I have attempted to arrange flowers from my garden into a bouquet many times, and I have often been less than satisfied with the results. After reading Debra Prinzing’s book Slow Flowers (read my review), I was inspired to try again. My first attempt was in early June. I had brought back peonies and dame’s rocket from my previous garden. I remembered to cut peony buds that showed color and a few petals opening, instead of fully opened flowers, so that they would last longer in the vase. I found the longest stemmed peony leaves from those I had trimmed and lined the arrangement with them in a vase I had purchased at the grocery store. Then I placed the peonies equidistant around the perimeter of the opening, and filled in with dame’s rocket.It was okay, but it didn’t wow me. So I asked myself,
What would Debra do?
Debra would add something that poked out from the roundness, preferably in a contrasting color. Lady’s mantle came to mind, but that was growing at my former garden, and I wasn’t even sure it was blooming yet. What did I have growing here with long stiff stems and smallish flowers at the end? Well, that describes garden heliotrope, but it wasn’t blooming yet. Oh, wait…it doesn’t have to be blooming. It just has to work in the arrangement. And I think it does:After a couple of days, the dame’s rocket looked kind of sad, but some of the peonies that had been in bud were now open, so I got rid of everything shabby and rearranged the remainder in a different vase: As each bouquet faded, I went out to the garden for more flowers to try my skill. I learned to look for newly opened flowers or almost open buds, so that they would last longer in the vase. My roses are just getting started here, so there weren’t many blooms, and I certainly didn’t want to sacrifice much of the stem. I cut them short, in full bud, but they didn’t seem to last as long as the peonies.
My Daughter Takes A Turn
We hosted a family reunion on the July 4th weekend. I went out to the garden and cut one stem of everything I thought I could spare. (My garden is still getting established, and I really don’t have big clumps of anything.) Then I offered them to my daughter Talitha to arrange. I’ve always felt she does a better of arranging flowers than me, and I know she enjoys it. But she hasn’t read Slow Flowers, and I was curious to see what she would come up with. She made two bouquets.“Wow,” I said to her, “you’re going to add that pink peony to the hot-colored combo and not the white-and-pink arrangement?” “Yep,” she replied. “It will make the other colors pop.” And pop they did. I took these pictures above the day after the bouquets were assembled, and the elderberry flower had already wilted. Its creamy whiteness had helped offset the riot of other colors.
Now It’s My Turn: One of Everything
Yesterday was a birthday celebration. Again, I went out and cut one of everything, except I cut two stems of ditch lilies. This time I decided to try to put together a one-of-everything bouquet myself. This is what I started with:Ulp. Where to begin? Once again I asked myself,
What would Debra do?
Nothing came to me. In her arrangements, Debra always has at least three stems of something. Or, if there is only one, it is what she calls a diva blossom, one that has a lot of impact. This just looked like mish-mash. I had cut everything as long as possible to give myself as many arranging options as possible, but even still the stems were all different sizes. So, just to help me think, I sorted them by size:What had I gotten myself into? I had an urge to combine them all in one arrangement, so even though I felt I was slightly mad for doing so, I went with it. Looking at my sorting containers, I realized most of my vases had too small of a mouth for all those flowers. They would just look constricted and unnatural. The square one holding the shorter stems might have had a big enough opening, but I thought it was too short.
What would Debra do?
Debra would look for a container that wasn’t meant to be a vase, but could hold water. I remembered seeing a cache pot when I hunted up the sorting containers. A cache pot is a pretty plant container with no hole in it. You slip a plant in a plain plastic container (that does have drainage holes) into the cache pot to dress it up.
But how would I keep the flowers from flopping around? I didn’t have a flower frog, which Debra often uses to stabilize her flowers. I didn’t have excelsior–wooden shavings used as a packing material. I did have chicken wire (also called poultry netting) but it was in the barn waiting to be used as fencing. (I will probably save the scraps from that project for future flower arranging.) Oh! I can use these:I poured a couple of inches into the bottom of the cache pot and started inserting the tallest stems. But they were still falling out of position, so I filled that pot to the brim with marbles. It was heavy!
Beginning with the tallest flowers, I tried to get the shapes and colors to play off of each other, turning the cache pot around as I worked, looking for gaps in the arrangement. The marbles worked almost too well: sometimes it was so hard to push them in that the stem bent, and then I would have to trim it at that point. About halfway through this project my company arrived, and I started to feel a bit rushed. When I was done, the design didn’t seem very cohesive to me. Here’s the final bouquet:There were two things that really bothered me. One, I couldn’t get the stem of butterfly weed to behave. True, I had cut from the plant the one stem that had flopped and grown twisted, but instead of adding interest to the arrangement, it just looked awkward. Two, the head of deep red bolted lettuce, which I was so proud of myself for thinking to cut, wilted almost immediately. Instead of becoming a dramatic element in the arrangement, it just looked sad.
Perhaps cutting one of everything is not the best strategy, but after the peonies were done, I certainly didn’t have bunches of anything. So, let’s learn from my mistake here. What could I have done differently? I could have harvested stems to complement the container I wanted to use. Or I could have just cut stems that seemed to harmonize with each other. Or I could have made more than one arrangement, as Talitha did. As it was, I kind of overwhelmed myself with the possibilities. Since I made it, it’s started to grow on me, but it’s not my favorite arrangement. But my mother liked it.
I’ve been a little bit silly asking what would Debra do every time I got stuck. Of course it’s not about copying Debra’s style of flower arranging, but about trying to remember the tips I picked up from her book.
The Garden Appreciation Society
Shortly after I read Debra’s book, I stumbled upon the Garden Appreciation Society. (Thank you, Jayne!) Started by Erin of The Impatient Gardener, this is a garden blog meme intended to encourage gardeners to bring a little bit of the beauty of their garden inside as a floral arrangement. ” Every week (or so) you are going to go out in the garden and cut a few flowers or interesting foliage and bring it in your house to display. It might be an extravagant bouquet, but it could just as easily be a single bloom, or even a lone hosta leaf. And then you’re going to take a photo of it and link it up here.” This is a further incentive for me to practice my floral arranging skills, so starting this week, I’m going to join in, and I hope you do, too. Reading Slow Flowers will help you improve your flower arranging, but nothing takes the place of practice.
Disclosure: I have an affiliate relationship with Amazon.com. If you buy anything from them after following one of the links in this post to their site, I earn a small commission, which I use to offset the cost of running Cold Climate Gardening.