Floriculture Students Blossom : Education: Agriculture teacher gives budding florists chance to be creative and sometimes to make a little money when their work is sold.


After wedging a white chrysanthemum into the middle of her large bouquet of purple, burgundy and white blossoms, Kristy Lepore stepped back to admire her work.


Well, not exactly admire it.

“I’m, like, ruining this,” the 16-year-old wailed.


Hearing this, Kristy’s classmate, Stacie Koch, smiled. “She’s way too critical,” the 17-year-old Stacie said as she assembled a bouquet at a nearby table. “You can’t be critical of yourself when you’re doing this.”

Building students’ confidence is one goal of the floriculture class at Camarillo High School where Kristy and Stacie are students, agriculture teacher Bruce Ritchey said.

Like all students, the budding florists in Ritchey’s courses are able to get positive strokes by earning good grades or winning their teacher’s praise.

But the students in Camarillo High floriculture classes also have their work affirmed in a manner typically reserved for professionals: They see their flower arrangements sold to the public.


And sometimes they even get paid.

Throughout the school year and into the summer, students in Ritchey’s advanced floriculture classes arrange flowers for real-life events.

Colorful hand-held bouquets for weddings, leafy table settings for school banquets and festive floor arrangements for companies’ Christmas parties--the array of floral decorations produced by Ritchey’s students rivals the work of many professional florists.

But the students do it for far less.


Ritchey estimates that floral arrangements created by his classes sell for one-half to two-thirds of what professionals charge. He is careful to point out, however, that his program does not compete with local flower shops.

Ritchey sells his students’ floral decorations not to make a profit but to give the students experience that may help them get work with a florist, he said.

“This way they can say, ‘Well, I’ve done these,’ ” Ritchey said. “They can have a working knowledge of how floristry works.”

Nearly all the money earned through the sales goes toward supporting the program, including buying flowers from local growers.


A small percentage goes to students who come in to work during the summer. Some students also market items on their own, such as selling Christmas wreaths to teachers or prom corsages to classmates.

The money helps boost the students’ confidence, Ritchey said. “You shouldn’t give away all your talents.”

Because Ritchey does not advertise, most of the floriculture program’s orders come from Camarillo High teachers, graduates and others familiar with the students’ work.

In addition, the youths in Ritchey’s classes are, after all, students--not professionals.


Although the floriculture students’ creations are popular enough to draw many repeat customers, some of their work has been less than perfect.

At one wedding last spring, a bridal bouquet the students had made fell apart as the bride walked down the aisle, students said. The flowers fell out of the small plastic-foam base where they had been fastened.

“We didn’t stick the flowers in far enough,” Stacie said. “We were pretty bummed.”

Ritchey’s students arrange flowers for five to 10 weddings per year, most during the school year. But sometimes Ritchey accepts jobs during the summer because he knows he can count on some students to come to school even during their vacations to work with the colorful blossoms.


One day last week, Stacie, Kristy and three other students spent an afternoon preparing bridal bouquets, table settings and floor arrangements for two weekend weddings.

Ritchey paid each of the students $30 for about five hours of work.

But some students said they came less for the money than for the fun of seeing classmates and working with flowers.

Christine Perez said she took a day off from her summer job in an Oxnard carpet store to help prepare for the weddings. “For me, it’s just fun,” she said.


Stacie, a senior who has been taking floriculture since she was a freshman, got a job arranging flowers with a local florist this summer.

But she said she came in to work at the school last week partly because she loves to prepare flowers for weddings.

“This is a part of someone’s life that is going to be there forever in pictures,” she said. “Flowers really make everyone happy. That’s why I like them.”

Nicole Dalto, who will be a junior this year, said she enjoys taking advanced floriculture because the class, which is always scheduled just before lunch, provides a break from a grueling schedule of academic courses.


“It’s kind of relaxing in the middle of the day,” Nicole said. “You get to come here and not have tests.”

Even Kristy, who said she finds floristry frustrating because she is a perfectionist, said the effort at making bouquets is worth it.

“I just love flowers,” she said.