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Flower Arranging 101

Martha Stewart Living, June 2005

Fresh flowers, whether just cut from the garden or brought home from the local florist or market, are like a bundle of sunshine, a gift from nature that glows with good cheer. You can plunk them in any old vase, but if you know just a few tricks, it's easy to create much more felicitous and original displays.

Start by preparing the flowers so they'll last their longest. Then select a container that will show them off best, whether you want to highlight their colors, graceful silhouettes, or ebullient blossoms. Look beyond the standard vase; consider bowls, pitchers, and even tumblers.

Have flower frogs and other simple supplies on hand so you can support the stems inside your vessel if you wish. This is the secret to dense, lush domes of flowers. Try snipping stems shorter, combining different colors and textures, and incorporating elements such as foliage, buds, seed pods, and other cuttings from the garden -- and even houseplants. The best overall advice? Don't wait for a special occasion to treat yourself to fresh flowers in the house. They make any day a little brighter.

Martha's Basic Arranging Tips
Before arranging flowers, gather your container and tools -- floral shears, floral tape, flower frogs, and flower food.

If cutting garden flowers, do so in the cool of early morning or after sunset. Immerse stems in cool water, and let the flowers drink for about an hour before arranging them. (Add ice cubes to the water if it's a very hot day.)

Whether you buy flowers or snip your own, cut stems on an angle before arranging, and remove any foliage that would fall below the waterline.

Fill the vase with fresh, room temperature water, and add a commercial cut-flower food. (Adding a teaspoon of liquid bleach to the water will prevent bacterial bloom.) Cluster the flowers in a bunch in your hand, keeping stems straight, and place the bunch in the vase.

Every two days or so, change the water, add a sprinkling of flower food, and recut the stems if they've browned.

Arrangement Guide
1. Celebrate big, billowing flowers with an exuberant large-scale arrangement.


This display showcases the unrestrained beauty of hydrangeas. An armful of the flowers overflows a generous glazed-iron urn-shaped vase in an effortlessly elegant way. The woody stems are left long and anchored in a two-tier wire flower frog, which is secured to the bottom of the vase with dots of floral adhesive. Tendrils of clematis winding through the blooms emphasize the cottage-garden feeling.


2. Make a jewel-like bouquet by combining unexpected elements.


An assemblage of begonia leaves snipped from houseplants invites a closer look and rewards the viewer with varied colors, patterns, and textures. The rich shades of red and green blend beautifully with the caramel-colored Mission vase. If you want to protect your container from moisture (a good idea for any antique or porous clay), line it with a piece of plastic wrap, insert a plastic container to hold the water, and then begin arranging.


3. Let long stems arch out of a trumpet vase for an ethereal arrangement.


Flower stems naturally follow the shape of this vase: They reach up and out, and the result is delicate and light. Choose flowers with graceful stems, such as this crocosmia, for the most pleasing look. Shorter cuttings of maidenhair fern float below the blooms. Echo the idea with smaller vessels -- parfait glasses work perfectly -- holding just a few stems.






4. Play with texture by adding airy sprigs to a dense mound of flowers.


A yellowware kitchen bowl of late-summer dahlias would certainly be lovely enough on its own, but adding a contrasting element -- here, wispy asparagus fronds -- makes the hot colors and spiky forms even more striking. A grid of clear cellophane tape spanning the wide mouth of the bowl supports the top-heavy flowers better than a frog would. Cut the stems short, and insert one or two flowers into each opening in the grid. Tuck fern clippings in last.


5. Create a study in color with different flowers in shades of the same hue.


Hydrangeas and clematis in purple tones look unified yet diverse. The aqua-colored McCoy bowl peeking out is a bright surprise. To support the stems in the low container, a frog is essential. A spiked one is good for the hydrangeas' woody stems; bits of floral adhesive on the bottom of the frog keep it from shifting and scratching the pottery.


6. Use a massive gathering of a single type of flower for a big impact.


Dainty alstroemeira make much more of an impression when grouped by the dozen. A neat dome of them -- with every leaf removed -- is softened by a cuff of chartreuse hosta leaves. The little flowers were first bundled in a single bouquet bound with rubber bands, then fit into the French ceramic pot; the leaves were tucked in afterward.

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