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Arranging Flowers

Arranging Flowers

A brief but to the point lesson in getting the best from your flowers by Claire Southall - see who she is in
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If my years in the flower business taught me anything, its that you should always remember that the flower is the star! And by relying on the flowers to do the work; anyone can successfully arrange flowers.

Yes there is room for flair, yes there is room for creativity, but most of all understanding a few simple rules and employing a few simple tricks will ensure you turn out arrangements that work every time.

As you read on, I will unpack some of the mysteries of flower arranging. The most important thing is to enjoy yourself, if you enjoy the process the end result will reflect that.


Here are some tips for choosing good performers from a Florists:

Things to avoid:

- If flower petals are soft and flopping, these flowers have probably been deprived of water or have been place in a draft (in supermarkets particularly, flowers are often positioned inside the door where they are at the mercy of cold drafts).
- If leaves are soft and dull looking these flowers has probably been deprived of water and will need a lot of attention to get them back to peak performance.
- Roses are still one of the most popular flowers around and now that supermarkets stock such a wonderful array of colours at really great prices they find their way into many homes. A blown bloom suggests that a Rose is getting towards the end of its life. Sometimes to extend the shelf life of Roses, growers will pick off the outer blown petals to make the Rose look like its in bud again. You can always tell if a Rose has been picked over by just giving he head a gentle squeeze. If the Rose hasn't been picked over, the head should feel firm and dense to the touch, if it has been picked over if will feel soft.
- Don't buy flowers that are displayed in buckets with sappy flowers like Daffodils or Hyacinths as the sap can have an adverse effect on other flowers.
- Don't buy flowers will too many buds that are totally green as these are unlikely to open
- If flowers are packaged in cellophane, check that the leaves and stems haven't been degraded by water inside the cellophane causing them to become mushy.
- Don't buy Irises if you predict a thunderstorm, they'll wither and die!

Things to look for:
- Firm petals, leaves and stems
- Flowers that have been stored in clean water
- Clean stems/leaves that haven't been squashed or damaged.
- Flowers with a good number of buds still to open

Some recommended flowers that are available all year round in most supermarkets and florists are:

Agapanthus (blue)
Delphinium (blue)
Larkspur (mauve, purple, pink, white)
Roses (all colours)
Lisianthus (pink, mauve, purple, white)
Freesia (all colours)
Carnations (all colours)
Alstroemeria (all colours)
Tulips (all colours)
Lilies (white, yellow, orange, pink, red, white)
Bupleureum (green)
Chrysanthemum 'Kermit' (green)
Gerbera (all colours)
Anthurium (all colours)
Sunflowers (yellow)
Gladioli (all colours)

When arranging flowers, its good to arrange varieties that have approximately the same vase life.

Long vase life (7-14 days):

Medium vase life (5-10 days):

Short vase life (3-5 days):
Lily Of The Valley

One of the great things about supermarket flowers is that they now often guarantee the vase life of the flowers and this can be anything from 3 days to 14 days. However, ensuring your flowers perform well is largely dependent on how you condition your flowers and the care you ake over cleanliness. Remember flowers begin to die from the moment they are cut.

There are many reasons why flowers don't perform well when we get them home. They may simply have been out of water too long by the time you get them. But could it also be that you've located your flowers badly in a draft or in direct sunlight?

The biggest flower killer however is bacteria. Re-using your favourite vase each time you arrange flowers and not cleaning it adequately will mean a field day for bacteria to grow and attack your flowers. So vase cleanliness is essential,
However, for those of you out there who are feeling lazy there's a really simple way to keep you vases clean and keep your flowers happy. When you fill your vase will cold water just add a teaspoon of household bleach before arranging your flowers. The water will stay cleaner and clearer, and your flowers will reward you by staying beautiful for longer.

Some flowers don't need the addition of foliage and in case of long stem Roses for instance, it's arguable that the drama and beauty of these could be degraded by the use of it.
But in many instances foliage can add structure, contrast and movement to your arrangements and with an every increasing choice of foliage available from the commonly used fern to the more exotic tropical leaves or twisted willow - the right foliage is certainly no poor relation to flowers.
If you're lucky enough to have a garden you probably already have a selection of foliage plants that would pizzazz to your flowers. If you don't, you might want to consider growing foliage plants in your garden like Laurel, Ruscus, Berried Ivy, Fern etc. And if you have fruit trees in your garden, stems of blossom look stunning on their own or mixed with big dramatic flowers.

So you've selected your flowers and your foliage, everything's conditioned and ready to go. Now you need to choose the right container.

Starting with vases, here's simple guide to the right kind of vase to choose.

- A conical shaped vase with a wide neck will need lots of flowers. This works for bunches of flowers like Daffodils or Tulips where you have a bulk of heads to fill the vase.

- A tall narrow vase works well for tall dramatic flowers like Lilies, Gerbera or Sunflowers where the stems need support but the heads are big and dramatic. If you're looking to arrange flowers that are dramatic but won't break the bank, you should add a tall narrow vase to your collection.

- An hour-shaped vase will work well with most flowers but remember, the wider the base of the vase, the more your flowers will fan and the more you'll need to ensure your arrangement doesn't look sparse. An hour-shaped vase is particularly good for hand - tieds (if you're lucky enough to receive one!) allowing the crossed stems to splay in the base of the vase.

- A short tub vase can work for large headed flowers cut short so they sit on the rim of the vase. Mono-colour Carnations can be used really effectively like this giving a much-maligned flower an effective, contemporary twist

Vases are not the only option when arranging cut flowers, and here are some highly effective alternatives.

- Wild or informal flowers work perfectly in a glass or china jug. Likewise small wild flowers look beautiful in a jam jar. See Wild in the Country for ideas.

- Wine bottles make great vases for single stem flowers like Lilies, Gerbera or Amaryllis or a simple cloud of Nigella - Miss Jekyll or Gysophila - Covent Garden

- A terracotta or decorative china pot can be used really effectively providing you stand a suitably sized waterproof plastic container inside


Now you're ready to go - you've selected your flowers and foliage and chosen your vase so now some simple rules for foolproof flower arranging.

1. Chose the right shaped vase for your flowers
2. Stick to one or two flower colours
3. Chose focal flowers (e.g. lilies, gerbera, sunflowers) and filler flowers (e.g. Alstroemeria,
4. If you're using foliage, arrange this in the vase first to create shape.
5. Rotate your vase to make sure the shape works from all sides
6. Arrange focal flowers in odd numbers 3, 5, 7 this will you with the shape of your arrangement
Here a few simple steps to arrangements that will work every time.

It takes skill, flair and confidence to mix colours effectively so until you've built your confidence, always start out with only one colour, or 2 colours that complement each other

For a cool arrangement -Blue/ Mauve

For a hot arrangement - Red/Orange

For a fresh arrangement - Yellow/White

For a classic arrangement - White/Green

For a warm arrangement  - Pink/ Mauve

10 Top Tips

1. Chose the right shape container for your flowers
2. Think triangles and circles
3. Arrange focal flowers in odd numbers
4. Prepare/condition your flowers before arranging for best performance
5. Use foliage for structure and shape
6. Rotate your arrangement to ensure its balanced
7. Don't over handle flowers when arranging
8. Use sharp scissors
9. Use flowers with a similar vase life
10. Keep it simple!


So you've bought your flowers and they looked perky in the shop but after 2 hours of trawling around the shops you're home and they are looking decidedly jaded. Here are some tips for reviving your flowers

1. Re-cut the stems - clean cuts at a diagonal to give the most surface area for the take up of water.
2. If you flowers a drooping only slightly, putting them into warm (not hot) water as this may help them to take up water more quickly
3. If your flowers are drooping badly cut the stems and then stand them in one or two inches of boiling water for about a minute. This will release any airlocks in the stem and ensure your flowers take up water as quickly as possible. (This can work particularly well for Roses and Gerbera which are prone to develop airlocks in the stems). Remove them from the boiling water, re-cut the stems once again and then arrange them in deep cold water.
If heads have droop badly, you can make a cone of paper around the bunch to support the heads in an upright position, once your flowers have had a good drink, remove the paper and the heads should be in an upright position.

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