Great-grandmother’s ‘frogs’ living still

By FELDER RUSHING,

I have more frogs than I know what to do with, what with being able to use only one at a time.

Not talking here about amphibious tree frogs; this is about the heavy geegaws that hold stuff upright in flower arrangements.

I have over thirty vintage flower frogs from my great-grandmother Pearl who, for all her gruffness, made exquisite wildflower floral designs from her garden. She let me play with the horticultural oddities as a youngster, while slyly teaching me the “line, mass and filler” basics of making bouquets and such.

Bringing garden clippings indoors in floral arrangements ain’t exactly rocket science. Though there are untold thousands of books and YouTube videos on it, basically it’s just countless variations of standing up a few flowers and maybe some bits of foliage or twigs in a container. And, really, if professional designers will pardon my peek behind the naked emperor’s mirror, no two are alike, so unless you’re begging for critiques you can’t actually mess up. Just do it, and hold your head up proudly.

Unlike my grandmother Louise, a flower show judge who cherished her scrapbooks of blue ribbons, down-to-earth Pearl once confided that her arrangements would never win ribbons at her garden club. Her grumpy advice was to please myself; if I wanted ribbons and awards, get used to jumping through theoretical constructs fabricated by others.

My first floral design course at MSU, way back in 1977, was taught by renowned floristry professor Ralph Null who also loved Nature’s largesse, showing me how to assemble wildflowers in combinations of visually heavy and roundish flowers, plus something tall and spikey to draw the eye downward to the main show, softened with a little frilly filler, and maybe a cascading bit tucked in.

We stood our materials upright in floral foam, a block of lightweight but fairly rigid green stuff that absorbs water like a sponge keeps the flowers and foliage stems hydrated so they last longer. But before floral foam, dating back at least to the 14th century Japan, were flower frogs made of lead, glass, bronze, wire, or decorative ceramic which hold even the trickiest flower arrangements firmly in place. Not even the editor of The Flower Frog Gazette knows why they are called frogs; best guess is about how the holders sit in water like a frog.

There are several kinds of flower frogs, with many variations. One is a heavy glass or ceramic base with holes (one of mine has a larger middle hole for a candle). Along those lines, when I teach children flower arranging I have them poke drinking straws into Irish potatoes, fill with water, and put flowers in each.

“Pincushion” frogs have lots of thin, sharp spikes that stems can be stabbed onto; “hairpin” frogs feature upright wire loops; and heavy metal mesh “cage” frogs hold up larger stems at various angles. You can home-make one of the latter by crushing a ball of half inch hardware cloth or even chicken wire so it’s just large enough to press against the sides of your vase for stability.

Two of my favorites fit atop glass Mason jars; one is simply hardware cloth cut to fit inside a screw-on jar lid; the other is a heavy ceramic disk with holes.

When Pearl died, her frogs passed down to Granny, then my mother, who gifted them to me. I use some all the time, nearly every week, for gathering a few stems from my garden and creating a colorful ditty for my little cabin.

The rest I just admire as touchstones from days long ago.

Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to rushingfelder@yahoo.com.