the top part of a decorative image showing garden flowers.

The Times-Union

Saturday, February 3, 2001

Flower Power: Floral designer Pauline Runkle says flowers are a pathway to creative expression

By Judy Wells
Times-Union staff writer

Expect to be one with your flowers when you attend a workshop led by renowned floral designer Pauline Runkle, who also happens to be a yoga instructor.

"When I teach workshops, we usually do a little yoga before I begin," said Runkle by phone from her Floral Artistry company in Manchester-by-the-Sea on Boston's North Shore. "Everybody rushes in from doing other things and I need them to be in with the flowers. They're in their head, thinking of what they've done and what they will be doing later, and I need them to focus. That's the Zen of flowers."

Runkle has gained floral fame for her loosely elegant, graceful, aromatic arrangements. She has judged the Tournament of Roses in Pasadena, Calif., designed windows for Tiffany's Boston store and researched appropriate flower displays for the Masterpiece Theatre series on PBS. Her work has been featured in magazines from Better Homes & Gardens to The Robb Report. If you watched a performance of the Boston Pops before 1996 (when flowers were cut from the budget), you've seen her work gracing tables, stage and conductor's podium.

The Garden Club of Jacksonville joins a distinguished lineup of museums, institutes and horticultural groups by presenting Runkle Thursday in a demonstration and workshop at its Riverside Avenue clubhouse.

"In Jacksonville I will talk about creativity and how people access that creativity, whether in relation to flowers or whatever. I'm going to be demonstrating using flowers as my medium. They were my pathway to my creativity. Once you find creativity, then your whole life comes into balance."

Gardening was in her genes.

"My family did it from childhood, and I with them," she said. "We were very garden-oriented. My great-grandfather, Dr. Henry Watkins, was a founder of the Men's Garden Club of Memphis."

She grows much of the flowers and foliage for her company's work in her cutting garden and having lived in Omaha, Neb., Memphis, Houston, New York and Boston, she is aware of the varieties of climate, soil and predators that challenge gardeners. She can even relate to apartment dwellers who have no garden.

"My garden is under a foot of snow at the moment," she said in a voice as soft and welcoming as her arrangements. "I survive on amaryllis flowers this time of year. You can use them just as they are or cut and mixed in with fruit. I do a lot of that kind of thing during the winter. Also, there are wonderful flowers, available in supermarkets, and the prices are usually very good. Fortunately, a lot of local florists are catering more to people who are doing floral arrangements in their home."

Sometimes she eschews flowers altogether.

"Some of the most beautiful arrangements are all foliage arrangements and that's always available," Runkle said. "I think the most beautiful of all arrangements is a combination of different shades of green from a foliage garden."

Foliage is also the key to getting the gracefully curving, loose and leafy arrangements many people try vainly to achieve. Their problem, she said, is most flowers available to amateurs have very straight stems.

"You have to get some that have looser stems, heathers or foliage. If you pick something with rigid stems you have rigid arrangements. Pick something with a stem that has a curve to it."

Not all problems are so easy to solve.

"For TV, it's very different. Certain colors don't do well on TV, particularly whites. Blue does very well. I'm also sensitive to heat from the television lights. I'm very careful that I do lots of flowers in water."

Putting them in Oasis, the commercially produced foam that florists use to anchor flowers in spaces that don't hold much water, isn't always the answer. Especially with a popular source of that photogenic blue.

"Delphiniums really have to be in water. I had a special box made in front of the podium for John Williams [the Boston Pops musical director at the time]. I would sink big tubes of water into Oasis, actually funeral cups, and that made a really workable solution."

Runkle favors flowers that retain their aroma, yet she knows this can become a problem.

"The wonderful thing about a beautiful bouquet is it's multi-dimensional: texture, movement and the dimension of fragrance is right up there with the color. It's like wearing perfume. Some is wonderful on you, and some is not. It's a very personal thing. Any fragrance that's overpowering a room is not going to be delicious. Some people can't tolerate lilacs. If it's just for you that's one thing, but if you're having four for dinner, that's something else."

Once she had to substitute silk lilies for the real thing when one of the Pops' musicians was adversely affected, but even the strongest fragrance like that of gardenias can be dealt with.

"Unless you're using them en masse or on someone, they shouldn't be a problem. Put a few in with green apples and kiwi fruit, and it's not overpowering," Runkle said.

The work of floral designer Pauline Runkle frequently appears in home and garden magazines.