Ruth French sits down in front of one of her gardens to make a dried flower bouquet.
Note this: The Garden tour will be 9 a.m.-4 p.m. today. Tickets cost $5. An outdoor tea party and marketplace will be at Forest Park in conjunction with the tour.
Call 442-1423 or 443-1844 for more information.
By MEG GREY
Nature's Everlasting is a small business owned by husband and wife team, Ruth and Chad French, that specializes in custom ordered dried flower arrangements and business is blooming.
Ruth has gardened for as long as she can remember. She and her dad used to plot a garden every spring. She married into a family of gardeners who specialize in herbs and dried flowers and they introduced her to their techniques along with how to make wreaths and arrangements out of the finished products. The name was Chad's idea because it referred to what they were dealing with, nature and Everlastings, a type of flower that can be dried and may change in color but the flower structure remains the same as the day it was picked.
"We grow everything ourselves. We plant it, pick it, dry it," Ruth said.
The process begins in the spring when the flowers are planted. The Frenchs then baby the flowers until they are ready to be picked. Ruth said that the hardest part about the process is figuring out the optimum time to pick the flower so that it is at the prime of its color, structure and integrity to insure that customers will get the best quality of their product. After they are plucked from the earth, the flowers are hung upside down in the French's garage for as long as it takes for the flowers to completely dry out. Along with the appropriate picking time, the amount of time the flowers need to dry has also been learned through experience because each kind of flower has to be treated differently.
"It's a labor of love," she said of the whole process.
Though she thoroughly enjoys the hobby that turned into a small business, Ruth admits that this isn't a hobby she ever thought she would be doing. Especially with her husband who is allergic to the Sweet Annie plant. But with his allergies under control, Chad helps Ruth with planting and picking almost everything and assists with running the booth while Ruth does all of the arrangements. The couple's busiest months are August and Sept. because that is when most of the flowers bloom. So this is also when the picking and drying is done and most of the wreaths are made. All of which the French's try to have done by the week before Bridgeton's Covered Bridge festival.
Her favorite thing to make is wreaths because she can start two wreaths at the same time with the exact same flowers but if you position a flower or add a flower the wreaths become completely different. The wreaths also stand out from the crowd because the flowers and grasses that Ruth uses give them a very airy and jagged look. She also says that it is fun to challenge herself and gratifying to make something that someone has been searching for. In addition to arrangements, Ruth makes painted windows and shovels; a side-project that started just because she wanted to make them for herself after a trip to Chad's grandmother's homeplace where she found antique iron gardening tools to paint on. She discovered that trowels made good garden markers, painted windows were a good idea and shovels could be very decorative in one's garden.
"If I can find a way to create it then I will," she says with a smile.
Once a year Ruth and her husband, Chad, make the trek to Bridgeton with the rest of their family. Ruth's mother, father, sister, brother, sister-in-law and brother-in-law make-up RDJ, the group that owns the Country Store. Ruth's mom and dad have a sati babi stand, her brother and sister-in-law have a barbecue stand, her sister and brother-in-law have an ice cream stand, while Chad and Ruth sell their dried floral arrangements. They have been at the festival since Ruth's family bought the Country Store several years ago. Chad's parents were the original flower driers but the Bridgeton tradition began with Ruth and Chad selling their wares on the Country Store's front porch for a few days. By the next year their unique creations were in such high demand and they moved off the porch to a booth stayed for the entire festival. It has truly become a family affair with Chad's parents dropping by to watch the couple's daughter, Chloe.
French says that the most enjoyable part of Nature's Everlasting is the people. She says that she and her husband have made a lot of aquaintances that they see at the festival every year and they have met some very nice friends. Some send her packets of seeds and cards throughout the year. Because Ruth says that gardners like to watch, learn and swap stories and that they are generally happy people.
"I've never met a sour gardner," she states, "I don't think you can find that in every hobby."
BELL GARDEN BEGAN WITH HGTV AND A LAUGH
By MEG GREY
The garden of Rick and Kathy Bell at 7765 N. CR 200 E has blossomed into more than the owners ever imagined it would.
The plan for the garden came from a sketch that Kathy made while watching an overabundance of HGTV which Rick laughed about. Though he was laughing, he built the fence she pulled from a decorating magazine to encase the garden with. The garden started as a 6-by-6 plot in December of 1996 and was to be a secret garden in the side yard. But it now flourishes all the way around the couple's home.
It includes flowers, eight banana trees, herbs, bamboo, three sitting areas, a two-tiered pond, a bridge, arbors, stone paths and a mermaid mosaic. Rick tends to the fruits and vegetables while Kathy cares for the plants and flowers; all of which the Bells can view through their windows painted with flowers.
They can also view it from their hot tub which is tucked away in the corner of the house and accented by a background paying tribute to their favorite place, the beach. Kathy says her favorite thing in the garden is the Circle of Life. It is a circle of stepping stones with all of her grandkids' names and birthdays printed on them. The girls' stones are decorated with a sketch of flowers and the lone boy has bugs painted on his. Plants thrive in the middle of the circle and it is the perfect place to host a tea party.
She says the garden is her passion and a hobby that she enjoys because it is relaxing. She says she'll start puttering around in there on the weekends and then before she knows it her whole Saturday is gone.