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Arranged Marriages (of flowers, of course): The Book and Ladder Method


Several years into my career as a florist, I bought an older “little, but quaint,” two story brick home and excitedly embraced several decorating challenges including wallpapering a stairwell!

Picture if you will, a tall ladder turned sideways leaning against the wall to be papered—one leg of the ladder perched on a higher step and the other leg resting on books stacked on a lower step.  Yes, of course the books were hard cover—after all, safety was my primary concern.  With the “book and ladder” method working well, I was able to admire my new yellow and white striped wallpaper on the smallest wall of the stairwell before going to bed.

Are you familiar with the sound a window shade makes when you pull it down but it doesn’t “catch” before you let it go?  Well it turns out that strips of wall paper make a similar sound when they come unglued and roll up, only much louder—especially in the middle of the night when the bedroom is right next to the stairwell.  Fortunately, I was able to avoid coming unglued myself and soon realized that bad wallpaper paste was probably responsible for the LOUD noise…not an intruder.

So the next day a trip to the paint store for more wallpaper, a consultation with the “expert” about the paste, and a “liner” layer to go up first over the plaster before hanging the wallpaper all produced the beautiful look that I had envisioned!  No trouble with the “book and ladder” method, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

The entryway to my little house was appropriately…well, “little”.  It was papered with the same striped wallpaper.  A French door with lots of small panes separated the entryway from the living room.  I kept the French door closed in cool weather and the entryway stayed cool enough to keep fresh flowers fresh much longer.  I enjoyed keeping a “little” pewter vase on a “little” console in the entryway.  Much to my surprise, in the winter the flowers froze solid and so did the water in the vase. They were beautiful as long as they stayed frozen…as if they belonged in Dr. Zhivago.

These were early days in both my career and as a homeowner.  As a homeowner, I loved my little house.  I pampered it with a new cedar shingle roof, a new gas furnace, and custom made drapes for the living room windows.  In return, it sheltered me and even contributed to my career.

In a March blog article Achieving Balance, I wrote “the art of arranging flowers and the art of display…both require a sense of order.  The sense of order comes from an understanding of visual weight and balance.”   Each time I cleaned and dusted my little house, I practiced with my own decorating accessories…baskets, candlesticks, pottery, etc.  I regrouped accessories in new ways, sometimes in different rooms, on different pieces of furniture, developing my “understanding of visual weight and balance”.  This understanding has been an essential part of my floral career.

In my career I have been remarkably fortunate to work with many skilled, progressive professionals who knew their disciplines and businesses well.  You might be surprised to learn that Behnke Horticulturist, Larry Hurley and I started down our  career paths fairly simultaneously. We worked together in another business, another state, and another century!  Little did we know then, that future good fortune would allow us to work together again!!

Evelyn and Larry the early years

Posted By: Evelyn Kinville, Behnke’s Garden Blogger

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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