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Monday morning I declared to my husband I would not be home much that day. My mother and I went to Rainbow Fabrics and Joann’s for Labor Day sales in the morning. After a two-hour break, we enjoyed a French Dip Panini and wines from Lodi and France at Camp 4.

With this enjoyment and the bonding that comes with sitting down and conversing away from children, we headed way out west to Kelley Flower Farm for our first floral workshop.

Magazines taught me to arrange flowers. One year, in the same month, Real Simple and Better Homes and Gardens featured the same theme. Start with your greens as a base, add your face/diva flower, then fill in with other smaller flowers. While I did not always follow it exactly, these tutorials served me well.

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There is always more to learn.

Along with a professional’s tips and insights, workshops give you access to their materials, in this case…dahlias!

We arrived ten minutes late and were discovered knocking on the wrong door. The workshop was in the back, a metal building with cement floor. Tables with bright pink plastic table clothes were arranged in a row with antique chairs, large vases filled with water, and pruning sheers for each attendee to use. On the wall atop two folding tables were buckets and buckets of flowers. Under the tables were more buckets of flowers. To the side of the table was a chair with another bucket of flowers. Throughout the workshop, if we ran low, they offered to go out and get more flowers.

Face flowers like these dinner plate dahlias are expensive and for the flower lover, this access is the equivalent of rolling around in a pile of money.

Kelley and Sharon led the workshop. I met Kelley when planning flowers for my grandmother’s 80th birthday party. I got to know Sharon this spring through the Farmer’s Markets as I came and relieved my sadness by taking in the wonder of their incredible flowers. The two have different styles, they explained as they began their demonstration.

Kelley methodically placed greens, in sets of threes evenly spaced, in her vase while Sharon dove in and built up a wild foundation for her flowers. The arrangements ended as differently as they began but held one thing in common, they were beautiful.

It was our turn now. I felt like a kid when the piñata breaks, but I refrained from running and elbowing as I picked my greens from the bucket. I spent Kelley and Sharon’s demonstration mentally picking the colors for my arrangement. Would I do yellow for Regina? Pink for Miriam? But oh, those deep purple dinner plate dahlias. I melt a little when I see them. I chose purples and reds, fall colors. Deep greens would be their foundation. A variety of basil with green and purple leaves made my base, along with a host of other greens (because when you have buckets and buckets, why not?).

After my foundation was full and secure, I went for the dahlias, and then more dahlias, and then more, sticking to deep purples and reds, using a handful for bright orange “Darcy” dahlias for accent. Use varying sizes, they recommended. After dahlias, I added celosia in deep reds and oranges. In Alexandria, Virginia, I eyed flower vendor booths at the Farmer’s Market’s, where we attended weekly as newlyweds. When I finally purchased a bouquet for myself, it had this brainy celosia. Those fuzzies held a place in my heart ever since. After sprinkling a little deep purple scabiosa and sweet williams, I called it complete.

As with most of my projects, I had a basic plan in mind when I set out. The finished product came quickly and happily.

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For those who requested help, Kelley and Sharon were hands on in guiding their selection and placement, offering tips, cutting extra flowers when they had one in mind that was just right. I watched Jenny DiAnna of Bella Fiori Flower Farm create an airy arrangement evoking spring, peace and all good things.

Better than the flowers was hearing my mother with an open mind say, “I guess it just takes practice,” a changed tune from, “I don’t know about arranging flowers.” Sometimes all we need is a teacher or demonstration to make the impossible seem possible. I felt that way about the calligraphy workshop I attended.

Workshops are a luxury, but because they teach you a skill, you take more with you than the finished product. It is the “teach a man to fish” perspective. I’ll buy that.