OAKLAND -- "Bouquets to Art" returns to the de Young Museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park for its 30th anniversary celebration this month.

Famed floral designers from the Bay Area and beyond draw inspiration from the museum's eclectic collection of paintings to create a wonderland of flowers. Before the exhibit, each designer is assigned a painting that they interpret and mirror through their floral designs, which range from the traditional to the avant-garde.

"I love to see how designers interpret the art work differently each year," said Valerie Ow, who owns J. Miller Flowers on Piedmont Avenue and who has participated in the show for 15 years. "I love the event because it allows me to show off my creativity while also supporting the museum and the arts."

Volunteer members of the San Francisco Auxiliary of the Fine Arts Museums produce the flowery extravaganza every spring in support of conservation projects, education programs and special exhibits at the de Young and Legion of Honor museums.

"The week of the show brings in the most visitors of the year to the de Young," said auxiliary marketing chair Carol Rossi, who expects more than 50,000 people to attend this year. "Over the course of 30 years, the auxiliary has raised more than $5.5 million to support museum projects at the de Young and Legion of Honor."

She said money is used in three primary ways: to purchase art; to underwrite special exhibits such as the current "Modern Nature: Georgia O'Keeffe and Lake George"; and to restore works of art for display.

This year, Ow and her assistants, sister Robbin Lee and Laura Nagle, will interpret a painting entitled "Cupid Stung by a Bee" by American painter Benjamin West (1838-1820), in which Venus consoles Cupid after he has been stung.

"I'm very excited to be awarded this gorgeous painting," Ow said. "It has an airy, springlike feeling, so I'm incorporating a lot of spring flowers into the arrangement, including garden roses, flowering jasmine, dusty miller and freesias. I'm also going to use some family heirloom brass cherubs to make a three-dimensional statement with my flowers."

Ow's floral creation will be displayed in Gallery 20.

Dariel Alexander, a member of the Lafayette Garden Club who formerly worked at J. Miller Flowers, has been participating in "Bouquets to Art" for 29 years. She remembers when it first began at the Legion of Honor Museum before moving to the old de Young and finally into the new de Young building in 2005.

"I've enjoyed it immensely, it's flattering to be asked back year after year," said Alexander, who never had any formal training in flower arranging, but discovered a natural knack for floral design. "Even as a child, I always loved flowers and flower arranging."

This year, Alexander is interpreting "Winter's Festival" by American painter Willard Leroy Metcalf (1858-1925), who is best known for his landscapes.

"I'm going to do something quite simple in whites and grays," said Alexander, a senior who lives in Lafayette. "The scene of the meadow and frozen creek are quite indistinct, but like many paintings, you can imagine the scene."

She said she's loved how the show has blossomed over the years.

"From the beginning, it was beautiful; it has grown more and more over the years -- now they bring busloads of people from all over the place," Alexander said.

Alexander's floral arrangement can be viewed in Gallery 28.

In honor of its 30th year, the show will be on an extended run of seven days and will feature lectures, floral demonstrations and activities for all ages.

Ow plans to attend at least one of the many floral design demonstrations.

"In addition to the floral exhibits, there are wonderful lectures throughout the week," Ow said. "I'm planning to attend David Stark's 'The Art of the Party.' He's a New York-based florist and designer who works at high-end events for Beyoncé and other big celebrities."

Festivities kick off with an opening night gala and preview on March 17 with a buffet, music and "Floral Fashions," a runway show inspired by the museum's artworks, created and modeled by students from City College of San Francisco's environmental horticulture and floristry department.

"The opening gala is great fun," Alexander said. "The museum pulls out all the stops for us and we have a wonderful time."

Check out other Oakland floral artists at "Bouquets to Art:" Gingerleaf Floral, Ron Morgan, Sharpstick Studio and Steve Adams.

IF YOU GO
What: "Bouquets to Art"
When: March 18-23
Where: De Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118
Tickets: $22 (adults); $19 (seniors 65 and older); $18 (students with ID); $15 (youth 6-17); members and children under 5, free
Information: www.deyoungmuseum.org/bouquets or (415) 750-3504; for group sales of 10 or more, contact groupsales@famsf.org