South Roanoke resident Matilda Bradshaw used to teach the first grade. Nowadays she becomes as giddy as a school girl when talking about her passion — flower arranging.
In fact, after taking first place at the World Association of Flower Arrangers show in Washington, DC in October, she couldn’t help but tell the other competitors how she had created her volcano-themed arrangement. “I get so excited to tell everybody about it,” she said. “I tell all my secrets.”
Bradshaw, 67, has been a member of the Mill Mountain Garden Club for more than 30 years. Her first experience with flower arranging came as a child, when she and her sisters helped their mother raise roses for a local florist. The girls’ job was to pick the Japanese beetles from the rosebuds. Bradshaw’s grandmother was a flower arranger and passed on her knowledge to her granddaughter.
The Roanoke native and Greensboro College graduate has won seven Best in Show awards and six Most Creative awards at Garden Club of Virginia events.
She says that John, her husband of 45 years, is a big part of her success, helping with the structural design of her arrangements. “I dream up all these wild things,” Bradshaw said. A retired engineer with degrees from MIT, John is the perfect partner for her creative endeavors. She asks him, “Now how do you think we can make such and such work?”
The opportunity to compete in the Washington, DC show was a complete surprise for Bradshaw. Procedure requires that potential competitors be nominated by someone and then undergo a review to make sure they pass muster. “I received an engraved invitation in the mail,” she said. “I have a feeling I know who proposed me, but I’m not absolutely positive.”
The competition featured 47 other competitors from the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico, and judges from around the world, many of whom did not speak English. She said of her entry, “It had to really sell itself and speak the language using flowers.”
Preparing for competitions usually involves finding new ways to challenge herself. “The first thing I do is read the competition’s schedule backwards and forwards,” said Bradshaw. “I try to find something in the schedule that would be exciting and challenging to me—something I haven’t done before.
For the Washington, DC, show that challenge was the famous Mauna Loa volcano. “A volcano from Hawaii—how many girls from Virginia get to do something like that?” Bradshaw said.
She’s created many arrangements over the years, but says it’s easy to pick a favorite … “The last one is always your baby, and then you’re looking for something else.” Previous memorable entries have included one themed for Dragon Run, an eastern Virginia tidewater stream, and an arrangement created for the Beatles’ song “Yellow Submarine” made from a gourd and nautical rope.
Even with all her success, Bradshaw stays rooted firmly in the ground. “Sometimes it doesn’t go your way. I don’t win every time by any means,” she said. “But usually my work is appreciated.”By David Perry firstname.lastname@example.org