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Rough Cut

Berkshire floral designers display homegrown style



Located in a chilly Zone 5, the region isn’t necessarily known for brilliant tropical blooms, but this doesn’t mean that there isn’t an abundance of flora to choose from. Here, Ariella Chezar at her Zonneveld Farm.

Photographs by Belathee Photography and Scott Barrow

“My mom was Dutch, and an artist, and so I grew up in a beautiful world,” says Ariella Chezar, a seasoned floral designer based in Egremont. “She was very resourceful and creative, and I don’t think that we had much growing up, but there was this abundant way that she had about her, so it didn’t feel like we were lacking.”

That inner abundance almost always included flowers, and it is something that Chezar brings to her aesthetic philosophy with her 25-year-old flower business, Ariella, Inc. Many consider her to be the gold standard of floral designers. With several books and many high-end weddings to her credit, Chezar says that her unique, wildly organic style began to germinate years ago right here in the Berkshires when, as a teen, she worked with veteran garden and floral designer Pamela Hardcastle and horticulturalist Barbara Bockbrader, co-owner (with husband Robin Norris) of the Campo de’ Fiori garden shop in Sheffield.

“They gave me my original flower inspiration,” Chezar says. “They surrounded themselves with a beautiful life. Their way with design and their approach was totally different. With Pamela, we’d be placing a branch at 2 a.m. after long deliberations. Barbara would just throw something in an urn at the last minute and it was perfect every time.” Chezar’s story unfolded from there, bringing her first to New York, where she worked for a time with famed floral designer Robert Isabel, and then to the mecca of all things floral: California.

“The New York market was very much about the perfect bloom,” Chezar says. “In San Francisco, it was very much about foraged materials, persimmon, vines. It was loose and a little bit wild.”

The West Coast isn’t the only place known for its organic approach to floral design. For decades, many Berkshire florists have used the elements of their wild surroundings to inform their style. Greens, woody bits, and wildflowers make more than cameo appearances in centerpieces, urns, wreaths, and other floral arrays. They relish what presents itself—cattails, fat sumacs, hydrangea trees, black-eyed Susans—creating a distinct sense of place and season with native flora. 

That natural garden sensibility is what inspires Nathan Hanford and Jedidiah Thompson, co-owners (and partners in life) of Township Four, a floristry and home shop on Pittsfield’s North Street. The shop is a “place you can truly get lost in,” says Hanford, who also works full-time for Soldier On as a case manager and artist-in-residence. The couple lives on 13 diverse acres in remote Becket, and Hanford is always foraging for interesting mosses and woody plants to incorporate into new arrangements.

“What’s happening with floral design is right in line with what’s going on in the culinary world,” says Hanford. “Not everyone wants flowers grown in Brazil or Holland. Sometimes we get to forage onsite at locations where we are doing arrangements, and that’s a treasure all its own.”

“I like seeing the little bits and bobs that come with plants,” adds Thompson. “We’re creating little vignettes that feel like they’re just a piece of the forest floor.” 

Thompson often works alone at the shop, which also houses found objects, potted plants, and the painstakingly accomplished wares of local artisans, including Hanford, who is an embroidery artist. It is also the site for workshops on creating mini-gardens, succulent wreaths, and foraged centerpieces. For Hanford, Township Four is a creative space and artist’s studio. His partner has to usher him out the door so that they can be home at a “decent hour,” a concept that eludes many floral designers, especially during the June through October wedding madness, and every major life event in-between.

“I have 12 weddings booked for June,” says Carolyn Valenti, a 25-year veteran florist whose studio is based in her Dalton home. “There are times when we’re working seven days a week. There’s a lot of lifting and carrying in this industry. It’s the schlepping that’s going to kill me! But it’s a lot of fun. It’s the kind of business that I don’t have to leave in the next ten years.”

Valenti, whose husband, Steven, is the owner of the Steven Valenti Clothing for Men in Pittsfield, says she was coaxed into the flower business when she was asked to do the tables and chairs for a gala event at Hancock Shaker Village. Word got around about her unique centerpieces and style, and she found herself at Tanglewood as the official “house florist.”

“It’s one of those industries that cropped up out of necessity, at least for me,” she says. “It was a way for women to earn a living while taking care of their children at home. You could do both. And that’s what I did.”

Her three children are now grown, but Valenti is never done nurturing. In some cases, it’s a bucket of roses that she “babysits for a week” until the buds open. Or her garden, where she grows lilacs, hydrangeas, dahlias, and other blooms she likes to use in her designs, which are predominantly for brides. The biggest change in the industry over the last two decades: social media.

“There is all this information going around, and I feel sorry for these brides who are on Pinterest. Their minds are spinning with ideas,” says Valenti. “It’s hard to focus on one thing at a time.”

All the designers agree that Pinterest and other image-heavy media is a double-edged sword. “When someone comes in with a Pinterest board, it’s a great touchstone for us,” says Thompson. “But we are always thrilled when customers allow us artistic freedom.”

“It’s more about the feeling that the images evoke,” says Valenti. “It’s about creating a vision. It’s not written in cement.”

That fine balance between a floral designer’s artistic liberty and a client’s vision that tips, at least from Chezar’s vantage point, at the fulcrum of seasonality. 

“It’s a fun challenge to step into someone else’s idea of beauty,” Chezar explains. “People do tend to attach themselves to a specific flower. I really like to see flowers in their season. It’s a dance about having things look ‘of a place.’ I don’t want to even look at a rose until June. I have no interest in a tulip in August.” 

To that end, Chezar’s business has shifted dramatically in the last ten years. She has lectured and taught master-design classes around the globe, from South Carolina to the Netherlands to China. This is serious business, and she is eventually hoping to host her workshops at the 90-acre Zonneveld Farm in upstate New York, which she purchased with her husband, Christopher Gregory. The sustainable flower farm boasts fields of perennials as well as shrubs, vegetables, annuals, fruit trees, and its fair share of critters. She really wants people to be connected to the growing aspect of floral design.

“The life force in a flower is potent,” she says.

 

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Cost: Free - registration requested

Where:
New Morning Market
129 Main St North
Woodbury, CT  06798
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Sponsor: New Morning Market
Telephone: 203-263-4868
Website »

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Blending nature and spirituality, Connecticut artist Lori Barker explores the rhythms of life in a new collection of mixed media works on display at the Gunn Memorial Library Stairwell Gallery from...

Cost: Free

Where:
Gunn Memorial Library Stairwell Gallery
5 Wykeham Rd.
Washington, CT  06793
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Sponsor: Gunn Memorial Library
Telephone: 860-868-7586
Contact Name: Sharon Morrissey

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The Bruce Museum is organizing an exhibition of small artworks created entirely by the public for the public. We invite art lovers of all ages, interests, and abilities to submit a depiction of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Bruce Museum
One Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06830
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Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 203-869-0376
Website »

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In this key moment in our national history and the struggle for women’s equality and freedom of expression, the Fairfield Museum’s exhibition “Flappers: Fashion and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
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Zachary Zaitzeff is a painter living in the Hudson Valley who has incorporated his extensive world travel, including his 2011 summit of Mount Everest, into his artwork. Zachary spent 2018 studying...

Cost: free

Where:
RT Facts Gallery
8 Old Barns Rd
Kent, CT  06757
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Sponsor: RT Facts
Telephone: 860-927-1700
Contact Name: Natalie Randall
Website »

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Here’s a holiday idea for the whole family – a private tour of the Peter Parley Schoolhouse! The Ridgefield Historical Society maintains and operates the 1756 Schoolhouse, also called the...

Cost: Suggested donation $10 for adults, kids are free

Where:
Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Intersection of West Lane and CT Rte 35
Ridgefield, CT  06877
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Sponsor: Ridgefield Historical Society
Telephone: 203-438-5821
Contact Name: Peter Parley Schoolhouse
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We invite families to drop-in and enjoy interactive pop-up activity stations, gallery games, and art projects around the KMA.  Get inspired by Outrageous Ornament: Extreme Jewelry in the 21st...

Cost: Member price: Free Non-Member price: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Katonah Museum
134 Jay Street
Katonah, NY  10536
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Sponsor: Katonah Museum of Art
Telephone: 914-232-9555
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Calling all fans of Scottish food and Diana Galbaldon’s Outlander series. Don your tartan, make like Jamie’s clan motto and be ready! You’re invited to an amazing Outlander...

Cost: 100.00

Where:
Hunt Hill Farm
44 Upland Road
New Milford, CT  06776
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Telephone: 860-355-0300
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Friday, Jan. 25 Wilton Library Mini Golf Tourney for Adults, 6:30 – 9:30 p.m. The kids had so much fun at last year’s Mini Golf fundraiser, that Wilton Library is holding one for adults only...

Cost: $50 and up

Where:
Wilton Library
137 Old Ridgefield Road
Wilton, CT  06897
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Sponsor: Wilton Library
Telephone: 203-762-3950
Contact Name: Wilton Library
Website »

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Original members of the Billy Joel Band featuring Liberty DeVitto on drums, Richie Cannata on saxophone and Russell Javors on rhythm guitar. The band recorded and toured extensively with Billy Joel...

Cost: $40

Where:
The Ridgefield Playhouse
80 East Ridge
Ridgefield, CT  06877
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Telephone: (203) 438-5795
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Born from humble beginnings in the Black Rock section of Bridgeport, CT The Alpaca Gnomes cut their teeth in the neighborhood bar scene by playing marathon shows filled with originals and a wide...

Cost: $15.00 - $20.00

Where:
Wall Street Theater
71 Wall Street
Norwalk, CT  06850
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Sponsor: Jeanne Moore
Telephone: (203) 831-5004
Contact Name: Jeanne Moore
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Are you a lifelong with a passion for sharing history? Find out about becoming a Museum Docent! Docents are trained volunteer educators who present guided tours and other education programs to...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
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Bring the baby and enjoy a lively conversation inspired by the art on view. Enjoy light snacks while socializing with newly-made friends. Crying babies welcome and activities provided for older...

Cost: Member price: Free Non-Member price with Museum admission: Free

Where:
Katonah Museum of Art
134 Jay Street
Katonah, NY  10536
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Sponsor: Katonah Museum of Art
Telephone: 914-232-9555
Website »

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Heather Gaudio Fine Artis pleased to present “Jae Ko: 漂流 Drift,” the artist’s first solo exhibition at the gallery.   In addition to showcasing...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
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Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: 203-801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

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In this key moment in our national history and the struggle for women’s equality and freedom of expression, the Fairfield Museum’s exhibition “Flappers: Fashion and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Website »

More information

Blending nature and spirituality, Connecticut artist Lori Barker explores the rhythms of life in a new collection of mixed media works on display at the Gunn Memorial Library Stairwell Gallery from...

Cost: Free

Where:
Gunn Memorial Library Stairwell Gallery
5 Wykeham Rd.
Washington, CT  06793
View map »


Sponsor: Gunn Memorial Library
Telephone: 860-868-7586
Contact Name: Sharon Morrissey

More information

Winter Guided Hike @ Woodcock Nature Center Saturday January 26th, 10-11:30am, FREE ​ Join Mr. Sam for a hike where we'll investigate whats going on in nature in the winter season and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Woodcock Nature Center
56 Deer Run Road
Wilton, CT  06897
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Sponsor: Woodcock Nature Center
Telephone: (203) 762-7280
Contact Name: Sam Nunes
Website »

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The Bruce Museum is organizing an exhibition of small artworks created entirely by the public for the public. We invite art lovers of all ages, interests, and abilities to submit a depiction of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Bruce Museum
One Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 203-869-0376
Website »

More information

Heather Gaudio Fine Artis pleased to present “Jae Ko: 漂流 Drift,” the artist’s first solo exhibition at the gallery.   In addition to showcasing...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: 203-801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

More information

Saturday, Jan. 26 Mini Golf Family Day in the Stacks at Wilton Library, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Wilton Library will hold its 2nd mini golf fundraising event. There will be food (each paid admission will...

Cost: $5

Where:
Wilton Library
137 Old Ridgefield Road
Wilton, CT  06897
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Sponsor: Wilton Library
Telephone: 203-762-3950
Contact Name: Wilton Library
Website »

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  Touchon transforms verbal language into handsome geometric compilations, to reveal the beauty and musicality of language characterized by warmly colored shapes, interlocking irregular grids and...

Cost: free

Where:
Canfin Gallery
39 Main Street
Tarrytown, NY  10591
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Sponsor: Canfin Gallery
Telephone: 914-332-4554
Contact Name: Jean-Claude Canfin
Website »

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Zachary Zaitzeff is a painter living in the Hudson Valley who has incorporated his extensive world travel, including his 2011 summit of Mount Everest, into his artwork. Zachary spent 2018 studying...

Cost: free

Where:
RT Facts Gallery
8 Old Barns Rd
Kent, CT  06757
View map »


Sponsor: RT Facts
Telephone: 860-927-1700
Contact Name: Natalie Randall
Website »

More information

Here’s a holiday idea for the whole family – a private tour of the Peter Parley Schoolhouse! The Ridgefield Historical Society maintains and operates the 1756 Schoolhouse, also called the...

Cost: Suggested donation $10 for adults, kids are free

Where:
Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Intersection of West Lane and CT Rte 35
Ridgefield, CT  06877
View map »


Sponsor: Ridgefield Historical Society
Telephone: 203-438-5821
Contact Name: Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Website »

More information

Saturday, January 26th from 1:00 - 2:00 PM, Ages 4+ Attend for groovy crafts, snacks, games, and more in celebration of the Pete the Cat book series. This event is free and no registration is...

Cost: Free

Where:
Keeler Library
276 Titicus Road
North Salem, NY  10560
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Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
Website »

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Hudson Chorale, the area’s largest mixed voice chorus, is poised to please.  The group will begin its 2019 season with two matinee concerts on Saturday, January 26, 2019 at 3:00 pm and Sunday,...

Cost: Advance Sale-$25; Door-$30; Students-$10.

Where:
The Chapel at Maryknoll
55 Ryder Rd
Ossining, NY  10562
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Sponsor: Hudson Chorale
Telephone: 1-800-838-3006
Contact Name: Anne Norum
Website »

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Join us for a very special evening of music from these four accomplished singer songwriters: David Ray, Mike Latini, Dave Goldenberg, George Mallas.  

Cost: 20.00

Where:
Hunt Hill Farm
44 Upland Road
New Milford, CT  06776
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Telephone: 860-355-0300
Website »

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Join us for another incredible evening of music featuring four local singer songwriters performing original music! Doors open at 7pm in New Morning’s handicapped accessible Community Room on the...

Cost: Free

Where:
New Morning Market
129 Main St North
Woodbury, CT  06798
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Sponsor: New Morning Market
Telephone: 203-263-4868
Website »

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