Large handmade paper flowers in yellow and white hanging in a gift shop.

Handmade and Heartfelt Decoratives in The Garden Shop

By Katie Testa, on

From curated local goods to unique horticulturally inspired gifts, you may think of The Garden Shop as a place to find gifts for loved ones or to commemorate a lovely day at our Gardens. While the Shop is certainly that, it’s also much more—it’s also a place to experience the incredible, handmade works created by the talented artists and creative thinkers that make up our Garden Shop team. In the Shop, you’ll find a rotating array of giant, whimsical dandelions made of frayed white rope attached to wooden dowels, to plaster impressions of flowers placed by the shop’s kitchen selections, to paper clematis blooms by the shop’s front arbor—just to name a few. Depending on the piece, staff and volunteers often put months of collection, foraging, work, and crafting into each handmade decorative you see in the Shop—and we’re so proud to share with you the story behind them.

The Garden Shop team works to inspire all who visit, bring a touch of hand into everything they do, and incorporate the wonder of the Gardens into their space—that commitment and creativity can be seen in the ever-changing decoratives that grace the Shop. A community effort involving staff, volunteers, and resident artists, these handmade decoratives are made throughout the seasons and are an integral part of the Shop’s year-round decor.

Their designs are often inspired by what is happening in the Gardens—think wisteria and bright magnolias during the Spring Blooms season; bright lights and dried orange slice garlands for A Longwood Christmas; warm colors and foraged fall foliage for Chrysanthemum Festival; and more. The designs are also sometimes inspired by what products are being curated for the Shop, to complement and highlight kitchen goods to lavender products, baking tools to gardening gear, kid’s toys to food and beverage.

The Longwood Garden Shop with wisteria hanging over the entrance.

First made to highlight clematis blooms during the Spring Blooms season, these clematis paper flowers on the Shop’s arbor are made of crepe paper, floral tape, and wire; and interlaced with foraged vines. Photo by Carol Gross.

A image of handmade paper flowers in white and purple.

Each flower is carefully constructed, with staff and volunteers taking their time on every one of them. Photo by Carol Gross.

Major changes to these decoratives are made especially during the Spring Blooms and A Longwood Christmas seasons when the team works to shape the seasonal experience in the Shop. A fresh start after the winter months, Spring Blooms is celebrated in The Garden Shop with bright colors, beautiful paper flowers, botanical decoratives, and the promise of spring. Then, Christmas comes in fast and furious, with decoratives made months in advance to their being installed in November. Design plans for Christmas begin in January of that year—the moment one season ends; the art begins again for the following Christmas season! “When it comes to Christmas, I like to be prepared!” shares the shop’s Visual Experience Manager Kaitlin Dodds, who comes up with creative ideas, invents savvy—and sustainable—ways to realize them, and uses her art background to bring the Shop to life.

Three paper mache bear figures.

In the summer heat, The Garden Shop team prepares for A Longwood Christmas, with these polar bears that will be ready to go on display when the festive season begins. First, an armature skeleton of the figure is crafted out of carboard, then filled with newsprint paper. The whole thing is sealed with masking tape, then covered in paper mache and spackled. A final touch, to give the polar bears some fur, will be to cover them in some white flocking. Photo by Carol Gross.

A person working in the Garden Shop looking to the right smiling.

Visual Experience Manager Kaitlin Dodds is one of many staff members involved in the decoratives-building process. Photo by Holden Barnes.

Two people working on a wood display outdoors.
Planted by Longwood Manager Katrina Probst and Kaitlin Dodds build fixtures for the Garden Shop Christmas display.

After graduating with a degree in neuroscience, Dodds studied art for a couple of months in Italy, then continued her art education in Chicago. “I enjoy the sculpture-building part of my work … and I am learning a lot. Everything about the process is fun,” she shares. With so many different mediums that the shop experiments with—plaster, wire, resin, paper, cardboard, live materials, tissue—their creative process is often an exciting process of trial and error. “The plaster flower prints against the walls in the kitchen area were a lot of fun because you kind of know how it is going to work out to a certain extent, but you also don’t really know. So, having the reveal every time was a lot of fun,” shares Dodds.

Shelves on display in The Garden Shop featuring botanical prints.

These “trial and error” works of art complete the kitchen section of the Shop, bringing in beautiful impressions of foraged botanicals. Photo by Carol Gross.

Along with other Shop staff members, volunteers—who often come from art and design backgrounds of their own—come to the Shop at least once a month, ready to put in hours of painting, cutting paper, shaping wire, and meticulous work on the front entrance arbor to have these art pieces ready for display. So much goes on behind-the-scenes, from volunteers creating with their hands, to staff dabbing watercolor onto paper flowers when they have a spare moment.

Displays in the Garden Shop featuring planters and birdhouses.

Another handmade display you can spot in the back of The Garden Shop are these birds and bird houses. They’re up all year round—for A Longwood Christmas last year, they were adorned with snow on their rooves and stocking on its branches. Photo by Carol Gross.

A wood birdhouse with a faux yellow and black bird perched on the front.

These birds are made of carved foam, then delicately covered with bits of paper and feathers. Photo by Carol Gross. 

With sustainability at the heart of Longwood Gardens, Shop staff try to realize their designs in the most natural and sustainable ways possible—using natural materials, live or preserved plants, paper, or recycled cardboard. “I’ve been able to go over to the western gardens and forage off season,” says Dodds. She gets dried plant materials, branches, vines, and so forth for the Shop—anything they can then reuse or repurpose later on—only supplementing their work when needed with store bought materials.

Boxes and baskets of dried floral materials.

Stored in their studio above The Garden Shop are boxes full of foraged material, a constant source of inspiration for future projects. The Shop tries to recycle as much as they can—reincorporate past displays into new ones, reuse foraged materials, and pull from their ever-growing preserved collection from the Gardens. Photo by Carol Gross.

Dried floral material in yellow, purple, and pink.

By weaving in foraged material from the Gardens, The Garden Shop can bring the beauty of the Gardens into everything they create—and there is beauty in sustainability. Photo by Carol Gross.

The Garden Shop is a place always welcome to artistic experiment—staff come in with their cars full of vines from their own gardens and backyards, shells, and driftwood they collect at the beach and more. “The most beautiful part of the displays is the touch of hand,” shares Director of Retail Operations Mary Manning. Staff take pride in saying they have had a hand in everything, that the vines came from their homes, that they forage for pieces that are then incorporated into eye-catching art pieces, and so on.

There is so much more to see, and ever-changing artistic discoveries to make when you visit The Garden Shop. See what you can spot the next time you’re here—and think about all the hands—and all the heart—that went into it.

Related Articles

  • Botanical Beauty, Down to a Fine Art
    A person in an art studio hunched over painting flowers on a large-scale white board.

    Botanical Beauty, Down to a Fine Art

    With this year’s A Longwood Christmas season, we have had so much fun not only celebrating all things retro—but also sharing the immense creativity and talents of the many, many makers behind this spectacular display.

    By Katie Testa, on January 3, 2024
  • A Christmas of Community
    A large ballroom filled with decorated Christmas trees.

    A Christmas of Community

    This year’s A Longwood Christmas display is bursting with festive trees, throwback toys, a vintage Christmas street scene, and much more … including seven trees in our Ballroom dressed in beautiful ornaments crafted by children from seven local youth-serving organizations.

    By Katie Testa, on December 20, 2023