The Garden Club of Charleston

April 20, 2014


sweetgrass goddesses, 60's

In April, I had the honor of presenting a talk and teaching a class for the Charleston Garden Club. The oldest garden club in the U.S., it is also the largest in the world. We had just enough time to visit the famous sweet grass basket makers of Charleston. Brought to Charleston (which was settled in 1663!) by enslaved people from West Africa, it is one of the oldest african art forms still practiced in the U.S. The baskets are woven from foraged fibers such a sweet grass native to South Carolina and are routinely sold for around a thousand dollars.




Charleston is flower pig-heaven, with azalea bushes the size of houses it’s no wonder that  gardening and flower arranging are such serious business. I talked about honoring the finite amount of life-force that remains in a cut flower by processing correctly; accessing the intuitive by following your subject and how the only design rule today is not to follow any.

charleston museum talk

Here I am demonstrating how you can double the size of a garden rose,  forcing the petals open by blowing on it. Using a basket made with camphor vines from the North Carolina mountains,  I illustrated the new feminine wild style with honeysuckle, azaleas, ferns and garden roses.

cornelia's presentation


Before the meeting began, the remarkable, 93 year old  Lucile MacLennan, a “living treasure” of Charleston gave the invocation which follows below. ( Please read with a gorgeous Alabama accent in mind)

“I would like to begin by quoting an old Chinese proverb, “If you would be happy all your life, plant a garden.”

Psalm 8:3 When I consider the heavens, the work of God’s fingers, the moon and the stars which God has set in place, what is man that Thou art mindful of him?

For God has showed His name in the heavens, in burning stars, but on earth he has showed His name in tender flowers.  In the heaven now, in early morning at 6 a.m we can see the brilliant morning star, the planet Venus.  Likewise, in late afternoon, we see the huge evening star, the planet Jupiter.  Just last week astronomers announced the discovery of a dwarf planet, and a set of ring around a distant asteroid.  The same infinite God who established stars in the heavens, created a tiny yellow blossom in Spanish Moss, as well as the giant Angel Oak.  Let us never lose our sense of awe.

Isaiah 61:11 The earth brings forth her buds and the garden causes the things that are sown to spring forth.  If I love each budding tree, each flower petal, leaf and stem, then how much more should I revere the God who has created them.

Let us pray.  Today we have many faiths here; let each one pray according to her own faith.  We thank Thee, Oh Divine Maker, especially for Thy great gifts of beauty evidenced in nature. We thank Thee for the power to see and enjoy them and for the skill to use this beauty in helping others.  Let all lovely things fill us with gladness and lift up our hearts in gratitude.  We thank Thee for the miracle of Spring.  In Jesus Name, Amen.”


After lunch we began our studio class, first we worked on basket arrangements. I wasn’t so much of a teacher at all as a superfan, running around the room gasping at the garden club member’s masterful arrangements.





We then moved on to cascading bouquets, which were rather effortless with all of the flowering native vines. What was so impressive was how, with basically the same materials, each woman’s bouquet was so different. I love all the movement here in Judy’s totally sumptuous bouquet. Christine’s bouquet was so dewey, organic and over the top all at once and the lovely Irene’s bouquet had so much attitude…





Before heading to the airport our incredible hostess Nancy Hoel took us to meet her friend Louise whose Rosebank Farm is on John’s Island. We whizzed past the Angel Oak on our way, saving that for next year. We were just in time to meet Gina Perez pictured here, of Fiddle Farm, a farmer and mentee of Louise’s.


Here is a bit of the day’s harvest at Rosebank.


They produce exquisite eggs as well, and here is the genius in charge of QC.

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