Floral artist decorates with natural materials

From all directions people come to meet the man from Williamsburg. He is Claude Jones Jr., until recently a floral-shop owner in Williamsburg, Va., who free-lances as a floral designer with the historic Williamsburg Foundation.

He often assists in decorating colonial homes and exhibition halls there for the holiday season, as well as for special occasions such as Prince Charles's visit to the historic 18th-century capital of Virginia.

Probably at no time in the year does a home receive as much attention as during the Christmas season. Children hang their favorite keepsakes on the tree, homeowners decorate their houses in dramatic dress, and scents of the season fill the air.

While plastic trees and artificial greenery have left their mark, most homeowners much prefer cut greenery arrangements.

''Never mind the silk flowers,'' says Mr. Jones. ''Most people don't understand that they have the makings for beautiful decorations right at their finger tips. All they have to do is go wandering around their own yards or down the alleys looking for something of natural beauty.''

He points to some snipped-off cherry laurel and Brazilian pepper. Using a deep porcelain bowl, he covers a moist styrofoam Oasis block with chicken wire and places it in the bottom of the dish. He then shapes the cherry laurel branches and attaches them to the Oasis until the bowl is filled. For a note of color, he adds green apples to the centerpiece.

Other greenery he uses includes croton leaves, sprays of cedar, ivy, and podocarpus, boxwood, magnolia leaves, galax, and sprigs of viburnum. He also works with fruits and vegetables, some 1-gauge florist wire, wooden floral pins, wire or straw frames for wreaths, and a pair of clippers. ''Use the clippers to make sharp cuts, not flat ones,'' he advises, noting that sharp cuts make materials easier to insert in the Oasis.

And he cautions that homeowners making their own decorations should not be intimidated by the rules of public opinion or flower arranging.

''Make your arrangements as large or as massive as you like. Don't get frustrated. Go with your first inclination on how you want the arrangement to look. When making an arrangement stops being fun, forget it.'' To illustrate, he fills the bottom of a large, tan wicker basket with crumpled newspaper. On top of it he adds red cabbage, large mushrooms, purple eggplant, zucchini, turnips, and plump white onions. The whole arrangement, suitable for a den, kitchen, or porch, takes only four minutes by the time he has cut the cabbage to open like a flower in bloom.

Into another basket with a handle, he tucks more crumpled newspaper, then adds ivy to a moist Oasis block on one side of the container and red Winesap apples on wooden florist pins on the other.

For another design, the florist selects a brass epergne. After placing branches of cherry laurel and Brazilian pepper in it, he skewers three large red apples into the middle of the branches.

To add longer life to arrangements, Mr. Jones uses a formula of one can of Sprite, two Sprite cans of water, and one tablespoon of bleach. Use this instead of plain water in the bowl.

In another holiday centerpiece, Mr. Jones fashions magnolia leaves, lotus pods, apples, and cone flowers, with twigs of holly interspersed. Two brass candlesticks complete the creation.

Pointing to an already-prepared apple cone, the designer says the pyramid construction of red apples with boxwood stuffing the spaces between the apples was very popular in early America. ''The colonists used fruit arrangements rather than flowers,'' he explains.

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