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LET'S PARTY: A 12-MONTH PRIMER OF PARTY FLOWERS

By Dr. Leonard Perry and Lisa Halvorsen n
Extension Nursery and Greenhouse Crops Specialist
University of Vermont

Whether you are planning a birthday party or a formal dinner for business associates, flowers can play an important role in the decorations. But you don't have to settle for run-of-the-mill, one-color arrangements of carnations and daisies. Why not key the floral decor to the season or holidays and special events in the month?

Did you know that just as there are birthstones for every month, so are there official flowers? Arrangements or individual place settings featuring the "flower of the month" are perfect for birthday parties, as well as other gatherings. Some holidays also are associated with certain colors, such as orange and black for Halloween and red and white for Valentine's Day.

Before selecting the flowers, you will need to decide on the theme and setting for your party. Will it be indoors or outside? A formal sit-down affair or informal buffet? Consider your space to determine where to best display flowers.

Your budget also will play into selection. You may choose to have fewer arrangements or use flowers in season instead of exotic blooms, for example. Your florist can best advise you on these matters.

If you decorate the day before the party, keep your floral arrangements fresh by topping off the containers with water. Mist the blooms, then cover loosely with a thin layer of plastic. Keep in a cool place to prevent wilting.

If buying loose blooms, or cutting them from your garden, choose flowers with firm petals and buds that are just beginning to open. Recut the stems under water. Remove any foliage that will be below the water line.

Fill the vase or container with warm water mixed with floral preservative. If using floral foam, soak thoroughly before arranging blooms. Then place arrangements in a cool spot away from direct sunlight and heating or cooling vents.

Ready to plan your next party? Try these ideas:

JANUARY--An all-white winter arrangement is perfect for a New Year's Day celebration. Fill a clear or opaque vase with white Asiatic lilies, white roses or mums, baby's breath, and evergreen foliage. For a Super Bowl or football playoffs buffet table create an arrangement of flowers the same colors as the teams' colors. The flower for January is the carnation, which comes in a wide range of colors from pink, red, and white to bi-colors. You can also add food coloring to the water to turn the blooms other colors, including green and blue.

FEBRUARY--Give your gathering a Mardi Gras theme, using plenty of purple, gold, and green--the celebration's official colors--on the table and in the centerpieces. Or make the arrangements out of azaleas and camellias, flowers reminiscent of New Orleans and its annual festival. Cherry blossoms are appropriate for events close to Washington's birthday, and anything red, white, or pink for Valentine's Day. Or incorporate violets, February's official flower, into your arrangements.

MARCH--Hold a "Welcome Spring" party around the time of the spring equinox with packets of flower seeds for party favors. Fill unusual containers like tea kettles or decorative tins with tulips (the official flower for March), daffodils, and other flowers that say spring. Decorate for a St. Patrick's Day celebration with small pots of shamrocks or vases of interesting green foliage, such as asparagus ferns, and white or green roses or carnations. For an Easter gathering, decorate your home with potted Easter lilies or fill colorful Easter baskets with daisies, tulips, lilies, irises, and other seasonal flowers in spring colors like yellow, cream, and pastels. Add silk flowers as accents to individual baskets to be used for the Easter egg hunt.

APRIL--Have a tree planting party to celebrate National Arbor Day, with a brunch afterwards with a forest theme. Your decorations could include wooden sap buckets filled with early spring wildflowers and mosses.  (If you prefer to celebrate your local Arbor Day instead, check out http: //www.arborday.org/arborday/arbordaydates.html for the date.) Remember Earth Day by participating in a community service project or ask the neighbors over for an early morning breakfast followed by a neighborhood beautification project. Include a packet of sweet peas, this month's flower, with each invitation.

MAY--Invite the neighborhood kids over to plant pots of pansies for their mothers for Mother's Day. Purchase some small terra cotta pots and acrylic paints, and let them decorate as desired. Or help them make sachets filled with lavender and other aromatic herbs. For a Memorial Day celebration, add tiny American flags to centerpieces of red, white, and blue flowers, or fill your home with bunches of fragrant lilacs, the flower of May.

JUNE--It's probably no surprise that the rose is June's official bloom. Plan a picnic at a park or public garden, like Montreal's Botanic Garden, when the roses are in bloom. No floral arrangement is needed if you sit within sight and smell of the rose garden. Roses are also the official flower of Father's Day, red for the living, white if your Dad has passed on. The summer solstice, which signals the arrival of summer, calls for a celebration. Make it an outdoor affair with pots of colorful pansies on every table.

JULY--Chances are you'll be having an outdoor barbecue for the Fourth of July. Adorn your deck or picnic table with pots of red and white geraniums or vases of larkspur, July's flower. Hang baskets of red, white, and blue petunias. The trailing varieties are especially nice. Or plan an English garden party with tea and crumpets and a rousing game of croquet. For flowers give each male guest a boutonniere and the ladies, a simple nosegay or corsage made with red and white carnations tied with a blue ribbon.

AUGUST--By August, your gladioli should be in full bloom. Use this August flower for arrangements for your back-to-school party. Other garden-related projects perfect for your young guests and their parents include making pressed flower bookmarks and note cards with fresh flowers from the garden. Or provide flower stencils so they can decorate book covers and backpacks.  No school age kids in your household? Then why not celebrate National Friendship Day, established in 1935 by the U.S. Congress, by inviting friends to join you for a pool party or afternoon volleyball game. Keep the food and flowers simple. For the latter, vases filled with loose bouquets of fresh-cut garden blooms should do the trick.

SEPTEMBER--Plan a family-only celebration on Grandparents Day with pots of yellow, rust, orange, and maroon asters, September's flower, on display. After the party, help grandma and grandpa plant the asters at their house. Asters are also a good choice for a Labor Day picnic. Celebrate the autumnal equinox by getting your friends together for apple picking, hayrides, and cider, cheese, and apples back at your house. Decorate with autumn leaves or wicker baskets filled with flowers of fall colors--golden and rust mums, orange lilies, and yellow sunflowers.

OCTOBER--Planning a Halloween party? Then dress your tables in orange and black. Calendulas, this month's flower, may be hard to find unless your garden-grown ones survived autumn frosts, but you probably will have no trouble finding orange daisies, calla lilies, and   roses at your local florist. For "black" flowers, choose deep purple varieties of irises and orchids. A plastic pumpkin or skull makes an interesting container.  For a formal affair, order an arrangement with several blooms of Bird of Paradise, a beautiful, orange, tropical flower.

NOVEMBER--Gourds, dried Indian corn, and pumpkins take center stage at any Thanksgiving gathering this month. Arrange with fall leaves and dried straw flowers on a formal dinner table. Having a few friends over after the town Veteran's Day parade? Chrysanthemums (November's official flower) in fall colors are appropriate. Or go patriotic with red roses, blue statice, and white lilies.

DECEMBER--Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, there's no shortage of holiday plants available at garden centers and other venues this month. In addition to poinsettias, cyclamens, kalanchoes, and azaleas, many places now are carrying Christmas roses, the latest trend in plants for the season. Or decorate with evergreen boughs and bowls of floating candles for a romantic table. Narcissus, December's flower, adds fragrance and beauty to any room. You can plant these bulbs in bowls of colored marbles or pebbles for an attractive room decoration. Start bulbs about six weeks before you want them to bloom.

To make your parties extra memorable, don't forget to include a few age and interest-appropriate activities. For a kids' spring birthday party, for example, introduce your young guests to gardening by letting them plant seeds in pots. Adult friends with a common interest in gardening might enjoy seed swapping at a spring gathering or perennial swapping at an early summer get-together. Or ask each guest to bring a small garden-related gift for a grab bag.

Another idea is to harvest culinary herbs for a cooking activity, such as making herb dips to bring home. During the winter holidays, gather friends and family to make evergreen wreaths and garlands. The possibilities are endless, but there's one thing for sure. Your parties will become the talk of the neighborhood!

 



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