Her works are a naturalistic yet fantastical composition of textures and shapes created with treasures from the garden, woods and market, says Natural Gardener columnist Valerie Easton.
PORTLAND FLORIST Francoise Weeks is a master at using every part of a plant to great effect. She might wrap a shoe or purse with a pleated begonia leaf, or center a tabletop arrangement with kumquats or a spray of fuzzy green blackberries. Each of her works is a naturalistic yet fantastical composition of textures and shapes created with treasures from the garden, woods and market.
“Asian grocery stores have a thrilling selection of unusual — to my eyes — fruits and vegetables to use in centerpieces,” says Weeks, who has been known to drive 20 miles to Uwajimaya in search of a fragrant herb or unexpected leafy green. And yet this creator of botanical shoes, purses and hats is practical as well.
“Fruits and vegetables emit ethylene gas that wilts flowers,” she explains. If you’re making an arrangement for an event and don’t care if it lasts more than a day or two, go ahead and mix grapes, persimmons and miniature eggplants with flowers and foliage. But if you want an arrangement that holds up more than a few days, keep fruits and veggies away from the ornamentals.
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My eye was first drawn to Weeks’ work at the Portland Yard, Garden and Patio Show. She’d made a centerpiece for a plank table in an edible display garden. Her arrangement featured Brussels sprouts and spirals of acid-green romanesco broccoli. It was a work of art using familiar ingredients in a new context; I’ll never see these vegetables quite the same way.
“My biggest inspiration is Mother Nature,” says Weeks. From spike heels gussied up in leaves and flowers to lush woodland arrangements, each piece is dense and layered. Raw ingredients like moss, seedpods, grapes, tiny artichokes and sprays of herbs are surprisingly harmonious. Weeks encourages the students she teaches in her backyard studio to express their creativity and learn to work with gifts from their own gardens.
Weeks grew up in Belgium with a gardening mother who always brought flowers into the house. In her own Portland garden, she has dug up the lawn and replaced it with perennials, shrubs, annuals and succulents. Weeks even has a rack of houseplants in her studio so she can snip their foliage for arrangements.
When it comes to vases, Weeks is both purist and improviser. She sticks to classic glass cubes and cylinders, then wraps the inside with leaves before adding water. She’s collected hundreds of plastic yogurt containers, transforming them into bespoke vases with glue, leaves, moss and bark. She fashions her delicate woodland arrangements directly onto small logs and pieces of bark.
Weeks creates botanical fancies like shoes, purses and hats for parties and fundraisers. At age 59 she bought, at Goodwill, her first-ever pair of high heels. Not for attending one of the parties herself, but to turn the shoes into seductive floral concoctions to grace the tables.
“I love the detail in composing with all these ingredients,” says Weeks. “I find nothing more boring than just roses.”
Learn more about Francoise Weeks’ work, her botanical-couture workshops and seasonal arranging classes at www.francoiseweeks.com.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “petal & twig.” Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.