home gardens.
"We usually start with the containers. With this year's theme in mind, we'll likely use vases and jars that look weathered and used. We'll be going for rustic, keeping in mind that rustic doesn't necessarily mean sloppy or plain," she said.
With a similar approach, though far different in style, Tung will begin her designs as soon as she knows what materials the market will bear two or three weeks prior to the show.
"I like to begin a design when I know what the flower markets will have for me to work with. I like to work with unusual plants, so I grow many of them myself here at home. Usually I begin with the theme and work from there," Tung said.
A student of ikebana, the traditional Japanese floral-design style that emphasizes spare compositions and balance of space, Tung tends to bring a combination of Western and Eastern styles to her designs.
"I started doing floral design 20 years ago when my kids would go off to school, and I got some quiet time on my own. I started studying flower-arranging because I've always loved doing things with my hands, and I found it to be a kind of natural stress release," she said.
"With ikebana, you can really see the individual lines and shapes in a design, whereas Western flower art is usually more about size and abundance. I enjoy the freedom of being able to blend the two as I like," she said. Tung began her own business, which she named Floribana -- a combination of the words flower and ikebana -- and designs floral arrangements for weddings and other events.
"For me, it's important to have something as my starting point, so a theme is helpful. Next, I start the design with one piece: a flower, a branch. Then I design the arrangement around that central piece to create a kind of harmony or balance of shapes and colors," Tung said.
Although she won't know exactly what types of flowers will go into her designs until just before the event, Tung has already worked out one detail she hopes will make her pieces stand out.
"I have a friend in Santa Rosa who has oak trees on his property. The branches have this delicate green moss that hangs down in sheets, kind of like cobwebs. He's going to let me take down some thin branches to use in my arrangements," she said.
"The theme is 'Country Elegance' after all. Sticks in a jar is pretty country, so the trick is going to be to create something elegant out of something rustic," she added.
In addition to the arrangements on display, the event will feature lectures on gardening and floral design, as well as photos and interactive displays highlighting the "Bourn era" at Filoli between 1915 and 1936.
The Bourns were prominent San Franciscans whose major source of wealth was the Empire Gold Mine in Grass Valley. William Bourn was also the owner and president of the Spring Valley Water Company, which included Crystal Springs Lake and its surrounding lands. He chose the southern end of the lake as the site for his estate, and with the help of the celebrated San Francisco architect and longtime friend Willis Polk, Filoli was built between 1915 and 1917.
What: Country Elegance, Filoli flower show
When: Thursday, May 8 through Sunday, May 11
Events: Opening Night reception May 8, 5:30 to 8 p.m. ($85 non-members, $75 members, $200 patron); Flower Show May 9-11, 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. ($25 non-members, $20 members, $10 children 5-17 years old, free for children under 5); Flower Show Teas May 9-10 ($65 non-members, $55 members, $35 children 17 years and younger); gourmet boxed lunch May 9-11, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. ($25 adults, $15 child).
Where: Filoli, 86 Canada Road, Woodside
Info: Call 650-364-8300 or visit http://www.filoli.org .