Turning 85 is a big deal for people. For garden clubs, it’s a huge milestone. Some clubs fold as soon as the founding group loses interest. Many clubs ‘age out’ as community demographics change; younger would-be members take a look at the gray-haired ladies at meetings and go elsewhere. When a club makes it to 85 it is a bona-fide, enduring institution.
|Members of the Brockton Garden|
Club at project site
Last evening I had the opportunity to be part of the Brockton Garden Club’s special 85th anniversary celebration. For the occasion, the club had invited elected officials, representatives of area civic groups and presidents of garden clubs in neighboring towns. It was, to say the least, a Big Deal.
The Brockton Garden Club has a lot to be proud of. For those reading this from outside the region, Brockton is a city roughly half-way between Boston and Providence. It is an old city with many of the problems endemic to such communities. The garden club there is neither insular nor aloof from the surrounding area. It plants and maintains downtown sidewalk planters as well as city gardens and traffic islands. It provides scholarships and camperships and, of note, established and maintains a memorial garden at the city’s public library. It is, in short, going strong with major civic involvement credentials.
When you turn 85 and have that much to celebrate, you want to do something special and, last evening, the club brought in a Big Gun. While the Brockton Garden Club is thought of as a horticultural group (aka "dirt gardeners"), they elected to invite in a speaker who is widely known for arranging flowers rather than for cultivating them.
An aside before I continue: amateur floral design is a subject about which I write in this space occasionally but I have never attempted to put what goes in in Massachusetts into a larger perspective. Let me correct that now. Massachusetts, by common consent, has a major concentration of gifted creative designers; one of the larger groups in the country. Some of those are “amateurs” in the same way that the U.S. Olympic basketball and hockey teams are amateurs. They operate flower-related studios and businesses but, when they sign up for a show, they’re competing against other talented amateurs for nothing more than a ribbon and bragging rights.
|One of Tony's designs|
Tony Todesco is a legend within this already rarefied group. While he does not strut his résumé, he is a Master Flower Show Judge and served as the chairman of the National Garden Club Flower Show Committee on New Design Development from 2001 to 2009. He has developed five new design types that can be found in the NGC’s Handbook for Flower Shows. He is currently one of a small, select group re-writing that handbook, which is the ‘bible’ for both novice and experienced designers. As curriculum vitae go, this is high octane. I first came to know Tony during my years as Chairman of Blooms! at the Boston Flower & Garden Show, where, when he wasn’t designing, he would be the lead judge for the ‘top awards’ panel.
|... and another...|
It takes one set of skills to be a top designer and another, very different set of skills to be a top judge. It requires a completely different aptitude to stand up on front of a large group of people and create ‘wow’ designs without putting an audience to sleep. Tony gets an Award of Excellence for showmanship in this last category.
A floral designer hired by a club is expected to put together four or five arrangements in about an hour, explaining what they’re doing as they go along. Tony did seven stunning designs in about 70 minutes. He made it look effortless. And he told stories.
Stories are an integral part to winning over an audience during a floral design or container gardening demonstration. They’re part of a ‘patter’ that both establishes a rapport with an audience and fills in the blank spaces that punctuate the execution of a design (you can only say, “I’m going to add some more plecanthus in the back to draw the eye to rear of the design” so many times before people doze off).
|... and another.|
But you can tell them about your cat named Montgomery and how he came to be named for your favorite wholesale flower supplier in Northborough, or that while he is a stray you took in, you gladly spent a thousand dollars to repair Montgomery’s chipped canine. You can tell them about your thirty-something son who has come home to “take care of you” and refuses to get the hint that it’s way past time to get a place of his own. You can regale your audience with tales of having purchased land in then-far-away Sudbury at the age of 18 for a pittance, and that your parents were convinced there were still raiding parties from the King Philip War lurking. These were some of Tony’s stories, and they kept the audience’s attention: entertainment coupled with education.
It was a great evening made all the more memorable because the event commemorated a milestone for a worthy organization. My lone regret? I have to follow Tony as the Club’s speaker at its April meeting and, while I’m not doing floral designs, comparisons are inevitable. I guess I'd better brush up my tales of my own T.R., another cat with expensive dental issues.