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posted: 8/18/2014 4:54 PM

Roadside flower sale creates a sense of community and unique floral arrangements

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  • The Roadside Flower Sale features beautiful, long-lasting arrangements of dried flowers and other plant materials.

    The Roadside Flower Sale features beautiful, long-lasting arrangements of dried flowers and other plant materials.
    Courtesy of the Chicago Botanic Garden

Adriana Reyneri

The Roadside Flower Sale, a popular annual fundraising tradition at the Chicago Botanic Garden, transforms dried flowers, sheaves of ornamental grasses, lotus pods, driftwood and other interesting plant materials into beautiful, long-lasting displays.

This floral alchemy is worked by a cadre of some 50 dedicated volunteers who, with the help from garden horticulturists, collect purple coneflowers, hydrangeas, roses, palm fronds, milkweed pods, alliums and other plants throughout the garden, diverting the material from the compost stream.

The volunteers dry and store their finds until there's enough to make some 300 arrangements, wreaths and wall hangings, as well as potpourri, notecards and bookmarks. The items are sold in a three-day market drawing thousands of visitors.

Days prior to the sale, volunteers facilitate a series of free public flower-arranging workshops. The classes are taught by professional floral designers who guide participants in creating create striking arrangements using all-natural materials.

"You can come with nothing but an eagerness to learn," said Judy Cashen, director of volunteer administration and engagement.

In return for the complimentary lesson, the arrangements become the property of the garden and are sold at the Roadside Flower Sale. "It's a very cool circle of participation," Cashen said. "People can learn about flower arranging and support the sale."

The Roadside Flower Show, now in its 34th year, typically raises $16,000 to $18,000 for garden programs. Proceeds from previous years have funded tools for the horticulture projects, books for the Plant Information Service and equipment for the Dixon National Tallgrass Prairie Seed Bank.

Flower arranging workshops will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 8; and 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 9-10.

Workshops fill quickly. Please register in advance by calling (847) 835-8392. The sale takes place from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 12, through Sunday, Sept. 14.

Chicago Botanic Garden is at 1000 Lake-Cook Road in Glencoe. Visit