Creativity takes root in Astoria

By Kevin Zimmerman

Astoria’s Liza Fiorentinos cannot stop talking about a chunk of moss she discovered outside her 24th Avenue business Sunday morning.

The almost neon-green mound of fuzziness sits atop a damp slab of black-as-a-starless-night soil.

While most people might not give this clump of rootless flora a second look, Fiorentinos eyes it for its artistic potential.

She offers the moss to visitors on hand at her store, Luludi Living Art, where they have gathered to attend a class in making Christmas ornaments with a plant component.

It’s Luludi’s first ornament class, but Fiorentinos has a long history with greenery of all ilks.

“Plants make you feel good,” said Fiorentinos. “They boost your mood. They detoxify the air. They just make you feel good.”

After 30 years in the corporate world toiling under the glare of florescent lighting, she was anxious to find a workspace that made her environs feel less like a closed office door and more akin to wide open spaces.

As a way to bring the outdoors inside — something she discovered and fell in love with while living in Paris for 15 years — she opened the shop and sold pictures frames she designed, which incorporated a variety of plant life.

In the past 16 months since she opened the doors, she has added new merchandise, including terrariums — which are small ecosystems of plants housed in glass containers — tabletop Zen meditation gardens and aromatherapy sets. She also dropped the word frames from the shop’s original name.

Most of Fiorentinos’ business comes from customers who pop in and ask her to create something for them.

She’ll spend time with each person, narrowing down choices of colors and styles that appeal to them. Many of her designs use sand in a rainbow of hues, small stones, miniature cacti and plenty of moss. In one corner of the shop, customers will find a glass espresso cup filled with a layer of soil and rocks topped by a tiny cactus sprouting from the beverage like a spiky foam of milk.

Across the room, handbags covered in plant strands and blooming with small flowers — or are they plants molded to look like a purse? — sit alongside animal-shaped planters brimming with greens.

Tucked behind the front showroom, Fiorentinos has created a workspace with several tables and bakers racks lining the walls.

It’s in there that she’ll host private parties, like this past weekend’s princess-themed little girl’s birthday, and a slate of classes.

On Fridays, couples can take part in Date Night events, where two people receive a terrarium they can fill with sand, soil, rocks and easy-care greens like succulents, air plants and club moss.

“If you take care of it, it will last forever,” said Fiorentinos. “Most people tend to over water their plants.”

She loves to utilize air plants, a mostly rootless perennial which look similar to scallions or the stem of a pineapple.

“It’s really tough to kill them,” said Fiorentinos. “All you need to do is spray them a couple times a month or dunk them in water.”

At Sunday’s ornament class, the five participants wandered into the store and headed to the back to get started.

As Christmas music filled the air, Fiorentinos offered everyone a coffee from her newly purchased pod machine. She pointed out the tables filled with bulbs, angels and diamond-shaped glass containers. They sat alongside rows of ribbons, holiday stickers, small toys and piles of beads.

Once they pick an ornament and one of the air plants, participants head to the main work area, which is filled with containers of colored sand, bowls of twigs and pinecones and mounds of moss.

Isabel Heine of Astoria discovered the class listed on the We Heart Astoria blog.

“I’m an attorney, so when I can do stuff like this, it’s therapeutic,” said Heine. “This seemed like a perfect thing to do.”

Astoria resident Christie Powers brought along pals Regine Mechulan and Molly Drislane, as well as her boyfriend ,Tim Trinidad.

Drislane, who made the journey out from Manhattan, said she and her roommates just purchased a Christmas tree and she was anxious to create some of the ornaments. After filling the bulb partially with sand, she grabbed a pair of small tweezers and attempted to rearrange the collection of reindeer moss stuffed into the ornaments opening.

“I’m not a artist,” said Drislane. “This is fun. It’s challenging, but it’s interesting.”

As the class rolls on, conversation peters out as participants turn their full attention to their artwork.

Each class member was able to complete three ornaments using the different glass containers, a mix of colored sand and the additional trimmings.

Powers, who considers herself a recreational artist, was looking for a fun holiday activity and thought Sunday’s class would offer an unique opportunity for she and her friends.

She was not disappointed.

“It is really neat,” said Powers. “The variety is what’s really cool. Everyone turns out something that is very different, which makes it a lot of fun.”

Luludi Living Art is located at 23-07 24th Ave., Astoria. For more information, call (888) 9luludi, or visit www.lulud‌i.net.

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