OAKLAND -- About 125 floral designers from the Bay Area and beyond are giving rein to their imaginations at the 29th Bouquets to Art flower show through Saturday at San Francisco's de Young Museum.

"To us, it's a rite of spring," said Valerie Ow, the owner of J. Miller Flowers on Piedmont Avenue who has taken part in the event for the past 14 years. "It is so exciting to have our designs in the de Young Museum and exposed to so many people. People love to see the creative designs and different interpretations each year."

Ow said the show draws crowds that include many of her customers and garden clubs from all over the East Bay.

"Garden clubs, schoolchildren and horticulture students come by the busload," said Ow, who also plans to attend one of the show's featured lectures by Laura Dowling, the head floral designer at the White House. "Last year, we had the pleasure of seeing Shane Connolly, who designed all the flowers for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton at Westminster Abbey."

Prior to the Bouquets to Art exhibit, each floral designer is assigned a piece of artwork from the museum's permanent collection from which they draw inspiration for their floral creations.

"A few years ago, we were awarded Wayne Thiebaud's 'Three Machines,' " Ow said. "We created a massive gumball machine out of fresh flowers, utilizing roses, miniature carnations, thistles, chrysanthemums and statice."


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Ow and her team, including her sister, Robbin Lee, and Maureen Owens, used big ball-shaped oases to attach the flowers and create the look of giant, colored gumballs. Another year, they created a sterling silver tea set inspired by silver pieces donated from various participating artists.

"We created cakes, petite fours and mini tarts using fresh flowers in sterling silver vessels," Ow said. "Everything was miniature, just like a beautiful doll house."

Judith Heuser, chair of this year's Bouquets to Art, said the exhibit is the main fundraiser for the Fine Arts Museums Auxiliary, which raises money for the de Young Museum and Legion of Honor.

"Over the years, the auxiliary has contributed about $5.5 million in support of exhibitions and collections," Heuser said. "Preparations are already being discussed for the 30th anniversary next year."

She said attendance at Bouquets to Art has blossomed over the years.

"Visitors from around the Bay Area love to view the outstanding and innovative floral arrangement created by noted floral designers," Heuser said. "Approximately 50,000 (people) are expected to attend this year."

Heuser said the floral designers are carefully selected to represent the finest in floral art.

"Arrangements are placed throughout the galleries on all levels of the de Young and range from simple elegance to large and elaborately created designs," Heuser said. "All natural materials are used, and the flowers are refreshed by the artists during the week."

Ow and her fellow floral artists were recently given their Bouquets to Art "assignments."

"This year our inspiration will be Gustav Grunewald's 1832 oil painting, 'The Niagara at the Cataract,' " Ow said. "Our next step is to visit the San Francisco International Flower Mart and brainstorm and sketch our design."

Ow's floral creation is displayed in Gallery 20-F.

Bouquets to Art kicked off Monday with a festive gala, featuring a buffet, music and the first viewing of the floral arrangements. The week continues with floral exhibits, lectures and demonstrations by renowned designers. There will also be catered luncheons, and a Saturday brunch will round off the festivities.

IF YOU GO
What: 29th annual Bouquets to Art flower show
When: Through Saturday
Where: De Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco
Tickets: $20 (adults), $17 (seniors 65 and older), $16 (ages 5 through 17); no charge for members and children younger than 5
Information: Deyoungmuseum.org or 415-750-3600