ARTICLE BY: Françoise Weeks
Françoise Weeks, born and raised in Belgium, has infused her work with a quintessential European reverence for flowers and nature. Combined with creativity and mechanical ingenuity, she has crystalized her singular style of Textural Woodlands and Botanical Haute Couture pieces, garnering a global following. Françoise’s studio is located in Portland, OR. She teaches workshops in her studio, out of state and internationally; she offers online courses and Skype classes as well. In January 2019 her book The Herbal Recipe Keeper will be published by Timber Press.
In 1996 I started my flower business. Eleven years ago, out of nowhere, a 45 year old memory popped in my head: we used to spend summer vacations in Switzerland, hiking in the Alps for a month each summer. After lunch my siblings and I often gathered a piece of bark, covered it with some moss, arranged a selection of wild flowers on it and gave that little treasure from nature to mom.
A friend encouraged me to emulate that idea for a photo shoot. It was the first design of what I would call woodland style: a piece of wood or bark becomes a container or part of the design made primarily with textures, which I define as any botanical materials except flowers: herbs, seedpods of poppies, nigella, scabiosa, queen Anne’s lace or any other plant, interesting foliage, berries, bark, branches, grasses, succulents, lichens, mosses, fungi, hops, green blueberries, blackberries and cherry tomatoes, leaves of kale…
I became somewhat obsessed with this style of design and curiosity drove me to explore it extensively. I like to say that designing woodlands gave me new eyes: I started to look at everything in the garden and in nature from a different perspective, seeing so much beauty in overlooked gifts of Mother Nature. Gone were the days where I focused on the flowers only. I paid a lot more attention to the beautiful foliage of annuals, perennials, herbs, groundcovers, vines etc and started to incorporate them in designs.
Checking for interesting seedpods of any plant became a new focus. Sometimes the beauty of the bud of plants would catch my eye, and I would forego letting it bloom to use a newly found treasure. In the driveway, I replaced a long strip of variegated houttuynia with an extensive selection of fast growing sedums (a perfect element to make botanical jewelry). Instead of pulling the fast growing volunteer wild strawberries amongst all the sedums, I would harvest them to add some whimsy to a design.
When pruning trees or shrubs, I would carefully gauge how useable the pieces would be to build a structure to design with or how I could use a hollowed-out stump or a moss covered piece of bark as a ‘container’. I would delight in the lichen covered branches that littered the streets in the neighborhood after a wind storm and gather them. And I would memorize which trees grew where in the neighborhood, so I knew where to collect acorns and other seedpods of trees that had dropped on the sidewalk, as well as golden ginko leaves and other vibrant foliage, while ambling in this area in the fall.
When grocery shopping I also got new eyes: the crinkly kale leaves and shitake mushrooms became part of most designs, as well as the occasional long aubergine colored beans, or the seckle pears, key limes and lady apples; the gorgeous spiral sections of romanesco as well as baby artichoke became new found treasures.
Needless to say, the garden could not provide all I needed for the business; however my buying habits at the flower market changed and morphed to primarily purchasing textures for design.
Many students have told me that they started to look at their gardens through different eyes and had made beautiful centerpieces from what they had harvested at any time of the year.
Texture can be found anywhere in the garden; it adds so much interest to any design, whether it is a bouquet in a vase or a woodland wreath or a centerpiece.
Give it a try – you will love the new plethora of elements to design with in your own backyard!
Featured image by Sarah Collier