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Program plants seeds for success Retail floristry course thrives at Dundalk campus


Diane Pappas wanted a second career, far from the world of medicine where she was a doctor of radiology.

It wasn't long before the tools of her new trade became a penknife, pruners and wire cutters at a little known floral design program. X-rays, once her picture of a patient's health, were replaced by color, texture and a freshly discovered expression using flowers.

"I fit better in my work. I love what I do now," said Pappas, co-ower of Mille Fleurs in Roland Park and a graduate of the Community College of Baltimore County's retail floristry program the Dundalk campus.

Snubbed as the "flower course" by some in the loftier echelons of academe, the program is Maryland's only certified credit course in the retail floristry business. Prince George's Community College offers a noncredit course, and related adult-education courses are provided at more than a dozen Baltimore-area high schools.

"There is a high demand for qualified people, and the Dundalk course has either started local businesses or feeds existing shops with promising students," said Stephen Radebaugh, whose family has operated a Towson flower shop since 1924.

For the busy Christmas season, Radebaugh said, eight Dundalk students are working part time in his store.

The little-known "flower course" has survived several system reorganizations in which more conventional courses were dropped. Avoiding a discussion of campus politics, Robert Brown, director of the course, instead focuses on its success.

"We are in our 20th year, and I think the strength of the program is it prepares people how to get to work in their own business, and how to do it well," said Brown, who majored in horticulture at the State University of New York, Morrisville, and managed several flower shops before he came to Maryland.

The program averages 70 graduates a year, and a dozen own retail or wholesale flower businesses, from Forest Hill to Catonsville.

Nationally, said Brown, higher education administrators and trustees have cut less successful floral programs, leaning more toward research instead of design and retailing.

Carried over five semesters and taking approximately two years to complete, the course is filled with practical application and a few historical highlights.

Students learn that flowers were prepared in the tombs of Egyptian kings and that the Chinese, Romans and Greeks used flowers for burials and weddings. Thousands of rose petals were strewn on the floors where feasts and orgies were held.

Valentine's Day is the biggest single-day sale in the floral business, Brown said. Easter, Mother's Day and Secretary's Day are strong flower holidays, but Christmas has them beat.

And the season fast approaching is much more than blinking trees and spray-on frost.

"We start in July with making silk flowers and dry floral arrangements," Brown said. "Right around the Thanksgiving holiday, we start sensing a huge pickup on live flower business for Christmas."

At the Roland Park shop of Pappas and her partner, Kathy Quinn, the two owners and their three assistants are working seven days a week, mostly 12 hours daily.

"It is absolutely crazy," Pappas said. "There's hardly time for anything but getting out the orders. But we learned to do things correctly so it just takes that commitment in time.

"We pay attention to all the details," she said.

Pub Date: 12/14/98

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