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Grown-up campers devote a weekend to floral creativity in Virginia's beautiful Blue Ridge farm country.

On a serene 19th-century farmstead (with 21st - century amenities) in the rolling foothills of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, Nancy Hugo holds delightful weekend flower-arranging workshops. Campers come to Flower Camp to learn, but the creative activities don't require any experience, advance preparation, or homework. One concentrated weekend adds up to a full season of flower-arranging experience and - if you can maintain the feeling of confidence you come away with - takes the pressure off flower arranging forever.

"I want people to enjoy the outdoors," Hugo says. "Arranging for me is just one way of relating to nature." Everyone is encouraged to explore the grounds at Flower Camp, clippers in hand. Pick the zinnias, Hugo suggests, or cut armloads of asters, and nibble on all the basil, mint, and parsley you care to taste. The best arrangements are made with materials you love, she says.

Tubs and buckets of bright blooms, lush foliage, and branches heavy with fruit wait in the breezeway next to the barn. Many of the campers also bring materials from their own gardens: fresh greenery, buckets of roses, armfuls of beautyberry, bright dahlias, gourds, and goldenrod.

Workstations, stacked bales of hay, are set up in a grove of oaks. Hugo and two other coaches, Mary Garner-Mitchell and Sue Tolson, face campers sideby- side, demonstrating arrangements in their favorite containers. Each of the instructors takes a different approach. Garner-Mitchell's style is architectural, her palette subtle and chic. She plays with the feathery inflorescences of grasses, mixing touches of silver and purple, and adding a spot of gold and a cluster of bristly pinecones. Tolson's arrangement is pure romance: a creamy white pitcher filled with dahlias; phlox; old-fashioned cockscomb; and the dainty, pendulous flowers of hardy begonias.

As the coaches put more and more flowers in their vases, someone asks how they will know when they are finished. One way, Garner-Mitchell says, is to apply what she calls the 80-percent rule. "If you're 80 percent satisfied," Garner-Mitchell says, "stop." But rules are not really what Flower Camp is about, and all three flower coaches say that every rule they've ever been taught, they've learned to break.

"I don't pay much attention to convention anymore," Hugo says. At home, she keeps small jars and bud vases on a windowsill. "I like putting a few buds in each one, playing with the forms and colors," she says. "Do it every day, just for yourself."

Now it's the campers' turn. They fill their arms with flowers and head back to their workstations. The coaches walk around, watching campers work and making suggestions. Hugo provides encouragement, saying that beginners have the advantage of innocence, which is "that quality that people forget, that can make an arrangement the most beautiful." She adds: "When you see somebody learning a new thing or incorporating a combination that they just learned about, it's beautiful. I hope we never lose that at Flower Camp."




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