By Ingrid Schnader
This Thanksgiving season, if you are planning to have your entire family pile into your dining room to eat turkey and dressing, you might feel tempted to spend a fortune on expensive flower arrangements.
But Holly Carlisle of RoseGolden says don’t do it. Her philosophy is to approach decorating with flowers in a much more natural way.
“Most people don’t have time or money to make centerpieces,” she said. “I’m all about demystifying the world of flowers and making it more approachable to people.”
Carlisle started working with flowers when she got married and, with a friend, made floral arrangements for her own wedding reception.
“Someone saw it that was a wedding planner that I knew, and she was like, ‘No one in Birmingham does natural-looking flowers.’ I thought, ‘I’m just going to try it,’” she said.
She started working out of the basement in her house making simple arrangements and teaching herself as she went along. Using nature as her inspiration, she makes designs that are unique to each client.
She has spent the past eight years growing her business, and 3½ years ago she moved out of her basement and started working from a studio in Avondale.
Knowing Your Parking Lots
When Carlisle teaches classes on floral arranging, she encourages people to walk around in their yards and see what’s blooming. Even people who live in apartments or don’t have a yard can take a page out of Carlisle’s book.
“I walk around my neighborhood,” she said. “I don’t walk in people’s yards, but there’s wooded areas around, and I’ll just go for walks around the woods. I’ll go to the alley here (at the RoseGolden studio) all the time and cut stuff. Who cares if it’s weeds? They’re going to probably come spray them anyways. Get to know your parking lot and different kinds of trees.”
A good way to start the creative process, she said, is to cut nine stems from an accessible yard, alleyway or other wooded area. Take them home, cut the stems at an angle, fill a vase or other vessel with fresh water, and start making an arrangement.
“I don’t buy anything. I don’t do anything. It could be partially weeds, it could be dead. There is always a way to make something powerful out of what is in your environment.”
Most florists use foam, which is not friendly to the environment, to hold flower stems in place. This can result in an arrangement that doesn’t accurately reflect what naturally occurs outside, though, Carlisle said. She observes nature and uses what she sees as an inspiration in her work, then holds it in place with environmentally friendly chicken wire.
“You let the materials that you cut in your yard dictate to you where they want to be in the piece because you’re inspired by how they appear in nature,” she said. “And that is a way to work with flowers that doesn’t require you to go to a store and buy $300 worth of flowers.
“It’s not just about making something pretty. It’s about connection with nature and the seasons.”
Keep it simple, and work with what’s available, she advises. Once you feel comfortable making an arrangement with natural materials found in your environment, then you can work up to bringing in cultivated materials in your arrangements.
Learning More With Carlisle
Carlisle used to teach classes in her studio. For the past two years, as a way to help support the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, she has been teaching the Essentially Seasonal Design Series a few times a year at the Gardens.
“I try to teach people design,” she said. “How to think like a designer and how to think creatively.”
Her upcoming Nov. 3 class will focus on fall’s transitioning foliage. Carlisle will first demonstrate, then attendees will use resources from the Gardens to create an arrangement “celebrating the transition of fall.”
The class is $185 for Birmingham Botanical Gardens members and $200 for non-members. For more information and to register, visit bbgardens.org.