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Holston High brings out artistic side of students in floral design class

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DAMASCUS, Va. — It’s 8:10 a.m. when the first bell of the morning rang at Holston High School last Friday.

Instead of opening books and notebooks, students in a horticulture course reached for scissors and stems of fresh flowers to try their artistic hands at creating floral arrangements.

Welcome to this semester’s floral design class, where 17 students — male and female — are learning how to create works of art with flowers.

Sprigs of carnations, mums, liatris, larkspur and baby’s breath flowers were scattered on a worktable in the school greenhouse, where the design process began for each student.

The students have sharpened their design skills this semester by creating corsages, boutonnieres, coffee cups and other small floral arrangements. Last week’s capstone project was to create a triangular-shaped, single-mound floral design, said Lawrence Cox, horticulture instructor at the school.

“The course focuses on the artistic side of horticulture,” said the instructor. “We study a lot of the same principles that a first-year art student would study — rhythm, symmetry and repetition of flowers used in an arrangement. We even go over the color wheel,” he said.

The instructor’s first words of advice to his students are to relax when beginning a floral design. “They sometimes overthink the process and stress about where every flower should go,” Cox said.

“Once they can visualize what it’s going to look like, they don’t stress nearly as much about the end result.

“Ultimately, I tell them that if they are happy with it, I am happy with it.”

Dillon Bott, a junior agriculture student at the school and secretary of the school’s FFA, wasn’t sure what to expect when he signed up for floral design as a class elective. “I’ve learned it’s not just sticking a flower in a piece of foam. It’s actually a lot of work.”

Madeline Statzer, a senior, said she has more respect for florists after taking the course. “It (floral design) takes longer than you think it would.”

The hardest part of the course for Emily Gregory, an agriculture student and second vice president for the school’s FFA, was creating a pleasing design. She plans to take her finished arrangement home to her grandmother.

Students also study how different time periods in history affected the way people arranged and designed flowers. They learn about contemporary arranging, as well.

“Each arrangement we work on has a unique style based on either a different time period in history or a particular style of designing and arranging,” said Cox.

The assignment will take a spin on the math side of the floral business this week when Cox will ask his students to tabulate what their arrangements would cost at the wholesale and retail levels. The students also will be asked to critique their designs and to self-reflect on their experiences.

Plant sale proceeds

The floral design course is not only the most artistic-driven horticulture course; it’s also one of the most expensive offerings in the horticulture curriculum, said Cox.

An annual sale of plants grown by the horticulture students each spring helps to pay for the supplies needed for the floral design course, which usually is offered at the school every other year.

Cox estimated the plant sale brings in a substantial $10,000 that is primarily used to help run all horticulture activities, not just floral design. A smaller portion of the proceeds is returned to organizing the plant sale for the next year.

Last week, the students got to incorporate fresh roses into their floral designs, an extravagant flower used in class after students have developed stronger design skills. Cox said he spent more than $400 on flowers just last week for each student to make the one arrangement.

Despite the costs, the coursework is valuable because it allows students to gain skills that will stick with them for years to come, he said.

“It’s a good experience for the kids to work with flowers. A lot of them will choose to make their own flower arrangements when they get married one day.

“The students learn what a good arrangement looks like so that when they purchase flowers for someone, they have a much better idea if they are getting a quality product,” said Cox.

Carolyn R. Wilson is a freelance writer in Glade Spring, Virginia. Contact her at


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