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Writing in the ­Language of Flowers

Books — and Bay Weekly — in Bloom at Calvert Library

I try to interpret without being too literal,” Mary Smolinski says. “Keeping in mind the space for the display and the mechanics to implement the design, I look for a container and accessories within the theme, and I think of the availability of the plant material.”

Writing a book is hard enough using words. Trade in words for flowers, and it’s harder still.
    So far, I haven’t proved I know how to write a book. I do know how to write a newspaper. That’s why Bay Weekly is my entry in Books in Bloom, Calvert Garden Club’s second annual words-to-flowers display at all four Calvert libraries.
    To make my case to Calvert Library director Carrie Plymire, I argued that we record our stories in newspapers, as Bay Weekly has been doing for 24 years, as well as in books. What’s more, I said, all Calvert libraries distribute Bay Weekly, free, just as you do words in all kinds of other formats.
    Join us, Plymire invited.
    So I had to do it. But write a newspaper in flowers? How?
    With a translator, of course. Calvert Garden Club’s Mary Smolinksi, who is fluent in flowers, volunteered for the job.

Flowers Crossing Genres
    Calvert Garden Club is mastering writing in flowers.
    “It started last year,” says library spokeswoman Robyn Truslow. “The Garden Club came to us. We love books and flowers, they said. This would be a marriage made in heaven. We said yes!”
    The first year focused on children’s books, which use pictures and colors as well as words to tell relatively simple, focused stories, with clever covers to draw you in.
    “It was a lot of fun and very creative,” Truslow recalls. “You could say I see why they did that.”
    This year, the challenge is tougher: your favorite books for any age range.
    Before Books in Bloom came Art in Bloom. Floral interpretations of art have become a nationwide phenomenon, rising from a bicentennial show at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts in 1976. Floral displays now bring on spring and bring in new visitors in art museums around the country. The Walters in Baltimore has invited garden clubs in every spring since 1997. (Read Bay Weekly’s 2001 story at http://bayweekly.com/old-site/year01/issue9_8/lead9_8.html.)
    Typically museum curators pick the art. So floral designers might find themselves interpreting an Egyptian mummy, a queen’s jewels or abstract art.
    Tough as the Art in Bloom translation is, floral designers and visual artists speak a shared language of color, line, form and texture. The more recent evolution of Books in Bloom pairs artists who speak different languages.
    How do you interpret that?

Words to Flowers
    Books in Bloom interpreters often tell a book by its cover.
    “It can be your source of inspiration,” says club member Joyce Fletcher.
    Thus Garden Club members Margaret Fahs and Sonya Morris translate The Cat in the Hat into flowers with a tower (made of floral oasis, a kind of solid sponge) of alternating stacks of red and white carnations plus a white hydrangea for his face. Thing One and Thing Two are shocking blue spider mums. All have stick-on eyes.
    That’s a literal interpretation.
    Or, says Fletcher, “your interpretation can be abstract, based on shape, color or title. A Grinch book could be interpreted abstractly with odd shapes and a jagged look.”
    Last year, Smolinski — my partner — served up the Dr. Suess favorite Green Eggs and Ham as a plate of green and pink carnations, pierced with a fork and dotted by a sprig of white hydrangea — plus a tiny red skillet of halved egg shells each containing a green carnation.
    The cover of the book shows the Cat in the Hat gawking at a very similar serving.
    “I try to interpret without being too literal,” Smolinski says. “Keeping in mind the space for the display and the mechanics to implement the design, I look for a container and accessories within the theme, and I think of the availability of the plant material.”
    That’s how she started imagining Bay Weekly.
    Flower designers collect vases and props the way writers do words, so searches often start at home. Smolinksi’s search turned up a tall black armature. Good, I said, because our design is vertical. A black frame works because of its shape and because it works like a border, suggesting a box full of words and ideas.
    Smolinksi’s choice of a lantern suits me because newspapers are supposed to shine the light of truth. A fishing net continues the nautical theme of Bay Weekly.
    “We have to catch our readers,” I told Smolinksi. “That’s what I tell every writer.” To underscore that point, I borrowed a fishing lure from my husband, a nice pink fly for color contrast.
    Every Book in Bloom must include 70 percent natural materials. For that, Smolinksi said, “add tall river grass or cattails, maybe blue hydrangeas, oysters shells.”
    Because a newspaper is of the times, I substituted spring pussy willows for late-summer cattails. Dr. Gouin, the Bay Gardener, cut the blooming branches from his Upakrik Farm. I filled a basket of oyster shells at home. For reference to our Sporting Life column, I added a brightly painted wooded fish.
    Bay Weekly in Bloom will stand on the mantlepiece over the fossil-encrusted fireplace at the west end of the Prince Frederick Library. The mantle is long and narrow, only seven inches, so our arrangement can’t be wide but it can and will spread out.
    I’m delighted with the placement, the more so as that room was endowed by Washington Post reporter and library board member Donnie Radcliffe and her husband Robert. Both were friends.
    For the final assembly on the morning of February 27, Smolinksi has ordered allium lilies in place of hydrangeas because her florist, Garner and Duff, has promised stems as long as 30 inches to suit our vertical arrangement. If they’re white, she’ll spray them with floral dye.

Can You See It?
    To see one newspaper and three dozen books in bloom, visit Calvert library between February 27 and March 1.
    Expect to do some head-scratching and eye-squinting. Books range from children’s through natural history and biography to fiction.
    You’ll have to use your imagination, as the designers do.
    Smolinksi’s own choice is a biography of Einstein.
    How is she going to do that?
    With a derby hat topped with a light bulb (she actually had that from Halloween) and a big brainy hydrangea popping with curly thought-sticks. It’s a natural.

See for yourself: 9am-9pm at Calvert Library’s Prince Frederick, Twin Beaches, Fairview and Southern branches: 410-535-0291.