Did you know carnations can be a stand-in for peonies?

By Catherine Dash
November 05, 2019

If Amy Merrick set out to write her just-released book—On Flowers: Lessons from an Accidental Florist ($29.95, amazon.com)—several years ago, it would have been a very different book. "It would have followed a much more straightforward flower arranging format," she explains. "When I first started, the structure was seasonal, but as I went on that felt really disingenuous with how I've been living." The writers/stylist/florist has been traveling for the last five years and the book reflects that. It has all of the practical requisites of a flower arranging how-to manual (best practices, step-by-step instructions, flower-care pointers), but is also part memoir, part scrapbook, and part love letter.

Katagiri Atsunobu

"Making On Flowers felt like tying a bow around all the different floral experiences I've had over the course of the past decade, from being a city florist to a flower farmer, moving to Japan to study ikebana, and working in a garden. It felt like each story was a stem and when arranged them together, the book became a bouquet in itself," says Merrick, who not only wrote the book, but also photographed, styled, and art directed its content. While chapter one is dedicated to flower arranging 101, each following chapter is a mashup of Merrick's poetic musings, artful imagery, collected ephemera, quotes, and flower-related guides (edible flowers in one, a listing of museums for flower lovers in another)—all peppered with the author's expert tips on caring for flowers.

Related: Tips to Making a Martha Approved Flower Arrangement

"Excerpted from On Flowers by Amy Merrick (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2019. Photographs by Tif Hunter."

Rather than focus on seasonality (as originally intended) Merrick's book speaks to the spirit of different flowers, breaking them into five categories: city, country, fancy, humble, and far away. These groupings align with her myriad life experiences surrounding flowers—from creating luxe arrangements for Oscar de la Renta and The Metropolitan Museum of Art while living in New York City to making $12 farmer's market bouquets on a flower farm in Washington—which she eloquently weaves throughout the book to help both tell her story and share what she's learned.

"Of course, by the end, I realized that a humble flower can also feel fancy, and cities can be quite wild and that we set up these boxes to define things but really there is a lot more fluid crossover," muses Merrick. Here we asked the expert to share more of her learnings, including her top five floral secrets.

Related: Our Most Magnificent Flower Arranging Secrets

"Excerpted from On Flowers by Amy Merrick (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2019. Photographs by Tif Hunter."

Always Trim Your Blooms

"The dead easiest tip for flower arranging I can give is when you bring home a simple bunch of flowers, cut each stem a slightly a different length," she says. "That alone will make your flowers much more natural and effortless when you plop them in a vase."

For a Natural Look

"Asymmetry is the quickest way of creating a wildflower feel," says the expert. To achieve the popular look she says to establish one side of your arrangement with a high point and offset that with a low point. "The look will already feel much looser and more painterly."

Forage for Florals

"Don't buy anything!" says Merrick. "It's amazing what you can find to arrange with even if you don't have a flower garden." The florist always tries to include some wild grasses or leaves in her arrangements. "It makes a bouquet feel as though it's still growing."

Get Economical

Another favorite trick is to use potted plants as a source of materials to arrange with. "I'll often buy a geranium and cut a few flowers and leaves at a time, you can get so much more for your money than buying a cut bunch of flowers that will wilt in a week," she says.

Don't Overlook Carnations

"Carnations can feel totally luxurious in this chic 1950s way!" says Merrick. "They're actually very beautiful, like ruffley ballet tutus. There are all sorts of pretty colors available now, and if you buy them in quantity and arrange them in a loose, billowy masse, they make a very lovely stand-in for peonies."

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