Floret Founder Shares Secrets to Creating Beautiful Flower Arrangements


Erin Benzakein of Floret on her farm in Washington

Erin Benzakein, founder of Floret, is one of the original farmer-florists. On her farm in Washington’s Skagit Valley, she and her family have created a thriving flower farm, design studio and learning center. Her workshops are soldout affairs, created for those who want to learn more about small scale, high intensity flower production and floral design.


Garden Glove hang tags

We asked Erin to share some of her secrets to creating beautiful flower arrangements. Here’s what she wrote:

Harvesting tips:

floret-womanswork-3Harvest in the coolest parts of the day. Early morning or in the evening are the best times to cut your flowers, as blooms harvested during the mid-day heat tend to wilt faster.

Use clean, sharp clippers. Rusty, dull flower snips are not only frustrating to use, they can damage your stems. Cut stems at 45 degree angles.

Allow flowers time to “rest” prior to arranging them.  This process is called conditioning and it is a key step that is often overlooked.  Place freshly harvested flowers into water for a few hours to allow the uptake of water into the stems.  You’ll be amazed at how some semi-wilty flowers will perk up after being conditioned for a few hours.

Remove bottom leaves from stems. Leaves that have been left on the stem and then submerged in water will quickly start to decay.

floret-womansworkVase tips:

Always utilize clean vases.  Dirt and bacteria can cause your flowers to wilt prematurely, so be sure to wash vases thoroughly with hot soapy water prior to putting fresh cut flowers into them.  Add water and commercial flower food, if you have it.

Choose short- or medium- sized vases.  Whether it is for an elegant wedding or a simple centerpiece for my dining room table, I prefer to use shorter vases that have wide openings.  While mason jars and common clear glass cylinders are fine for a big bunch of a single type of flower, the flowers only have one way to go: up.  Vases with wide openings, such as a footed compote, allow for a wider, more interesting bouquet shape that stretches out horizontally, allowing for an unimpeded view across the table.


Add stem support.  With most vases, particularly wide-mouthed vessels, you will need some sort of structure to support the flower stems. My preferred technique is to utilize coated chicken wire. If you ball up a piece inside the vessel, the wire provides multiple places for the stems to “catch” on the wire and form the bouquet’s shape. This technique creates a more natural look to your design than floral foam.  (Foam makes bouquets look “stiff;” plus it is not eco-friendly).  If you don’t have chicken wire, try using waterproof floral tape to create a grid over the opening of the vase to provide support for the stems.

floret-womanswork-2Design tips:

Create your foliage framework.  To start, choose foliage with sturdy, slightly arching stems in order to create the overall bouquet shape. Then begin layering in supporting greens and vines, echoing the original shape you established.  Mint, ninebark, eucalyptus and raspberry greens are a few of my favorite foliages from the garden.  Great options for supporting greens and vines include: love in a puff vine, sweet pea vines and foliage, scented geranium, cup and saucer vine, akebia vine and ‘sweet autumn’ clematis.

Thread in color & texture:  Now it’s time to start adding in the flowers. Be sure to give the flowers “room to breathe.”  In other words, do not try to cram a bunch of flowers into a tight, flat, dense cluster.  The bouquet should have a lighter, airy feel to it.

Flower types to incorporate:

  • Focal: These large blooms are usually the stars of the show.  Some of my favorites focal flowers are peonies, garden roses and dahlias.
  • Filler: These smaller flowers, like cosmos or clustered blooms such matricaria ‘vegmo single,’ are great complements to the focal flowers.
  • Textural elements:  Incorporate uncommon ingredients such as poppy pods, crabapples or blackberries to add visual interest and texture.

floret-womanswork-4Finish with airy accents:  Add in some delicate accents, such as grasses, or any frilly or umbel-shaped flowers.  These elements should occupy a separate “plane” of the bouquet, which may be slightly higher or extended outward just beyond the larger flowers that form the shape of the bouquet. Some of my favorite flowers and grasses to use for airy accents include:  chocolate laceflower (daucus carota), False Queen Anne’s Lace (ammi majus), and fiber optic grass ‘frosted explosion’ (panicum elegans).

Enjoy your flowers!

Flowers featured in the photos include:  False Queen Anne’s lace, cosmos, Persian Carpet zinnias, scabiosa, garden roses, helianthus, lemon verbena, crabapples, oregano flowers and dock.floret-womanswork-5


florettag-2We are inspired by Erin’s story and we created hang tags for our garden gloves so all of our customers can read about Erin and the farmer-florist movement.erinbenzakeintagback

Container Gardening How To


containergardeningblogIn one of the classes I took at the NY Botanical Garden I learned about the container gardening concept of “Thriller, Filler, Spiller”. When you’re selecting plants for your container, the Thriller is the central plant that grows taller than the others and is the focal point. The Filler is the plant or plants that surround the Thriller, and the Spiller is the plant that spills over the edges of your container.

I followed this concept with the container I planted at my house this summer, shown here. The Thriller plant is an annual variety of Milkweed (Asclepias Monarch Promise); the Filler is called Persian Shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus) and the Spiller is Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’).containergdnsetup

Before planting I assembled my tools, which included a pair of Incomparable Scissors for trimming dead leaves and deadheading blossoms to allow roots to grow; Eco Watering Spouts, and Weeder Gloves to protect my hands from the soil and amendments I was handling. I used a terracotta container I purchased at Sugar Tools in Camden, Maine. It has a lovely, natural shape with a patina that suggests age. It’s true that plastic containers retain water better than stone or terracotta, and there are plenty of them on the market that are very attractive! The two containers behind my terracotta pot in the photo are made of fiberglass to look like stone.


Womanswork Weeder Gloves


Amy O’Donnell of Sugar Tools suggests lining your terracotta pot with bubble wrap to help retain water and prevent the pot from cracking in cold weather. For winter protection we recommend bringing the container indoors or into a place that does not have prolonged below freezing temperatures, such as a garage.  Amy also suggests putting a coffee filter at the bottom of the container to prevent soil from draining out through the hole.

I mixed organic potting soil with perlite to give it air and aid drainage. I watered and fertilized the plants after potting them up, and moved them to their permanent location on our front stoop.

DCF 1.0

Itea shrub

When grouping containers I try to think about what I want the focal point of the grouping to be. Otherwise it looks fussy and the plants compete with each other. With this particular grouping my focal point is the container in front potted up with the Thriller, Filler, Spiller concept, while the two larger containers behind it provide a more neutral backdrop. One of the larger containers in back is planted with a single shrub, Itea, which I will plant in the ground at the end of the growing season. Itea has arching branches with white blossoms when in bloom. The other container is planted with a variegated liriope that has purple flower spikes. The overall effect is simple and very pretty.

Container Planting Tips:

-Use a container that retains water or line the inside of a terra cotta pot with bubble wrap

-Put a coffee filter at the bottom of the pot over the holes to prevent soil from leeching out

-Create balance by following a Thriller, Filler and Spiller arrangement– as appropriatemillerton

-Mix it up by combining annuals and perennials. Plant perennials in the ground at the end of the season, or shelter them, with their containers, against winter freeze.

-Combine complementary textures, shapes and colors for a more interesting effect

-Think about the focal point of your container planting, and the focal point of a group of container plants positioned together.

I saw this eye catching container on a street in Millerton, a small town near here. Here the Thriller is a tall Canna, the Fillers are Coleus and Heuchera, and the Spillers are a chartreuse potato vine and a bacopa plant with yellow flowers spilling over the edge. A black eyed susan vine is growing up a trellis against the brick building.



Container plants at the home of Michael Trapp, West Cornwall, CT.


Container planting at the home of Jane Garmey, West Cornwall, CT


DIY Hypertufa Plant Containers


Containers made at Stonecrop Gardens

Hypertufa containers offer the perfect environment for succulents and alpine plants. They’re porous and provide a good vessel for the arid, fast draining soil required by these types of plants. They also have an unmistakable charm if you’re a pushover for anything made of stone or resembling stone!

What is hypertufa? Hypertufa is a manufactured substitute for natural tufa, which is a slowly precipitated limestone rock. Hypertufa is a man-made rock composed of various aggregates bonded together using Portland cement.

Trough at Sissinghurst, England

Trough at Sissinghurst, England

When I was touring gardens in England I took this photo of a timeworn cement trough at Sissinghurst Gardens.

I have taken a workshop in trough making at Stonecrop Gardens in Cold Spring, NY, which has a rocky landscape that is home to many large, plant-filled cement containers. In the workshop we used wooden molds that have been in use for years.


Using plastic cups as molds

Before taking the workshop at Stonecrop, I made some troughs at home using a recipe I got at Oliver Nurseries, an outstanding garden center in Fairfield, CT. I used plastic cups and bowls as molds, sometimes fitting a smaller one inside a larger one. It worked!

Long container planted at Oliver’s

Hypertufa Trough Recipe

1-1/2 parts coarse perlite

3/4 parts sieved peat moss

1 part Portland cement, type 1, light

Handful fibermesh (available at masonry supply stores)


Small shovel or hoe

Appropriate molds

Thin, large plastic bags

Womanswork gloves and dust masks

Wire brushes and other shaping tools

Mix dry ingredients thoroughly, making sure there are no pockets of individual ingredients. Add water slowly until mixture reaches the consistency of thick oatmeal. Water should be added a little at a time and mixed between additions. If the mix becomes too wet wait 15 minutes or so; the consistency may correct itself as the peat absorbs water. You may need to add more dry ingredients proportionately.

Troughs must be molded immediately after the hypertufa has been mixed; cement cannot wait! Line your mold with plastic, thin garbage bags work well. Try to minimize folds and creases. Use flexible molds.

Forming the trough: A handful at a time, begin patting the hypertufa inside your mold to form the bottom of the trough. Next build up the walls, carefully firming each new handful onto the last so that no weak spot develops. Try not to overwork the mixture. Too much kneading and patting changes the structure and wetness of the mix, causing walls to “slump.” (editor’s note: we patted ours to death and the walls did slump, but in the end I think it worked ok). Use your finger or a piece of dowel to poke drainage holes in the bottom.  Place entire mold into a large plastic bag to set up overnight. Do not allow it to freeze at this point.

Cement troughs cure for 3-4 weeks in plastic bags. After curing, let the troughs sit for several days or weeks outdoors to allow the free lime in the cement to leach out. It is harmful to plants. Click here to watch the You Tube video we made for How To Make a Trough.

Protecting Container Plants in Winter



Containers at Dorian’s front entrance. The two large ones are made of fiberglass, so they are not prone to breakage. The smaller one is terracotta, so I will bring it indoors.

When Rebecca asked me for advice on protecting her potted plants over the winter, I had a few suggestions as follows:

  • Huddle the pots together in a protected spot next to the house and bury them in shredded leaves or surround them with hay bales.
  • Plants that are not hardy in your region must be brought indoors. Indoors, put them in the basement or garage and water them sparingly. They will go dormant and you can put them outside again in Spring.
  • Plants that are in terracotta pots should be brought indoors or removed from the pots so the pots can be brought indoors. If leaving the plant outdoors, leave soil around the roots and lay it on its side covered in mulch or hay to protect its roots.
  • Last summer I picked up a tidbit from Amy O’Donnell of Sugar Tools, a shop in Camden, Maine. She suggested lining the inside of your pot with bubble wrap before putting your soil and plant in, so that it can freeze and thaw without damaging roots or heaving the plant out of the pot.

Also, there are lots of beautiful pots being made now that are not clay. We have several that are made of fiberglass but look just like stone or clay. A process is used where a stone dust is mixed with the fiberglass for the outer layer, and it really does look like the real thing.

I found more good information on overwintering potted plants on the GardensAlive website.












Organize A Milkweed Plant Giveaway

For two years in a row our local land trust has sponsored a milkweed giveaway at our local farmers market. The momentum has grown and this year we had an eager crowd of friends and neighbors waiting to receive their plants. In addition, there were plenty more who did not yet know the value of milkweed and were delighted to learn they could make a contribution to improving our local ecosystem!MonarchOLC Presentation-red

We contacted two sources for our milkweed plants this year. One source was Monarch Watch, a national organization dedicated to increasing populations of monarch butterflies. They sent us a few hundred plants at no charge except the cost of shipping, because we were using most of them for a local habitat restoration project. Included were common milkweed (asclepias syriaca) and swamp milkweed (asclepias incarnata). Our other source was Helia Native Nursery, a local native plant nursery that propagated the plants themselves and sold them to us for $3.25 per plant. They were swamp milkweed, which has a pretty pink flower when in bloom, and grows nicely in a garden bed.

Next we created a Fact Sheet to have at our booth to help answer questions about the connection between Monarchs and milkweed, and the importance of both. Some Facts include the following:

  • In 2004 550 million Monarchs completed their annual migration to Mexico from the United States. In 2013 only 33 million arrived, representing a decline of 94%!
  • Scientific research concludes that the primary reason for the decline in Monarchs is the destruction of the most important plant to their survival: Milkweed
  • Milkweed is essential to Monarchs because it is the ONLY plant that female monarchs lay eggs on.

For information on organizing your own milkweed plant giveaway contact Dorian Winslow, President of Womanswork, at dwinslow@womanswork.com. We can also make the original files for the Fact Sheet available to you and you can customize for your organization. Enjoy!


Dorian Winslow, President of Womanswork, with Stancy DuHamel

Meeting Martha Stewart


Last week I visited Martha Stewart’s estate (aka ‘farm’) in Katonah, NY, just 30 minutes from where I live. My garden club had arranged a special tour by Martha’s head gardener, Ryan McCallister, and Martha herself was our host for tea on the terrace and a question-and-answer session in her vegetable garden.Shaking hands with Martha

I found her to be a friendly and hospitable host, and it was fun to see her gardens, her greenhouse and her collection of animals (dogs, horses and donkeys).  As a woman business owner, I admire her for the business and lifestyle she has created. I had a chance to thank her for the nice things she and her colleagues have said and written about Womanswork products over the years. Most recently Womanswork was named a Design Finalist in her American Made program.

Here are some images I took of her farm with my iphone.


A pretty border had allium and other perennials blooming.


An allee of Miss Kim Lilacs pruned as standards


The main house in the background


Martha standing on her back steps talking with us about her farm




Boxwood and Ginkgo garden Summer House


Inside the greenhouse, everything is organized as we would expect (at Martha’s)


Donkeys in their pen


Tree Peonies were in full bloom


Womanswork gift basket we presented as a thank you for hosting our group.


Happy Mother’s Day Mom

My mother is a vigorous lifelong gardener with varied and naturalistic gardens on her property in northwestern CT, and a small pond which provides a focal point behind the house. She also has a raised bed vegetable patch which produces broccoli, brussel sprouts,  lettuce, tomatoes and beans.  She finds that the rule in her garden is ‘one for me and one for the rabbits.’  Sometimes it’s two for the rabbits to her one.Mom_Screening_Compost

Recently I spent an afternoon gardening with my mother. When I got there she had her shovel deep in her compost bin.  Then she dropped the compost on a screen positioned over her wheelbarrow and began rubbing it through the screen.  The result was the most perfect soil I have ever seen.

When ambling through her gardens she points out the lavender that came from a friend, or the iris she transplanted from their former home in Weston, CT.  There’s one small plant I divided last season and gave to her, a chocolate-y heuchera caramel. In my garden half of the plants are from my mother’s garden, divided over the years and dropped in a pot or wrapped in wet newspaper for transporting to my garden.

It’s part of the fun and the ritual of gardening, sharing and recalling where our plants came from.  My mother’s sister in Minnesota has poppies that came from my great uncle’s garden in Emmetsburg, Iowa.  He died at the age of 97, over 30 years ago, but his poppies still live.  When we look at the poppies we think of Uncle Harold.  I have asked her to collect seeds for me so I can try propagating them in my greenhouse next Spring.

I remember many years ago my grandmother showed me a somewhat tattered photo she had of her perennial garden, established along a high riverbank back in Iowa where my mother and her sister and brother grew up. Although the picture was in black and white I could tell my grandmother saw all the colors in her garden when she looked at it.  She loved looking at that picture.

Gardening is about the past, the present and the future—and the connections we make between them.  A love of gardening is a wonderful gift to pass on to others.  Thank you Mom, and Happy Mother’s Day!MomGarden8

[This story was first published for Horticulture in May 2012. My mother continues to love her gardens in Sharon, CT.]


Caring for Bulbs After they Bloom



Daffodils from my garden, with little white Snowflakes (Leucojum)

Where I live in Dutchess County NY, daffodils are one of the few bulbs deer do not graze so gardeners are planting more varieties of daffodils to get variation in their early spring gardens.

After your bulbs are finished blooming, remove flowers so they won’t put energy into producing seeds. For naturalizing, however, leave flowers and allow reseeding. At the NY Botanical Garden, daffodils are allowed to naturalize into large drifts on a hillside.


Daffodil drifts at the New York Botanical Garden in Bronx, NY. Daffodil leaves are left to fade until mid-June before the grass is mown.

Don’t braid or fold and band the leaves as they are dying, as is sometimes recommended. It’s best for the leaves to be fully exposed to the sun. The foliage provides essential nutrients that will help the bulb recharge for next season, so don’t cut leaves back until they yellow and eventually turn brown.

Plant your bulbs in a location where the yellowing and fading leaves won’t be a distraction. I try to plant them in a garden bed where other plants will grow in and hide the fading leaves of the bulbs.

To learn more about caring for your bulbs after they bloom, click here.


A Cold Snap in Early Spring


Sometimes in early Spring after bulbs have emerged from the ground and are beginning to flower, a sudden cold snap will bring temperatures down below freezing for a few days. More often than not, I’m amazed at the resiliency of these hardy plants. We are experiencing a cold scap in the northeast and we had snowfall on two consecutive nights earlier in the week in our Zone 6 region.HelloSpringApril5

The exact effect caused by a sudden cold snap depends on a number of different factors, including the type of plant, regional location, temperature and length of snap. Remember, cold snaps are defined as a short and sudden spell of cold weather; therefore, the temperatures should rise back to their normal levels within a couple of days.

Daffodils– There are many varieties of daffodils, all of which blossom in spring. When a cold snap approaches, gardeners are oftentimes fearful of the effects it will have. Like tulips, however, daffodils are naturally protected against mild-to-moderate cold snaps. If you believe the freezing temperatures are going to last longer than expected, you can place some extra mulch around the base of your daffodils for an added layer of thermal protection. Once the temperatures begin to rise again, though, you’ll need to remove the mulch so the daffodils can easily breathe again.Daffodils in snow2

Tulips– Because they bloom early in the spring, tulips can handle short cold snaps with ease. As long as the temperatures go back within 48 hours, they won’t suffer any serious damage. A tulip’s shoots and buds are usually the most protected from the cold, as they have a natural barrier against the cold weather. On the other hand, tulips with open blossoms may experience a slight burn from the freezing temperatures, especially if it lasts for longer than 48 hours.

Hyacinth– Hyacinth is a plant that’s native to the eastern Mediterranean, Iran and Turkmenistan, but it’s since been successfully introduced into several other regions. This bulbous flowering plant blooms with bright purplish blue coloring that’s a welcomed addition to any garden. So, how well does hyacinth handle short spells of cold weather? Some gardeners will find they do quite well, while others may experience their plants going into shock. Hyacinth is considered a spring-blooming flower, but this doesn’t necessary mean they will withstand freezing temperatures. The best thing you can do in the event of sudden cold snaps is to protect hyacinth with extra mulch for additional warmth.

Our Favorite Early Spring Table Decorations


Egg-shaped pinch pots by Amanda Ann Palmer


Passover table decoration from thejewishhostess.com


Easter table from marthastewart.com


Bleeding hearts and lilies of the valley


Eggshells become votive candles on babble.com


Jelly beans hot glued to tree branches on craftysisters-nc.blogspot.com

ornamental cabbages sized-700x990

Ornamental cabbage ‘Crane’s White’ on gardenista.com




Lilac and lilac-colored eggs at architectureartdesigns.com


Lily of the valley -daffodil posies, gardenista.com