Gardeners from different regions have different perspectives, but they all love Hawai‘i for its striking, sculptural flora. Of the nine Garden Club of America Major Flower Shows held nationally in 2012, Honolulu’s will command premier attention; hundreds of Mainland members will be attending, including seventy certified judges. Lee has long experience as a floral designer and judge; she was invited to the Philadelphia show in March 2011 as both a judge and contestant. (Its theme, she notes without surprise, was “Hawai‘i.”) The GCH show is one not to miss, she says: “I know this is kind of bragging, but I’ve seen a lot of shows, and Honolulu’s is a wonderful show.”
Club members choose a theme that provides focus while allowing room for interpretation. For the upcoming Honolulu show, the club decided on “Echoes of Rainbows.” A risky theme, says Tanya Alston, GCH president. “The rainbow can be trite,” she says. “And it can also be interpreted negatively,” adds Paulette Stone, co-chair of the horticulture division for the 2012 show. But Alston and Stone, longtime “girlfriends gardening,” also see the exciting possibilities in the rainbow theme. Take for instance one of the horticultural categories called “Pot of Gold.” Entrants must use yellow Oncidium orchids to suggest, yes, a pot of leprechaun gold. For “Reflections” a single specimen must be exhibited with the parent plant from which it was propagated to show, as Alston explains, the mother-and-child relationship. “‘Eat Your Greens,’” Alston continues, “features a collection of edible plants and/or edible flowers displayed on a dining table.” Other categories will challenge designers to communicate concepts: “Watercolors” (small water gardens), “Promise” (endangered native loulu palm), “Jewel Box” (plants in troughs). Each designer must work with the natural limits of the particular plants and then tease out something greater. Stone likens it to raising children.
For botanical jewelry, “Facets” includes bracelets and brooches, while “Raindrops” features pendant necklaces and earrings. Photographers must create “Illusions” (landscape through an arch) or “Pathways” toward a rainbow. Flower designers need to meet the challenge of evoking a “Rain Shower” or use a light source in “Illumination” or create an arrangement immersed in “Water.” And what could one possibly do with “Prisms”?
Kaui Philpotts, publicity chair of the show, was thinking about what to do for an exhibit when Ele Potts, known for her brilliant designs and willingness to mentor, suggested she enter the “Prisms” category. “Ele told me to sign up for this, so I did,” says Philpotts. “After I turned in my papers, I read the requirements and found out it has to be suspended from the ceiling! And it has to be viewed from four sides! I thought, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve never done anything like this before!’”
For the Honolulu show, Bertie Lee will attempt a “Double Rainbow.” How, she’s not sure yet, but she’ll discover it in process, she says. “I’ll go through six different concepts before settling on something.” For now she’s considering “a sculptural thing with no vessel, with two arch-like forms using plant material.” What those plants will be she doesn’t yet know, but of one thing she’s certain: They’ll be tropicals. “They’re vivid and they last a long time— you have to keep your plants alive and fresh for at least three days. If they don’t last, your winnings can be taken away,” which is the reason bougainvillea, colorful and plentiful as it is, won’t be part of her rainbow; it doesn’t last. “Maybe pincushions, which are in the protea family,” she says, “or orchids. I’m not really sure yet.”