I’ve been meaning to share photos of the altar flowers that I did for my gran’s memorial service for a while now. I don’t mean to sound clinical about it, I just really enjoyed the process of putting together arrangements with a particular person in mind, and was determined to make them celebratory, and not funerary. My grandmother absolutely hated store bought flowers, so that was a good starting set of parameters, and in the end, I spent one amazing and meditative day driving around Rhode Island, visiting places and people that she loved, to gather blooms. My family rallied around the cause, allowing me to cut flowers from their gardens and greenhouses, and I also stopped to pick a few obliging wildflowers in the meadows and sandy roadsides along Second Beach.
I wanted the palette to be modern, anything but somber, and evocative of the sea, so I avoided dark green leaves (which make me think of funeral arrangements and 1-800 Flowers) altogether. I also ditched the urns typically used by the church, which seemed so heavy-hearted and masculine, in favor of large Nantucket baskets. I made three arrangements in all, two to match on the church altar, and one huge one for the tent outside.
To start, I lined the baskets (which you can get at Christmas Tree Shops) with thick trash bags and filled with Oasis wet floral foam and water, then cut the bags down to the rim.
Then I shaped the arrangements with filler greens, which gave me a base of lovely grey-greens. I used the leaves of Baptisia australis (false indigo), which look a bit like olive leaves, unopened flower heads of Sedum ‘Autumn Joy,’ silver and fragrant Santolina (lavender cotton), and blue mop head hydrangeas- they had changed to the most perfect, pale jade green by that time!
Once the general shape of the arrangement was established, I added white Hydrangea paniculata. By this point, the oasis was completely hidden from sight. Then, to create dimension and keep things loose, I added the quirky, leggy blossoms and green seed heads of Queen Anne’s Lace.
For the finishing touches, the altar flowers got a few sprigs of my Granmother’s bright pink roses, plus wildflowers in dusty blush shades to integrate the color. (One is joe pye weed, not sure about the other). To the green arrangement, I added wild grasses and rose hips from Rosa multiflora gathered in the Norman Bird Sanctuary.
I also (laughingly and somewhat contradictorily) added some store bought roses in pale greenish white, leftovers from a party my aunt had thrown a few days before. I still remember, at dinner, Mumma fishing food off of my plate when I was being a picky kid, or eating the marshmallow that I had just toasted to a crisp in the fireplace, saying: “I’d hate to see it go to waste!”