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Strikingly Unusual Arrangements

Martha Stewart Living, February 2008

It's a real mystery why humans, who never hesitate to tinker with nature's gifts, tend to balk at rethinking these uninspired bouquets. It's actually quite easy to transform inexpensive flowers or discounted houseplants into truly spectacular arrangements. It just requires a little rearranging, not to mention a willingness to defy convention.

Begin by taking a fresh look at what you've been given -- the plant's color, texture, size, proportions. A carnation's petals are ruffled, so why not cluster several into a flouncy pom-pom? Orchid blossoms can be set off against a branch, evoking their tropical origins. An individual rose becomes a sculpture when allowed to stand on its own.

Next, reconsider the containers you would typically use, forgetting what you've learned and exploring new possibilities. Try a bud vase for a houseplant leaf or a terra-cotta pot for cut flowers. And never feel that a stem's length is obligatory. Trimming draws attention to a blossom, rather than to its stalk.

Don't break all the rules, however. Many flowers have traveled thousands of miles, from farm to store, in a state of refrigerated inertia. Examining their zombielike petals won't always indicate freshness. Look to other clues. For example, is the base of the stem withered, discolored, or dry? After you make your selection and get your bouquet home, place it in warm water. Then, as the blooms awaken from their chilly stupor, you can revive your own spirit by creating new, groundbreaking displays.

A mixed bouquet (above) is artfully rearranged among a dozen slender vases, freeing each bloom to flaunt its beauty. Much is made of long stems, but trimming them to staggered heights lets individual roses stand out.

Ubiquitous, inexpensive, and long lasting, carnations possess gorgeous petals -- and distracting sepals attached to the stems. Clustering the blooms, whether monochromatic or multihued, into a dense dome plays up the flowers' prettiest feature.

Carnation Dome How-To
Soak 5 blocks of floral foam in water. Line up 3 in a shallow bowl. Center another on top. Cut last block in half crosswise, placing half on each side of stack. Trim carnation stems to 2 to 3 inches, and stick into top block. Continue, from top to bottom, trimming as needed to fill out the dome.

The long-awaited drama of a cluster of hyacinths and daffodils pushing up from the earth doesn't quite carry over to a few paltry blooms in a vase. Imitate this spring ritual by rearranging several bouquets of same-color blossoms in clay and terra-cotta pots and urns.

How to Fake Planted Bulbs
Fill a waterproof vessel halfway with water, and place it inside a slightly larger clay or terra-cotta pot or urn. Add flowers to the vessel, using a floral frog or a grid of floral tape to hold them in place.

Designed to replicate exotic blooming trees, this poetic display is an illusion contrived by securing blossoms to buckthorn branches. Bursts of color electrify the wood and its surrounding space, making an ideal -- if ephemeral -- setting for entertaining.

How to Make Branches Bud
Trim several cymbidium orchid blossoms, leaving at least 1 1/2 inches of stem. Attach floral tape to the base of each blossom, and wrap it around a buckthorn branch until stem is covered and secure.

Tropical Plants
Here's a math problem that's remarkably easy to solve: You have 10 vases but no flowers. What to do? Line up the vessels, trim some tropical houseplants such as papyrus and elephant ear, and stand the stems in four of the vessels. Intersperse some rocks among the vases and the end result will be a single, serene display that you can enjoy for up to a month.

Baby's Breath
Capable of much more than just filling space, baby's breath is actually most impressive on its own. Buy a mass of it or set aside some from other bouquets, and then group it into a soft and blurry cloud, grounding the stems in cleverly concealed blocks of floral foam.

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