Andy Newcom, an expert photo stylist at Hallmark’s Union Hill Studios, knows his way around a garden. Today, he’s helping us bring the outside in with some of his best innovative (and easy!) floral tips.
I go a little crazy each spring. After a long Kansas City winter, I love getting back outside and spending a day working in the yard. Part of the attraction is just being outside without wearing five layers of clothing. Part of the fun is checking on plants that have been dormant for several months. Part of the joy is planning for new additions to the garden, and I get great satisfaction from the meditative quality gardening provides.
I feel such a connection to nature that I find myself dragging it inside on a regular basis. I want to give you some tips on how you can experience a dose of greenery with little-to-no garden and little-to-no experience.
Weeds get a bad rap, as do vines that have a tendency to take over. Usually they are the first signs of life in spring that are cursed and then plucked. I understand the reaction, but in the right light they posses a beauty all their own. Really!
I have wild onion that seems to spread and grow every spring, and they crack me up. Onion grows amazingly long with a little round ball of a flower at the very end of this exaggerated, upside-down exclamation point.
I can’t help looking at these Dr. Suess-like strands combined with invasive ivy without smiling. I tend to look at plants the way I look at people: There are certain people who may seem annoying and pop up where and when you don’t want them to. But if I change how I look at them, they start to take on great individual and quirky charm that I’m quite fond of.
You don’t have to have a garden or even access to one. I do not want to leave out those who are apartment or condo dwellers. There are great, inexpensive plants and natural souvenirs available to everyone.
Yellow Billy Balls can be purchased from local florists and even online. They don’t need water and will last for years. Billy Balls are cheerful and add visual interest to any room. Just be careful when you search Billy Balls on your computer…and I dare you to go into your florist and ask with great confidence where Billy Balls can be found!
Daisies may seem common, but they are one of my favorite flowers. They are readily available through grocery-store flower departments and florists. They are relatively inexpensive and will last a relatively long time. They make me smile.
If nothing else, go on a hike in a local park and collect objects from nature. House your souvenirs in a decorative bowl. (Learn which plants are dangerous to small children and pets and avoid those at all cost!)
Make a powerful statement with color. Hydrangeas come in such beautiful values of purple, pink and blue. I love to put them on display with non-floral interior objects that pick up those same colors. Think of it as the “Garanimals” of floral design.
Most people don’t have access to massive garden material right outside of their front door, but something as simple as a flowering branch can be snipped from a tree and tucked into a glass bottle.
Speaking of right outside of the front door, I have a Sweet Bay magnolia right outside of mine. I planted it there so when I come home—or people come to visit—we will be enveloped in the beautiful, clean, lemony smell of the Sweet Bay blossom.
If you bring a great-smelling plant inside your home, put it on display where you can take a big whiff every once in awhile. If you bring in a stinky plant, like a daisy or a pear tree branch, keep it a good distance from your nostrils; they are not to be whiffed. Keep all smelly plants, good and bad, from the dinner table. You don’t want dinner to taste like potpourri.
SO SWEET: DITCH FLOWERS
I don’t know if this is true for every part of the country, but out in the countryside around Kansas City are plants lovingly referred to as “ditch flowers”. These are flowers that grow wild in ditches along the road. Flowers that hang out in wrong places, if you know what I mean.
I don’t want anyone going to jail, and I don’t want to be an accessory to criminal activity, but let’s just say it’s a beautiful summer day, and I’m going for a drive out in the country, and let’s just say I pull over to take in all of the natural beauty of my surroundings, and, hypothetically, let’s say there happens to be a ditch full of Queen’s Anne’s Lace right next to me! I might pull up a stem or two and drop them in my “Big Gulp” cup and take that delicate little wonder home with me. Because I don’t want to be greedy, I only take one or two, and to enhance their sweetness, I put them in a tiny antique saltshaker. How could I get in trouble for something that cute?
I love peonies because they are a little bit country and a little bit fancy-pants. When I think of peonies, I think of small towns, farmhouses and grandmas. When I think of peonies, I think of French, manicured estates with lots of gold gilt and sterling trays piled with pastries. (I always work French pastries into anything I’m thinking of).
Peonies are both farmhouses and French estates, and if you are lucky enough to have some in your yard, cut them and bring those awe-inspiring blooms inside. If you don’t have any, but your neighbors do, bring those inside. (I don’t think they’ll mind.) Don’t fret about arranging. Just cut those beauties and plop them in a pitcher. You can’t go wrong! Anyone who comes into your home while your peonies are on display will automatically think you are a floral genius.
NO SKILL REQUIRED
Brown Bracken, peonies, roses and other big-boned flowers can be cut below the bloom and floated in a container of water. What could be more simple or beautiful? Sometimes simple and understated is best.
I not only love nature, but I love all kinds of containers. (If you can love that type of thing, and, as a photo stylist, let me tell you that it is sickeningly possible.) I love 1800s English Ironstone and 1700s hand-blown glass with its air bubbles and all of its glorious imperfections showing. But I understand that most “normal” people are not into this.
I also have my simple, down-home, let’s-have-a-big-shin-dig-after-the-barn-raisin’ country-boy side, and I equally appreciate plopping a bunch of fresh-picked posies in a tin can. Just wash out the bean residue first.
Anything that can hold water can be a container for flowers.
A few times a year, I find myself trimming trees in my yard. Unlike my dad who likes to trim bushes and trees and anything in his sight within an inch of its life, I try to show a little restraint. But not always. I am his son, after all.
I have a grove of redbuds that I trim on a regular basis, partly because they are planted close to one another. After giving them a spring haircut, I started to put the debris in a garden sack, but then thought better of it. Why not bring one of those magnificent branches with beautiful heart-shaped leaves into my home?
What I really love about large branches inside is that they take on architectural significance, especially in a simple interior environment. Just make sure your container is heavy enough to support the branch so that the branch doesn’t fall over and bonk somebody on the head. Beauty doesn’t need to hurt.
BRING IT ON HOME…LITERALLY
I hope that I have been able to show that you don’t need an English garden full of beautiful blooming flowers to enjoy elements of nature in your own home.
Use and take advantage of what you have available. Most importantly, surround yourself with the natural world as often as possible. Respect nature, and the benefits will be great and varied. Share what you grow with others; this little act of kindness and goodness is more meaningful than I can express. I still have fond memories of spending summers in Lamoni, Iowa, with my grandparents and the many flowers that went from garden to inside and from garden to neighbors’ homes. I cherish those simple memories.
I leave you with a walk through my backyard as I gather branches and greenery for an arrangement I’m putting together in my garden shed. I’m not sure who will receive it, but it will be fun to think about the possible recipient. Get outside, get dirty and enjoy the garden—you will be better for it.
Speaking of my garden shed, go to the Hallmark Facebook page to watch the video of my dad and I building my garden shed in memory of my mom. My mother is the one that gave me my love of gardening and I am eternally grateful.
Photography by Jane Kortright.