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Carnation Arrangement Guide

The Martha Stewart Show, December 2010

These days, carnations get a bad rap. It wasn't always so.

For centuries, the carnation was a dignified, sought-after flower, adorning everything from royal weddings to presidential lapels, says event planner Bronson Van Wyck. "Because the flower is inexpensive and often dyed unappealing, unnatural colors -- and because you can buy them by the bunch at your local deli -- they fell out of favor," he says.

Of course, when high-quality carnations are tastefully arranged, they can be an eye-catching, sweet-smelling, and long-lasting addition to any room. In fact, carnations are one of Martha's very favorite flowers.

Favorite Carnation Varieties
For best results, stick to one color or similar shades of the same color palette. Always buy more than you think you will need, as tightly packed arrangements tend to require more flowers than you expect.

Here are some of Bronson's favorite red and pink/purple carnations to arrange:

  • Fancy red: Very clean-opening and vibrant, this is a strong and durable carnation.
  • Street purple: This variety includes hues of fuchsia underlying the purple petals, and it's very compact and abundant.
  • Burgundy: With thick, almost peony-like petal layers, burgundy carnations are the most requested color during the second half of the year.
  • Pink novelty: Robust stems make them ideal for gifting or as a memento.
  • Purple fancy: This is a true-color purple flower that is very regal in color and clarity.
  • Butterfly: A pink and purple variety, the butterfly has amazing spiky ridges and can last up to 10 days.

How to Arrange Carnations
1. Fill a clean container about 3/4 full with lukewarm water and add a drop of bleach.

2. Clean carnation stems of all leaves. Start by holding five stems of carnations in one hand so that blooms are in a tight ball shape. Continue adding stems one at a time on the perimeter of the carnation ball until you have a good amount to fill the vase.

3. Hold the bouquet of carnations against the container to determine how much stem to cut off. Cut the stems so they are touching the bottom of the container and the base of the flower head is just skimming the top of the container, with no green showing.

4. Once cut, place the carnation stems into the container. Add more carnation stems, if needed.

5. To extend the life of the flowers, change the water in the container, trim the bottom of the stems, and add another drop of bleach every three days. Carnations can last for more than two weeks if cared for properly.