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‘WE are going to have fun,” exudes British floral designer Kenneth Turner to the 400 gathered in the Warwick Hotel ballroom. “I don’t want to talk about budgets. We are here to enjoy.” Turner then delves with gusto into more than two hours of floral demonstrations, creating out-of-this-world party-table designs from thousands of dollars of flowers and greenery. His stage setting is filled with hundreds of roses, orchids, Hawaiian tropicals and mums, plus baskets of fruits and vegetables, and banks of greenery. Veteran members of the Garden Club of Houston; River Oaks Garden Club; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, have gathered for this highlight of “Florescence: The Arts in Bloom.” The two-day Florescence, including a Garden Club of America “Major Flower Show,” took place late last month at the museum. Within 15 minutes, Turner has completed his first centerpiece, a large ball of colorful roses mounted on a crystal pedestal dish, and has the crowd eating out of his hands. “Now we don’t want that whinging (British-speak for whining) all the way through the lecture just because we’re cutting the roses off,” orders a playfully stern Turner in response to the moaning when he begins snipping the stems of dozens of long-stem beauties. The guests are expecting much and Turner, who counts Olivia and George Harrison, Margaret Thatcher, Giorgio Armani, Sting, Valentino and Donatella Versace among his clients, delivers. The expectations are based on experience. Many of those attending the luncheon presentation were guests at the wedding of Blaine Hull and David Buttross, for which Turner transformed River Oaks Country Club into an English garden.
Boxwood hedges and thousands of roses —- dressing everything from chair backs at the head table to towering trellises — set the tone for the reception that guests describe as “too beautiful for words.” — That wedding was the fulfillment of a dream Turner expressed on a visit to Houston in 1996, “to do a fantastic English wedding in Texas.” Turner’s decorative talents have been employed at Blenheim Palace, Kensington Palace, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and parties and weddings the world over. He has a floral design book to his credit and a line of perfumed candles, room fragrance, crystal and china. His tony wares are sold at Kenneth Turner Ltd. in London and here at the Longoria Collection in Uptown Park. The Ireland native’s routine is soft sell on this day. He is here to instruct, to strike creative chords, to inspire. Inspiration comes when Turner fills a large glass tank with vegetables — radishes With leaves intact, red cabbage, yellow squash, eggplant, green beans, yellow and red peppers. “You could use anything. Fill it entirely with strawberries or cherries and then have white roses on the top,” he suggests. Today he is sticking with the vegetable theme. A volleyball- sized oasis, soaked in water, is placed on the top of the vegetable-filled container, then ringed at the bottom with a round of fresh artichokes. Turner adds lime-green button mums and white mums to cover the oasis in a burst of floral exuberance. The container is then placed in a square of verdant wheat grass and centered on the table. As visual asides for the same table, Turner fills red and yellow peppers with bear grass and white sweetheart roses. He hollows fresh artichokes and inserts his signature votive candles. A small hollowed cabbage holds his namesake taper. He ties bunches of fresh baby carrots, including greenery, with raffia and places them as decorations on dinner napkins. His pièce de résistance is an ocean-themed centerpiece, - which begins With a massive bubble bowl filled with seashells and water, which magnifies the contents. From there Turner works up a Spectacular colorful creation with towering stems of red and yellow heliconia; deep-rose ginger; stems of papyrus; yucca fronds; and numerous boughs of orchids in white, pink and rose. As adjunct pieces, he fills pink conch shells with small green orchids and deep burgundy leaves. He inserts candles in pineapples. A companion arrangement to this centerpiece is the “buffet- table arrangement” -a ball like oasis filled with long stems of tiny yellow orchids, asparagus fern and grasses, mounted on three bamboo shoots anchored in a bowl with cement. The bowl is covered with clumps of bananas. The room erupts in generous applause. But he is not finished. “Now we go on to the larger containers,” he quips as aides raise a massive stone urn onto a platform at the front of the stage. When Turner is finished, branches of small trees serve as a background for the dozens of toses and other flowers that explode from the urn, a monumental arrangement. The room erupts in hearty applause, and lunch is served.

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