Les Fleurs d’Andover hosts dream flower arranging classes


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Everyone is desperate to learn the secrets of conception with dahlias. This is what Sandra Sigman of Flowers in Andover discovered last year when she announced her Dahlia Workshop Under the Stars, which will take place at Stevens-Coolidge Place in North Andover.

“It sold out in minutes and we had a long waiting list,” she recalls. Ten lucky attendees who responded quickly found seats in Stevens-Coolidge Place’s intimate greenhouse to spend the evening under twinkling lights persuading the dahlias to bid in bouquets like they had never concocted before.

Dahlias produce undeniably impressive flowers, but it wasn’t just about flower arrangement. When Sandra Sigman is at the helm, flowers fly and spirits fly with the greatest of ease.

Part of the inspiration for the event came from the venue itself. Through her marriage work, Les Fleurs has frequently teamed up with Stevens-Coolidge Place, where voluptuous flower beds intersect with manicured grounds in a historic setting. Originally in the Stevens family since 1729, Ashdale Farm was made into an estate by Helen Stevens, wife of John Gardner Coolidge (a distinguished diplomat and descendant of Thomas Jefferson).

Starting in 1918 and working with designer Joseph Everett Chandler, Stevens eventually outfitted the property with all the items a large estate would need, including expansive cut flower beds and a vegetable patch. Upon his death in 1962, the property was bequeathed to the Reservations Trustees, who managed the estate while restoring the gardens.

Exclusive Dahlia arrangement video with Sandra Sigman

A source of inspiration, the Stevens-Coolidge gardens are overflowing with ideas. But dahlias were the flowers that really sparked the eureka moment for Sandra Sigman. “Dahlias are so lush and beautiful; they have a certain mystique. They started the workshop.

It wasn’t just the flowers. The picturesque greenhouse from 1926 nestled next to the Stevens-Coolidge Rose Garden has always tempted Sigman for its workshop potential. Formerly mainly dedicated to growing fruit out of season, the “Grape” now overwinters tropical plants in pots in gardens. In September 2019, when Sigman held his workshop, the greenhouse was empty.

To play in the fairytale vibe, Sigman designed an arbor of vines to arch over the entrance, enlivened by water-tube dahlias nestled in the branches. Festive lights were hung inside the structure to brighten the mood, while benches containing ingredients waited for the group to find their mojo with dahlias.

Why dahlias? “Do you know of another flower with such a variety of sizes and color palettes? Sigman asks.

For the event, she traveled to Russells Mills Flower Farm in South Dartmouth to seek out 300 dahlias in shades of apricot, pale peach, soft orange and whisper pink. “I selected shades that would work together, rather than a mass of different colors.”

As part of its formula for success, it also offered a range of types and sizes. “It’s easier to organize if you mix sizes beyond the shape of an ever-popular huge plate,” says Sigman. And she brought roses, foxgloves, snapdragons and hellebores to mingle with the dahlias. “We didn’t want the finished bouquets to look like round balls. Ferns and other greens also lighten up the compositions.

The evening began with a tour of the gardens, always glistening with fall blooms, led by Laura Bibler, who restored the Stevens-Coolidge Garden in 2010 to its historic roots. From there, the group returned to the greenhouse with all the ingredients, ready to master the art of dahlias.

Sigman had previously conditioned, hydrated and refrigerated the newly cut flowers for a day. The hollow stems of the plate types were filled with water to help them last for several days. Everyone worked with a pre-sealed waterproof pedestal terracotta container fitted with a pin frog “to keep the stems from coming out of the vase.” With a little coaching enticing them to browse the range of colors, participants began to create works of art to take home after dark.

By nightfall, everyone was perfectly adept with the dahlias. Each arrangement was a masterpiece, but that’s exactly what Sandra Sigman predicted would result. “In the end, the flowers were the real stars.”

thetrustees.org/place/the-stevens-coolidge-place ; lesfleurs.com

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Rosalie M. Dehner