While yellow isn't high on my list of preferred decorating colors, I experience a change of heart come March, when forsythia, a member of the olive family, begins to throw open its bright buds. After many months of gray skies, it offers the promise of sunnier days ahead.
I've often dreamed of living in a house with a long hedge of forsythia flanking the driveway. But for now (and the foreseeable future), I live with the branches on a smaller, though no less dramatic, scale in my New York City apartment.
Even beyond the uplifting shot of color it provides to a room, forsythia has a lot going for it. It's affordable and widely available, for about $10 a bundle at flower shops and farmers' markets. If you already have forsythia on your property, you can cut somewhat greedily from it for an indoor arrangement; the plant is so effusive that you can take a fair amount from it and never notice a difference.
Versatility is another one of forsythia's virtues. By paying attention to each branch's natural arch, you'll get a sense of how it should spring from a vessel. If you want a modern look, on the other hand, the branches can be manicured to create a more geometric display.
And finally, forsythia is easily tamed: You can force its branches to bloom in as little as a week just by cutting them, putting them in a bucket of water, and setting them in a warm place. It's a useful trick if, like me, you can't wait for the buds to open.
I love the way the branches, set in a wide hibachi with a metal liner, look as if the wind is blowing through them. To re-create this, cut chicken wire a bit larger than the diameter of your vessel, fold the edges under, and insert it just inside full-blown the top of the container. Arrange branches in the center, inserting taller ones that bend in the same direction first, and then fill in around the edges with shorter ones.
Tulip stems grow even after you cut them, which causes this display, inspired by ikebana (the Japanese art of flower arranging), to change every day. Insert tulips in the center of a narrow-necked vase. Add forsythia to the edges; place tall branches on one side and short ones opposite.
One of my favorite designers, Marcel Wolterinck, from Holland, inspired these miniature hedges, which make intriguing centerpieces on a dining room table. See how-to.
With forsythia, more is more. You can create real drama without spending a lot of money.