Experts in floral and event-planning design work will show their artistic chops in a friendly competition known as "Parties in Bloom" at the 25th annual Orchard in Bloom that begins tomorrow and runs through Sunday. Four of the city's top creative talents each will be charged with designing a special floral arrangement, but the one with the deepest heartfelt meaning will be the vignette put together by Missy Cheshire, owner of Palm Court Design, and her shop's manager Beth Adams.
Cheshire's will be a tribute to her mother who passed away last month. Adams says it will be bright and cheerful, just like Marianne was -- or "Bubba" as she was affectionately called by all her grandkids and great-grandchildren.
"The arrangement is not a memorial; it's a party that she would have put on with her things," Adams explains. "We're going to use some of her china, goblets, silver and linens, and we'll incorporate them with her iron chairs, using flowers in all shades of pink -- cottage roses, tulips, wax flowers, hydrangeas, delphinium and carnations -- because Marianne was all about the pink."
Each spring, Marianne loved visiting the garden show. In recent years, she toured the event while being strolled in her wheelchair, but that didn't keep her from enjoying all the clever garden-themed tchotchkes, hearty perennials and trendy landscape displays.
Just as it was a tradition to her, it has become an annual spring rite for 7,000 to 9,000 (depending on weather) other arts, crafts and gardening fans. And touring the "Parties in Bloom" tent has ranked as a favorite among guests for years. To compete in the garden show's silver anniversary, Marianne's daughter, Missy was chosen along with Coby Palmer of Coby Palmer Designs, The Empty Vase's David Strohmeyer and David Reilich of David Reilich Occasions.
Later today their pruning shears, stem cutters and glue guns will sit holstered, the hand-selected, fresh-cut flowers will pose perfectly in vases and other artistic-looking containers, some fastened with floral tape, wrapped with wire or fixed in foam. And all their architectural props and textiles will be draped, tacked and tucked dramatically into place.
Their over-the-top, seriously stunning creations will gather crowds and garner votes. Right now they are at Holliday Park feverishly installing the live-art arrangements they've worked on for days. During these last adrenalin-driven minutes, they will fuss anxiously over their masterworks wondering whether they'll successfully execute their visions. They hope their medium -- flora of every sort -- cooperates for the full three-day run and won't wilt under the pressure.
But in truth, it's a friendly competition among these longtime comrades in the business, and all of them are volunteering their time and materials to create visual showpieces for the event to benefit Indy Parks and The Orchard School. As for the judges – they're the garden show's patrons.
"It's a people's choice award, and visitors get to vote by ballot for their favorite arrangements," says Adams. She and Cheshire have participated for more than a decade at Orchard in Bloom events like this.
As for the competition, Cheshire admits the pressure is self-imposed. "I am nervous every year," she says. "I think part of that comes with the company I'm with in the tent. They are some of the most talented people in the city. I've been in the business a really long time, and I've seen a lot of design styles come and go, but this is a great group; it's a little daunting to think I'm there with them."
Reilich is the competition's only featured event planner, along with the three floral designers he's known and admired for years. "In my previous life, I was art director for Indianapolis Monthly magazine back when Orchard in Bloom began, so I've been impressed with this event from the beginning," he says.
Reilich took his art director skills to New York City but returned to Indy a decade ago, when he began his event planning biz. Like many in the local events and entertainment industry, he has followed Coby Palmer's career throughout the years.
"Coby led the innovation in charity designs and fundraiser events for many years," Reilich says. "He's an example of the way we would all like to be in this town -- how much we should give of ourselves and put into an event. I'm so honored to have a table in that tent with him and the others."
Orchard in Bloom spokesperson Elliott Pruitt says they brought back the tent and competition this year because it's always a hit. "Parties in Bloom has historically been so popular because the designers and florists create fabulous vignettes that the general public could never dream up," says Pruitt. "Their wonderful displays give people ideas and spark their imaginations so they may create something similar in their own homes. These designers create an experience at OIB that resonates with people on multiple levels. That's why they love it and why we have been here 25 years."
Palmer was a shoe-in for the silver anniversary, because he's been a part of the show since that first year, when his designs took top honors. And he's continued to support OIB for most of its quarter-of-a-century run.
"I love Orchard in Bloom because it teaches people about flowers and gardens. It's just a phenomenal show," he says. "Indianapolis is a city of homes and gardens -- some of the most beautiful in the entire world. I've a toured a great many gardens, but some of the most gorgeous ones are in right here in private residences and the average person will never see them."
Palmer says OIB serves a dual role of entertaining and educating gardeners of all stripes, because its expert vendors and panels of guests teach people the balance of the garden: what types of plants they should grow in Indianapolis and in which parts of the their yards -- sunny or shade, for example.
"Let the Party Begin" is the theme of Palmer's arrangement, and it will be done all in black, white and silver, in honor of the 25th anniversary. Hailing from the New York School of Interior Design, Union Kentucky University, the American Floral Art School and a background that includes being Kittle's accessory buyer for nearly a decade, decorating 100 rooms every two weeks, Palmer isn't humble about his mad design skills. "My background is phenomenal -- knowing color, quirks and everything," he says matter-of-factly.
He relates the art of floral design to that of any visual artist. "A master floral designer knows balance, knows a flower's lines, know the flower and its characteristics, which ones work as fillers in a setting and which don't," Palmer explains. "One knows how to make sure that the container is in proportion to the flowers. Martha Stewart ruined a lot of that look by cutting flowers off at the stem and shoving them in a vase."
He says Stewart's design strips the flowers' true characteristics away so you can't tell what the flowers are, "They just look like a mass of color," Palmer says. "And if you look on Pinterest these days and see the different wedding pictures, you'll see girls today don't know the difference between a carnation and a beautiful rose -- but I bet their mothers do."
If you want to learn the differences (and see the newest trends in landscape design from mulch and rocks to outdoor furniture), you'll find someone at OIB who will gladly teach you.
As for the lavish arrangements on display, Cheshire says it doesn't matter if you live on a tiny plot of land or a palatial urban estate, there's something everyone can take away from the event. "It's for everybody," she says. "You might walk into our tent and think you could never do something that elaborate, but you could get an idea and maybe do one idea from it or a smaller version."
Reilich hopes guests will appreciate the meaning of his display, "'Cause You Were All Yellow." Inspired from a Coldplay song, his themed arrangement features rich, saturated lemon-colored flowers amid a sea of black props. He says the song has an uplifting message with beautiful lyrics delivered in a melancholy melody.
"As a designer, it is a color study for me, in which when you isolate the color it becomes more impactful," Reilich explains. "And like the song implies, there's yellow, or light, in all darkness. So I'm not an all-yellow flowers sort of designer, but by juxtaposing them against the black, it's like, 'POW' -- impactful, meaningful; it works."
David Strohmeyer's work takes on a more traditional approach of classic fusion, using boxwood topiary, mirror balls, gunmetal vases and urns and accents of Kelly green to convey his "clean and crisp, organic and verdant" display.
Whether visitors glean ideas for their Mother's Day brunch table, graduation or wedding, or if they just can't live without a new handcrafted garden gewgaw to commemorate their annual OIB trip, there's something for everyone under all of those pretty white tents.