Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Flowers For A Darlington Bruncheon Party

This past Sunday, Boy and I threw a bruncheon for twenty at Darlington House.  We did so, in part, because friends of ours who live near us in the country were having a house party that weekend, where we knew a number of the guests.  We were, ourselves, the happy guests of our friends at their table at a large benefit dinner on Saturday night, and we thought it would be enjoyable for all concerned to continue the festivities at our house the next day.  So we organized a bruncheon party at Darlington House and invited the house party to join us.  To make it more fun, we also invited a dozen or so of our own friends in the area, and I am happy to report that the party was a jolly affair with a grand time had by all.

The sidewalk in front of Fischer & Page Ltd., in New York's flower district

While we engaged our most favored caterer to provide the food, drink, and staff for our party (and I must say they did an exemplary job of it), Boy and I did all of the other preparations, including the flowers.  We wanted to make it a special event for our guests and decided that we should go to the flower district in Manhattan on Friday morning to buy flowers to decorate Darlington House.  So we fired up the jalopy bright and early Friday morning and drove over and down to West 28th Street in Manhattan, where we made a beeline to Fischer and Page Ltd., our favorite vendor of fresh wholesale flowers in the city.

Roses, roses, and more roses inside of Fischer & Page

While at F&P we were assisted by the ever affable and most helpful Chris Demeo, who helped us select bunches of branches of blossoming mountain laurel to fill an urn on our dining room table, masses of peonies for the drawing room, and an embarrassment of parrot tulips for the table in our entry.  I highly recommend that you, Dear Reader, seek Chris out should you require the services of a wholesale flower vendor in Manhattan.  I am listing his contact information at the end of this post.

Chris of Fischer & Page, carrying our mountain laurel branches

Once we arrived at Darlington, Boy set to work preparing and conditioning the branches and flowers, so that he could then arrange them the next day.  When buying cut flowers it is important once you get them home that you recut their stems and let them sit in containers of fresh water for at least several hours before arranging them.  Not only is this conditioning reviving for them, but it also ensures a longer life for the flowers for you to enjoy.

The mountain laurel, unwrapped in our gardening barn at Darlington

Boy's first task was to prepare the mountain laurel branches, which required pruning them of any dead wood and non-flowering parts, clipping their stems, and placing them in containers of water to condition.

Of course this required the necessary tools, including a pair of Felco pruning shears . . . and a gin martini for much needed fortification.  It was after five o'clock, after all.

The mountain laurel, pruned and conditioning in our gardening barn

After finishing the task of preparing the mountain laurel, it was time for Boy to move on to the tulips and peonies, which he took care of in our flower arranging room inside the house.

And where would we be without our little helper, a.k.a. Pompey the pug?

The next morning, with all of the flowers prepared and conditioned, it was time to select the vessels.

Boy is fond of blown-glass, footed fish bowls, and has built up an impressive collection of them in numerous sizes.  Most of his were made in the nineteenth century, and they make quite marvelous containers for cut flowers.  While generally referred to today as fish bowls, they were actually more often originally used to hold leeches for medicinal bleeding, a common practice up into the early twentieth century.  The reason that they have a lip at the opening of the bowl is to allow for tying a piece of cloth over it so that the leeches can breath but can't escape.  The bowl in the preceding photograph is shown standing on a Paris porcelain lazy susan that Boy uses when arranging vases of flowers or trimming topiaries, rotating it as he goes.

Despite this bowl's rather gruesome original occupants, don't you think the tulips look pretty in it, sitting on the table at the entry to Darlington House?  We bought the small one next to it at M. S. Rau Antiques on our recent trip to New Orleans.

And here is a photograph taken of the monumental display of peonies that Boy arranged for our drawing room.  Their scent was heavenly and permeated the house.

We weren't able to get a good photograph of the arranged mountain laurel branches, which Boy had placed in a cast-metal urn on our dining room table, to handsome effect.  That was because the weather was overcast and gloomy over the weekend and there was, unfortunately, not enough light in the dining room to get a good image of the branches.  Despite that, they were quite lovely for the party.

Pretty flowers are always admired and appreciated by guests, and I highly recommend that you take the time and effort to feature them when you throw a party.  It will make the gathering more festive and special for those you are entertaining, and you will be able to enjoy their beauty long after your happy guests have reluctantly departed.

Chris Demeo
Fischer & Page Ltd.
150 West 28th Street
New York, NY 10001-6194
(212) 645-4106

All photos by Reggie Darling and Boy Fenwick


  1. Mountain laurel is marvelous, no? Those picotee flowers, all cut open like paper snowflakes. The college I attended had a botanical garden devoted to Kalmias; have been in love with them ever since.

  2. I am a huge fan of peonies, and I must say they and the tulips look divine in those footed fish bowls. I adore flowers in the flat at any time, but sadly tulips aren't on the menu here, and I rarely see peonies. Masses of orchids for a song however, so I can't complain.

  3. I wouldn't think of entertaining at Linderhof without fresh flowers -- we often use garden ones (including herbs) for our bouquets -- and not just the dining room table either -- you need another bouquet or two elsewhere.

    Love those fish bowls! They are PERFECT for flowers!

    And your choice of flowers are perfect as well -- nothing like tulips and peonies! And masses of them -- perfection!

  4. LOVE Fischer & Page - my favorite place to buy when I styled shoots in NYC in my job as an Editorial Editor for Trad Home & Better Homes & Gardens pubs. Switched locals since- up in Newport.

    Still miss Fischer & Page... sigh...

  5. The flowers were a lovely paen to early summer. Sounds like the event qualifies for the the line "refreshments were served and a good time was had by all." Hope Pompey was duly respected...and not force-fed!

  6. Absolutely gorgeous arrangements. I received a huge bouquet of peonies for my birthday from my sister and when I was mentioning how much I loved them, my sister-in-law sent me some peony roots for our garden.

  7. Thanks for including us in your blog! We appreciate being mentioned and hope you enjoyed your visit.

    Lori at M.S. Rau Antiques

  8. A joyous post; how can anyone not want to have a party after this? The peonies in the footed bowls are heaven (and the history behind said bowls is a marvel). Glad to hear the laurels worked out well in the urn, gladder still that they were perfect for the party (and must have substantially brightened the overcast day).

  9. What a beautiful post. Instead of Dalloway, I should say "Mr. Darling said he would buy the flowers himself."

    What a gorgeous event; please feel free to include me next time, even if it's just to spit shine the silver.

  10. Leeches? Who knew? It reminds me for some reason of the story I was told a number of years ago by a friend who went to a dinner where the hostess had very carefully and artistically arranged the buffet table, the centerpiece of which was what she clearly thought of as a magnificent ironstone tureen, but was, in fact, a chamber pot. "No Gazpacho for me tonight, thanks". And a trip to the flower district on 28th street is a must for all of your readers, capped off by a stop at Fischer and Page. You gardeners won't believe what the hybridizers have been up to- colors you simply can't imagine. I remember especially some blackish/marron ranunculus that still have me frothing. One observation though- the Central American growers have become so efficient and transportation so inexpensive, that orchids (white Phalenopsis, especially), once a byword for rarity and sophistication are now as common as "ants at a picnic". Will our generation come to view them the way my parents did gladiolas and carnations? A sure sign of a florist de troisieme classe?

  11. a Boy , a Gardening Barn, a pr of Felco shears, a gin martini- that is as far as I got. "gardening barn"-I like that.

  12. Aesthete: I fell in love with mountain laurel when I, too, was a college undergraduate. A nearby park to the campus featured an extensively planted hillside covered with it, which was breath-takingly glorious when in flower.

    Columnist: Masses of orchids, how marvelous that must be, and how appropriate for Thailand.

    Martha: I adore, and in fact prefer, flowers from one's gardens when possible. During the summer I, too, often place pots of herbs on our tables. Not only do they look wonderful, but they smell divine, too.

    Cynthia: Yes, isn't F&P an incredible resource? But to live in Newport, now that's quite special. I have never seen such healthy and abundant privet, and the beeches, well, they left Reggie all astonishment!

    HBD: Pompey was in heaven during the party, absolutely glued to the chef's side the entire party, hoping for treats. At one point one of our guests said "Where's your dog, I thought you had a dog?" and I laughed and said that they should look in the kitchen, where they would be sure to find him. That's my boy!

    Patsy: Peonies are, I believe, one of the most gorgeous of all of the flowers. Not only are they extremely beautiful, but the scent is--as I wrote--heavenly.

    Lori of M.S. Rau: Thank you for your comment, we enjoyed meeting you and appreciated the tour that you gave us of your wonderful collections. We love our diminutive footed bowl that we acquired there, and we loved New Orleans.

    VT and Jason: Thank you

    D-H: Most witty of you.

    Magnus: What a marvelous story! I, too, believe that the ubiquitousness of cheaply-priced generic potted orchids at the big box retailers is fatiguing to one's eye. However, there is much to recommend potted orchids, still, particularly since their blossoms last for what seems to be forever and they require only minimal care, a great benefit to the harried homeowner. I seek out ones that are unusual, and not the dendrobiums and phaleonopsis that one sees everywhere these days. Consequently, the ones I usually get carry price tags much steeper than the $19.95 ones I see at the supermarket near Darlington. BTW, Boy and I have come to appreciate gladiolas and carnations (in moderation), and find them a delightful addition to Darlington's tables when in season and when arranged without the stiffness of the dreaded, funeral, florist arrangements of decades ago. It helps, too, when they are in unusual colors (chartreuse gladiola are a favorite of mine...)

    LA: We have two barns on our property at Darlington, one big and built for machinery, and the other small, built for a carriage (originally) and horses. We have modified the smaller of the two to be a glorified gardening shed. Someday I shall do a posting on it.

  13. This was great! I read your linked party post as well, and see that we are kindred spirits when it comes to party throwing and food. The lesson on those footed bowls was terrific, and Pompey! Pompey is adorable!

  14. Hey Reggie!

    Just discovered your blog via Jason's blog - glad I found you as I'm finding loads of inspiration here and a few quips that are making me chuckle, which is always good!

    I'm trying to learn more about floristy and decorating with flowers, so this post really appealed to me.

    Now following - looking forward to future posts for sure!


  15. Oh please, do post on the gardening barn!

  16. Reggie, the heavenly fragrance of peonies always reminds me of Granny Darling who grew such luscious ones in her several gardens.

  17. I adore peonies and grow them in my garden. My only concern is the ants that accompany them into the house when I cut them for display. Suggestions, Reggie?

  18. Zhush and Will, Thank you!

    Sister dear, Ah, dear Granny Darling, I miss her still.

    Elizabeth, I consider the ants to be a minor inconvenience only when bringing peonies in the house. I've never had a problem with them remaining once the flowers are spent, so would encourage you to display your lovely peonies with abandon!

  19. Great collection.........
    Looking stunning. I like the flowers bouquets very much and those are looking very pretty.


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