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flowerssarah from blossom and branchSound Garden

Sound Garden: Ray of Light

by SarahB

Photographs by Maxwell Tielman

OK, here’s the thing: I am a huge Madonna fan. Her music was the soundtrack of my ’80s and ’90s youth, even though the 2000s saw some real gems from Madge. This week on Sound Garden, in honor of spring’s awakening, I am using 1998’s Ray of Light for my floral inspiration.

The Ray of Light album cover is a glassy, sparkling Mario Testino image of Madonna at her most extraordinary and ethereal. All the music was written during the most fruitful period in Madonna’s life: She had embarked on voice lessons for the first time in her career (in preparation for her starring role in the movie Evita), she had taken up yoga, she had begun delving into the study of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) and, perhaps most importantly, she had given birth to her daughter, Lourdes. Madonna’s becoming a mother was, quite naturally, a seminal moment in her life. It was particularly poignant in light of the fact that her own mother had died when she was quite young. She has described her mother’s death as shaping both her emotional and creative life, and she has written several songs touching on the subject, including the track “Mer Girl” on Ray of Light.

The music on Ray of Light is a fabulously eclectic mix of pop, electronic and dance music, with some ballads thrown in for good measure. Madonna’s writing and singing are at a career high on this album. Ray of Light was met with universal critical acclaim, included on multiple “top” lists — “of the ’90s,” “of all time,” “listen to before you die” — and won several Grammys. Because Madonna has been prolific but often panned, Ray of Light is still considered her opus. Personally, when I hear the first three seconds of the title track, I am very simply compelled by a force beyond myself to rock out.

In concert with one of our March themes — family — and feeding off Madonna’s inspiration from her baby daughter, I selected bright, celebratory blooms for this week’s design. I also reference Madonna’s introduction to yoga by choosing a palette of saturated colors that you might find at an Indian bazaar.

Follow along with me after the jump as I demonstrate creating a tight, pave-style arrangement using absolutely no greens or foliage! —


Pictured from left to right: spray rose, protea, Free Spirit rose, daffodil, parrot tulip


Pictured from left to right: asclepia, hydrangea, tweedia, calla lily

No greens, no foliage. Let’s do this thing!


How amazing is this coppery-gold hobnail mercury glass vase? Totally amazing. I think it is almost the exact color of Madonna’s hair on the cover of Ray of Light. And YES, I certainly did traipse into a salon in March of 1998 and say to my stylist, “Can you please make my hair the honey-blond color that you see here on this album cover?” Because the vase has a wide mouth and because we aren’t planning to help ourselves with the structure of greens, I used clear floral tape to create a grid over the mouth. The tape grid, as I have mentioned previously, is a florist’s best friend. You can use as many pieces as you want (both vertically and horizontally) to provide yourself and your stems as much or as little support as you think you might need.


My first move was to place a single stem of each kind of flower in the vase. I wanted to make sure I was measuring each bloom to stand in the vase on approximately the same plane. The key to a gorgeous pave design is to build flower on flower, clustering blossoms together on the same plane. The varying hues and textures of the blooms are what make the “landscape” interesting. Notice how my flowers are propped up easily by the tape grid? You never have to deal with the frustration of blooms swimming around in the vase this way. You can simply concentrate on where you want to place everything.


Once you’ve conquered the mouth of the vase with your tape grid, your main concerns with not using greens or foliage are obscuring the neck of the vase and filling holes. Obviously, you never want people to see through to the vase when looking at the arrangement, and you never want the neck exposed. Be sure to turn your vase as you build the design and view it from all angles. Don’t forget to crouch down and look underneath, too! You can use some blooms that drape over the sides, like the hydrangea pictured above, to help with your mission of hiding the vase neck.


Experiment with clustering some blooms together — it really does add a level of sophistication to your design. Just by placing two to three flowers next to each other, you can feature and highlight different textures or hues and draw the eye to various places in the vase.


Oh, how I love thee, Free Spirit rose. What a beauty!


By mi a wide range of face flowers (roses, hydrangea, daffodils, protea), tubular stems (calla lilies) and filler flowers (asclepia, tweedia), nobody will notice that there isn’t a leaf or branch in sight!


Please listen to Ray of Light so you, too, can be transported back to a time when Madonna was at her unequivocal artistic best, and before she started speaking with a British accent and messing with her glorious face. The music will warm you and move you. And join me back here in two weeks for more spring sound and vision!

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