Ursula finds beauty in the unexpected

Award-winning floral design and horticultural judge Ursula Eley presents at the Beach Garden Society AGM Nov. 21. PHOTO: Josh Sherman

Beach floral design and horticultural judge Ursula Eley’s first foray into competitive floral arrangement was a far cry from her recent award-winning entry at an international event.

If there was a mistake to be made in her first submission in 1998, she made it, the one-time president of the Beach Garden Society said.

Eley used soil, which is a no-no in floral arrangement competitions—that’s best left to the horticulturists, who grow plants. She incorporated water into the design to meet competition-specific criteria, but her dish was not waterproof.

“The entire table, the floor underneath—everything was just covered in water,” she laughed. “I didn’t win that one.”

So, it was not her proudest moment in the field. That distinction goes to her recent first-place finish in her class at the World Association of Floral Artists International Show in Barbados this past June.

Her trophy-winning arrangement featured flexi-grass, which is a reed-like material, and a paper-thin wood veneer. “It was based on the work of Alexander Calder,” she said, referencing the late American artist who pioneered the mobile. “I did a very abstract design,” she said.

Budding floral arrangers will be able to learn how to create something similar at the local garden society’s annual general meeting, which is scheduled to take place on Nov. 21 at Adam Beck Community Centre at 79 Lawlor Ave. from 7:30 to 9 p.m.

There, Eley will be hosting a wreath-making workshop presenting two different styles of holiday wreaths: a traditional, fragrant, evergreen wreath and one she calls “something a little bit more wacky.” The latter’s design makes use of moss-covered Styrofoam with Christmas baubles hovering in the air above.

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Above, a selection of Ursula Eley’s floral designs

Concepts such as that are not out of place in the world of contemporary floral arrangement. In a previous workshop, Eley showed participants how to make a wreath out of dryer ducting. She has also seen floral works with lace and other fabric trimmings. “There are ideas from all over the world,” Eley explained.

One of her past stand-out creations featured a huge piece of rusty metal Eley found at the side of the road. “Floral design, yes, it’s flowers, but it can also include other unexpected materials,” she said. Often, Eley finds herself sizing up random objects she encounters to see if they might fit with a future design.

“The fun part is always learning new ideas and getting new inspiration—and I guess using unexpected things,” said Eley, whose work was entered in a previous World Association of Floral Artists International Show in Ireland.

Her passion for floral design stems from a lifelong interest in plants, though she didn’t start practising the art or even gardening until her own children had grown up some. “My mom always had a garden,” she recalled. “There were always flowers on the table from the garden.”

For others who share her interests but don’t know where to start, she recommends joining a local horticultural society and signing up for a floral-arrangement course. Try entering a contest, too.

“That gives you a chance to practise,” she said. “The judges are very kind and very nice.”

As she’s continued to discover her craft, she’s learned some hard lessons. “Physical balance of your designs is always very important, because if things are top heavy, they tend to fall over.”

That, and the importance of making your arrangement waterproof.

“I always seem to have to learn the hard way,” she chuckled.

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