Saturday, April 11, 2015

Centerpieces for our Kentucky Derby Themed School Auction: Photos and Process...

A while back, I posted various inspiration photos for our Derby-themed school auction.

I volunteered to do the table centerpieces, and what a crazy and fun challenge it turned out to be!  I have always enjoyed entertaining, designing tablescapes, arranging flowers, etc., in my home.  BUT, I have never done anything on a larger scale for an event for 300 people with 30 tables!  I have a whole new appreciation for what event planners, designers, and florists, do, on a regular basis.  The amount of planning and preparation required was mind blowing. Thankfully, I had my creative and talented MOM (who used to design flowers for weddings and events) to guide me through the entire process.

I wanted to share what I learned in the process in case anyone else with NO prior experience wants to attempt such a project...There really is a learning curve to this process, so I figure this will be much easier the next time around.

My first challenge was having zero budget, so everything I put together would be a donation.  Nevertheless, I was happy to contribute to our school's largest fundraiser, as our children's education is obviously a top priority, and we are endlessly thankful for the wonderful opportunities our school provides our children each day. Yet, as I was gathering design ideas and doing the math, I concluded that even the most simple tablescapes would add up quickly with thirty tables.  I toyed with using riding boots, vintage trophies, Derby hats, etc., in the tablescape, but sourcing these ideas for so many tables became costly and cumbersome.  So, I settled on doing a red and pink rose arrangement for half of the tables, with an alternative design on the other half.  This would make the arrangement logistics and expenses more reasonable, and create a more interesting room design.  I had already purchased a bunch of faux moss balls on sale from Arhaus around the holidays, so I wanted to incorporate those into the design.  Also, I found gold, silver, and red 11-inch tall pails from Target that were only $3 each, so I thought these would be cute and economical to use.

I found some adorable templates for printables from Jenn Sbranti's blog, Hostess with the Mostess.

I was able to incorporate these templates with some of her other ideas into our design: gold spray-painted horses, little pennants that say win, place, and show, and some cute signs that could be printed and placed into frames for display around the room.

The first step was to come up with a floral design.  My Mom helped to figure out a good number of roses, the length, types of greens to mix in, etc.  My original plan was 12 roses in each, a mix of 7 red/5 hot pink with Salal tips and Variegated Pittosporum for greenery.  I love the color and shape of Salal tips - they are a rich, vibrant green, and they have a wild and organic shape.  In fact, my grandmother apparently used to even gather a large bunch to use as an arrangement on her entry table. The Variegated Pittosporum have a softer green hue with white trim, which makes for a beautiful filler.  The design would be similar to this...

Original design idea with red and pink roses, Salal tips, and a little white flower which I did not end up using...added Variegated Pitt greenery instead.

For the non-floral centerpieces, we came up with this...

The cabana stripe tablecloth (in a decent fabric) was too costly,
so we settled on a chevron runner instead.

I ordered small plastic horses on Amazon and found stemless wine glasses and bud vases at dollar stores and Old Time Pottery and spray painted them all gold.  I printed the win, place, show triangular pennants from Jenn Sbranti's Hostess with the Mostess Blog, cut and glued them to red card stock, and then glued them to the white and red striped straws (just used clear Elmer's school glue).  It was slightly time-consuming, but easy, and the kids could help.

My Mom, Lucia teaching my daughter, Caroline, about flower arranging during our visit to St. Louis over Valentines Day weekend
First step: De-thorning, trimming, hydrating roses and greens

Once greens have been trimmed to approx 10-inch each, placed in small buckets, ready for making the arrangements the next day...

Soaking the Oasis Blocks for 10 min...

I used a lazy susan to rotate and arrange the flowers - much easier.

I tied a wire-edged polka dot ribbon around top to hide the plastic pail liner...

Found these little bud vases at Old Time Pottery and spray painted them gold

Printed these templates from Jenn Sbranti's Hostess with the Mostess Blog, and framed them to use on display tables or bar area at the event.

I was getting nervous that the roses were opening up too much, so I placed them into our small wine room in basement where it was a bit cooler...But, I wasn't sure of the humidity levels, so I moved them to a cool area in our basement instead.

Giant Eagle gave me these wine boxes which were perfect size and shape for transport.

We attached these little hand-made tags to each arrangement so teachers could take them home after the auction.

Each year, the 8th graders help out at the auction and create little 'skits' with costumes and props to auction off each item...(vacations, concerts, dinner parties, etc.)

My husband and I heading to the auction...It was fun to dress up in Derby gear! The women wore all different kinds of fun hats and fascinators...I found mine from a reasonably-priced source, The Original Tree, on Etsy

The following is a summary of the process (please excuse the length and tedious details...I just find it helpful for future reference).

The first step was to order the flowers, greenery, regular oasis blocks, floral food, etc., and purchase all of the supplies needed for the project.  Who knew there are about 100 different varieties of roses to choose from, each with varying opening abilities, diameters, shades, color tones, etc.  Luckily, my Mom had a lot of experience working with roses, so she advised me on which varieties to order.  The red 'Freedom' rose and the pink 'Sweet Unique' rose.  Yet, she warned me that a single variety can sometimes vary depending on time of year and its origination.  

For supplies, you need three different sizes of buckets: large 5-gallon from Home Depot for the initial rose trimming/hydration process, medium oval sized for hydrating the greens, and small 10-inch high buckets for the measured/trimmed pieces used for the arrangements.  Plus, you need a rose (thorn) stripper, a trimmer, ruler, wired 1.5 inch ribbon to tie around pails, plastic bags to cover each arrangement and protect from cold, and spray bottle.  Finally, she advised that I collect several empty wine boxes for transport.  Luckily, my local Giant Eagle store graciously gave me several of their boxes which were the perfect size and shape for transporting them to the event.

Based on the timing of the event, the floral supply store suggested I pick up the flowers on Wednesday so the flowers would have time to hydrate and open up.  I was slightly alarmed when I brought them home and noticed they were already opening up more than I expected.  I was a bit concerned they would be too open by Saturday.  Plus, I was hoping for a deeper hot pink, but the roses were more of a pale pink color.  So, I decided to run to Costco and purchase some hot pink roses.  So, I ended up with 16 roses in each: 7 red/4 hot pink/5 light pink.  I am so glad I did, as the 3 shades of roses created a more interesting arrangement.

Here is a timeline for the process:

Wednesday before (Sat evening) event: Flower pick-up and conditioning...(3-4 hours)

a) Pick up flowers from floral supply.
b) Prepare large and medium buckets with Floralife food and water.
c) Use rose stripper to strip thorns and trim 2 inches off each rose, place into buckets. Note > once you trim a flower, you have 10 seconds to place in water, otherwise the stem will not efficiently soak up the water.
d) Trim 1-2 inches of greens and place into buckets with Floralife water.
e) Place buckets in good light, warmer place to encourage opening. Cooler place to slow down opening.

Thursday: (3-4 hours)

a) Run to Costco to pick up hot pink roses (3 bunches of 24-count)
b) Add a little more water to buckets to ensure proper hydration.
c) Spray roses with water
d) Trim the bottom corners of oasis blocks so that approx 2 inches of oasis sticks up above pail.  Note > Once they are soaked with water, they will be heavy and sink down lower than when dry.  Need oasis to stick up above pail so you can stick roses in sides for horizontal (full) arrangement shape.
e) Fit plastic bags into pails, secured with rubber bands to ensure no leakage.
f) Trim greenery into workable pieces so you know how MANY you have to work with (to spread evenly throughout arrangements) AND to make the process of arrangement the next day more efficient.  In my case, I trimmed the Salal tips and Variegated Pitt greens about 9-10 inches long each, and used 13 Salal stems in each arrangement.  I used the Variegated Pitt as filler 

Friday: (6 hours) 

a) Prepare Floralife water into large pitcher and pour 3-4 inches in bottom of each pail. (Note, I lined each pail with a plastic bag and rubber band around top to ensure no leaking)
b) Clean kitchen sink and prepare a big 'bath' of Floralife water to soak the oases. 
c) Place Oasis blocks into water, do NOT submerge, let it sink in gradually. The word 'oasis' should be facing up. Can soak 6 at a time, let soak for 10 min.
d) Place Oasis into pail with about 1 inch showing over top of pail.
e) Start arranging greens: 7 jetting out, some parallel to table to form horizontal and vertical shape.
f) Next measure 8-9 inch and trim roses and add to arrangement (horizontal and vertical shape).
e) Fill in with more greens (total 13 salal in each arrangement and 6 or so Variegated Pitt for filler)
f) Cut and tie wired polka-dot ribbon around top of each pail to hide the plastic liner bag at top.
g) Spray roses with water.  The key is to keep the flowers well hydrated, inside and out.

Saturday morning: (3 hours)

a) Cover each arrangement with plastic bag to protect from cold
b) Transport roses to venue
c) Setup tablescapes.
d) Spray roses with another round of water
e) Relax

Looking back, although it was a lot of planning and preparatory work, it was a huge learning experience, a fun way to keep my creative juices flowing, and all for a great cause (to raise funds for our school), so I was happy with how it all turned out.  I hope you find some good tips to use for your own table scape projects!

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