NJ woman’s dried flower arrangements cherished by US presidents


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HAWTHORNE – Cathy Miller knew she was on to something when Pope John Paul II admired one of her dried flower creations.

Her husband surprised her with a trip to Vatican City, and she brought a shadow box, which showed a dried arrangement under glass. On a particular day of their tour, thousands of spectators filled Saint Peter’s Square, awaiting the passage of the Pope.

She held the box open, trying to get the Pope’s attention.

“He stopped and came towards me,” Miller said, recalling the 1982 trip in an interview at his 11th Avenue home. “I thought I was going to pass out. I could feel the blood pouring out of me.”

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She continued, “He blessed me on the forehead, and he said, ‘Bless you and your family and your flowers.’ “

Miller, who turns 90 next month, hasn’t stopped making dry arrangements.

Her floral designs have graced the pages of nearly 50 magazines, as well as the hallways and rooms of the White House. She has also appeared in over 30 live television shows.

Most of her work now is for charities, including area hospitals and nursing homes. She talks at their fundraisers and they raffle off her dried arrangements.

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Eileen Avia, president of the Wyckoff Area Garden Club, said her group raised $ 3,000 for her scholarship fund last spring when Miller taught a sold-out audience how to make dry arrangements at the Ridgewood Public Library.

Miller plans to conduct a similar tutorial at a Ridgewood church in February.

“She is the most generous, caring and loving person I have ever met in my life,” said Avia, a retired teacher. “And she’s so entertaining – that’s why her fundraisers make so much money. She has such a reputation for entertaining people.”

Extend the service life

Miller learned from his music-loving parents. His mother was a pianist and his father founded the Peragallo Pipe Organ Company, a Paterson institution that celebrated its centenary last year. She performed on the concert stage until the age of 16.

But when it came to leisure, music was the second fiddle in the art of drying flowers after she and her husband, Charlie Miller, bought a farm in Ridgefield Springs, New York, a village of 14 miles north of Cooperstown in 1972.

The soil on the 33-acre farm was rich in organic fertilizers, although Miller calls it otherwise.

“There was so much cow manure in the soil that everything I planted looked beautiful,” Miller said. “I ended up making five huge gardens.”

Miller ended up with a multitude of flowers, and at first she didn’t know what to do with them.

“I just sat in the barn and said, ‘What a mess. All these flowers will die. Can’t I try to extend their life a bit? “” Miller remembers.

She tried different methods of drying her flowers, finding that some, like rooster comb, could be dried simply by hanging them upside down.

For other varieties, Miller experimented with desiccants, like salt, sand, and sugar, but nothing worked until she discovered silica gel.

The average flower takes up to five days to dry. Most sun-loving varieties, including hydrangeas, peonies and roses, can be dried, said Miller, who now grows all of her flowers in her garden. The farm was sold three years ago.

Each dried arrangement can last up to 10 years. The shelves of cardboard boxes in Miller’s basement studio are filled with layers of flower buds, some of which have been drying for years on a thin bed of silica gel.

Art dissemination

In 1976, Miller’s dried arrangements were featured in Family Circle magazine, a New York-based monthly home economics publication, which printed its latest issue this month.

As a result of this piece, Miller’s dried flower designs have been used to decorate the White House for decades.

The late Rex Scouten, White House curator, read the article and contacted Miller because, with 132 rooms, it was becoming difficult for staff to keep up with fresh flowers.

Miller made over 60 dry arrangements for the White House, starting in 1979 for President Jimmy Carter, and then for each of the next four presidents.

She maintained close ties with all of the First Ladies, including Rosalynn Carter, who wrote the following note to Miller on White House letterhead on November 13, 1980:

Once again, I want to thank you for your wonderful dried flower arrangements. We appreciate your being so generous with your time and talent.

And thank you also for the bouquet. It is a very special gift that will always be a reminder of our friendship.

As further proof of Miller’s praise, her 1997 book, “Collecting, Preserving, and Organizing Dried Flowers,” has been printed four times and is still in high demand, as novice gardeners have contacted her to try and purchase copies. remaining for large sums.

“It really caught on,” Miller said. “The art of drying flowers has really, really caught on. It has brought so much joy to so many people.”

She’s the first to admit that her life story reads like a fairy tale, but she attributes that to this chance encounter she had 37 years ago.

“I have been blessed,” Miller said. In a joking tone, she added: “It’s the Pope – he did it.”

Philip DeVenceentis is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: [email protected] Twitter: @PhilDeVencentis

How to create a dried arrangement

Cathy Miller recommends the following five steps to achieve the perfect flower creation:

  • Do not pick the flowers when they are covered with dew or wet, and cut them before the peak of flowering.
  • Store flower buds in airtight boxes until you are ready to arrange them. Add three tablespoons of silica gel to the bottom of each can.
  • Make artificial stems after the buds are dry by wrapping floral tape around 19-gauge steel wire. Gently push one end of each false stem into each bud.
  • Insert the other end of each stem into the floral foam at the base of your container.
  • Keep your completed arrangement out of direct sunlight.

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