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  • What's your best-selling party theme?

    Garden Fresh
    Advice from Kevin Ylvisaker, AIFD, PFCI, Kevin Ylvisaker Int'l Floral Design, Mukwonago, Wis.

    The shops I work with as a freelancer are all doing a lot of garden themes. The look is best achieved with roses, lilies, hydrangea and other types of flowers you would expect to see in someone's home garden. But everything has to be in its prime — meaning lush, with nothing closed or tight. Props are useful: gazebos, arches, fountains and white picket fences with ivy vines wrapped around them.

    One technique I use to further the unstructured, fresh-from-the-garden look is to put five glass vases on each table in unrelated sizes, shapes, styles and colors, each filled with a mass of just one type of flower. I'll have one vase filled with 10 tulips, a second with 10 daffodils, a third with 10 irises and so on. It makes it look like the host gathered whatever vases could be found in the house before wandering out to the garden to fill them. This works especially well for shops that have a lot of odds-and-ends vases gathering dust in the back room as dead inventory: you use those instead of having to buy or rent uniform sets of vases just for the event.

    Victorian Romance
    Advice from Colleen Carr, AIFD, CAFA, Harry Miller Flowers, Dearborn, Mich.

    Until recently I worked in a small but affluent community where the big thing was Victorian-style garden parties and teas that evoked civility, chivalry and frilly romance. For me, that meant doing arrangements of open roses.

    The nice thing about open roses is that they fill lots of space, so you can use fewer of them in an arrangement without sacrificing the visual impact. Spray roses are best for this purpose. They cost less than regular roses, they give you more product per stem and, when the blossoms are all blown open, they take up much more space than a single-stem rose. Customers go crazy for that. When they see it, they think they're getting bunches and bunches of regular roses, but it's not costing them an arm and a leg.

    In addition to flowers, I always accented my Victorian parties with lots and lots of lace — doilies, lace ribbon and so on — which I bought only when I saw it on the clearance rack at the wholesale store. Lace is good to stock up on for any kind of party with a feminine or romantic feel.

    Versatile Tropicals
    Advice from On Thai, AIFD, Surroundings Floral Studios, Schenectady, N.Y.

    We don't have any one particular theme that's a best-seller, because our clientele is made up of people who move in the same social circle, which means it would be bad for business to do the same theme twice in a season. But we do have favorite flowers and materials that we make repeated use of from one party to the next. We use a lot of tropicals, which allow us to create some very different looks: a Roaring Twenties Miami nightclub scene, a Hawaiian luau, an ancient South American rainforest, a futuristic utopia.

    Using the same flowers for different themes allows us to buy for inventory rather than as immediately needed, so that we can sometimes buy in sufficient volume to qualify for discounts. In addition to tropicals, we also use a lot of locally available flowers for country and garden themes, including snapdragons, zinnias, dahlias, "roadsidia," and cattails.

    Candles go with just about every kind of theme; in fact, the more candles you use, the more alive you make the party. One of my secrets is to use fruits, vegetables, grasses, twigs and branches as a way to inexpensively fill the large spaces of a room or patio while adding lots of visual interest. I avoid compressing flowers and materials — that makes it harder to fill spaces, not to mention it drives up the cost because you have to use more product to achieve the effect for which you're looking.

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