Winter's traditionally a time of rest for gardeners. Being a lifelong pursuer of new interests, skills and knowledge, I chose a slightly different route then: to learn the art of floral arranging from one of Toronto's premier florists, Michael Pellegrino of Teatro Verde. Having temporarily traded soil for water has shed light on the life of a florist:
• First and foremost, lest you romanticize the idea too much, being a florist is just as much physical work as being a gardener.
• I've developed a new appreciation for plants that I would've previously bypassed altogether. Ubiquitous Dusty Miller comes to mind. The judicious placement of just one leaf of this fragile, soft and silver plant is capable of making an arrangement sing. Thus, it is no longer left to simply hum along like it does at the edge of a parking lot border.
• Anyone can throw together a bouquet of "pretty" flowers; not everyone though is able to elicit a breathless "wow".
How appropriate then that I've spent the weekend enjoying the works of two Japanese florists: Makoto Azuma and Shunsuke Shiinoki in their book Encyclopedia of Flowers.
The first surprise for me was the book's size: contrary to its encyclopedic name, it's small and more akin to a largish novel.
Every aspect of this book has been carefully and beautifully considered, from graphics to content. The book begins with an outline of poetic chapters (Whole, Flock, Coexistence, Hybrid and Appearance) which then lead to Azuma's reflections on his career as a florist over the past fifteen years.
Contrary to garden design, floral arrangements allow for the mixing of the impossible: plant material allowed to flirt with one another from different countries, climates and seasons.
The book represents three years worth of work and a conscious decision to create floral "haute couture". By including roots, weeds, 50 year-old bonsai, fruit and vegetables Azuma and Shinoki "borrow materials from nature and follow an inviolable rule: that existence will not be mistreated."
Sensuous, elegant and at times primeval, each arrangement juxtaposes the "close proximity of life and death... to what extent can [it be brought] to life by killing it."
Encyclopedia of Flowers is like an Emperor's dish served to the masses.
For more: www.azumamakoto.com