Our Most Magnificent Flower Arranging Secrets

Gabriela Herman

Martha has been growing and arranging flowers since she was a little girl. And there is no lack of them at Cantitoe Farm, her 150-acre property in Katonah, New York. Over the years, she's cultivated a garden filled with all of her favorites: peonies, lilac shrubs, hydrangeas, clematis, shade plants, and tulip beds.

If you, like Martha, are inspired by your outdoor garden in full bloom, you may be feeling inspired to create a beautiful floral arrangement for that next dinner party, house visit, or summer soirée. And while you can always freestyle an organic, asymmetrical arrangement that serves as your very own work of art, there are some tried and true rules for creating a floral arrangement that looks fresh, vibrant, and even lasts longer.

First, determine where you will display the arrangement and what you're going to be using it for, says Christopher Graham, owner of Artistic Manner Flower Shop and Greenhouse in Pelham, New York. Your choice of vase will be dependent on where you intend to place the arrangement: tall vases are great for entryways, mantelpieces, desks, and dressers, whereas shorter vases are ideal for floral arrangements that will be featured on a dinner table. Visually, dimension plays a huge role in creating an impactful floral arrangement, whether you realize it or not. "When someone comes into a room or a space and they see a great floral arrangement, they're taking in the flowers and the composition, but what they don't know they're noticing is proportion," Graham elaborates. "That's something that's part of the wow factor that which you really don't know you're noticing, but you're like 'man, that looks great!'"

Here, we cultivated the best tips and tricks from our most trusted florists for you to use in your next floral arrangement, ensuring a memorable result.

  • Read An Exclusive Excerpt From "Martha's Flowers"
01 of 12

Know Your Numbers

blue and white floral arrangement
Louise Hagger

If you're using a tall vase, the entire arrangement from the very top to the bottom should be two and a half times the height of that vase. "Different designs bear different heights and widths, but what is most appealing to the eye—what looks the best, what's most accepted, what you'll find in a book—is two and half times," Graham explains. So, if your vase is 10 inches tall, the height of your entire arrangement should be 25 inches tall. For smaller vases, like a cube, you should be looking to accomplish one and a half times the height of the vase and two times the width. Graham further offers that "the reason being is so that guests can see over the floral arrangement, have conversations, and it looks good on the table."

02 of 12

Give Good Face

orange and white floral arrangement
Johnny Fogg

Instead of trying to create an arrangement that wows from all angles, Graham says it's perfectly okay to focus on just one "face" of the arrangement. "If you're on a budget, which normally is the case, and you're going to have your arrangement on a mantelpiece or against a wall, have every flower front-facing," Graham suggests. You'll you have the flowers that you would typically need if you were creating a 360-degree floral display all the way around the vase. With what you save, you could probably create two floral displays for the price of one, and end up with double the dazzle.

03 of 12

Balance Over Symmetry

Gabriela Herman

Most people strive to create symmetry in a floral arrangement, but Graham says balance can be just as pleasing to the eye and visually impactful. "You may have all your lilies on one side, but you have say large-headed roses on the other. It's not symmetrical, but it's balanced," offers Graham. "Focus less on symmetry and more on balance, not only because it'll be more interesting, but you'll find that it's much easier to do, because finding symmetry, even within two lilies, is almost impossible. No lily, no rose, no flower is going to exactly symmetrical, so you drive yourself crazy, when really, focusing on balance looks better."

04 of 12

Color Codes


"The biggest mistake people make is trying to match the colors of flowers like you match your clothing in the morning, which is just fine, but you're keeping yourself to a very small spectrum," Graham says. He suggests thinking a bit more out of the box. When it comes to arrangements, he says, "You can put every color in the world in an arrangement, just as long as they're distinctive. You don't want flowers to lose their independent effect." Monochromatic arrangements, or arrangements featuring flowers of all the same color, are best created using flowers with varying textures—that way you'll be able to see each flower without seeing just color. Pictured here, stems of delphinium and larkspur in blue-violet tones form an arrangement that's at once subtle and opulent. Greenery and stems are also a great way to add texture to an arrangement, offers Graham.

05 of 12

Mise en Place

woman cutting and arranging flowers
Laurie Frankel

Clean and cut all of your ingredients before you begin your design—flowers, greens, and so forth—suggests Clover Chadwick, owner of Dandelion Ranch in Los Angeles, California. This way you can observe the growth pattern of each stem. Good prep makes designing a breeze, as you can choose the angle of each stem before you place it in the arrangement. This is tremendously helpful for Pave style arrangements, wildflower arrangements, whimsical garden arrangements, and especially anything involving asymmetrical styles.

06 of 12

Order of Size

peach floral arrangement by max gill
Ngoc Minh Ngo

Something to think about when you're studying your stems: All plants compete for the sun when growing, and flowers are no exception, with buds shooting up to the sky and falling to the ground when they develop and get heavier. That's why you want to save your tighter (or smaller) blooms for last, and use your larger headed blooms lower and earlier. This gives your arrangements natural movement and it helps them last longer.

  • See More of Max Gill's Floral Arrangements
07 of 12

Maximize Your Materials

Flowers in vases on a table
Ngoc Minh Ngo

When you're designing a lot of arrangements, start with your larger arrangements, and save all of your scraps or breakage. The small bits are great for building smaller arrangements, and the very smallest can even be used for little bud vases to spread around the house or cluster around larger arrangements.

08 of 12

Water Them Delicately

pink dahlias arranged in clear vases
Annie Schlechter

Chadwick says that bulbs like peonies, ranunculus, tulips, and anemones will last a lot longer if you keep them in one to two inches of water. You just have to make sure they always have the right amount to drink. If you give them too much, too early, they go to pieces.

09 of 12

Flowers Have Individual Personalities and Traits

Sang An

It is important to know your flowers' personalities and care needs. Victoria Monsul Singolda, founder and creative director of Iris & Virgil in Brooklyn, New York, offers her secret to working with a seasonal summer favorite: the poppy. To extend the longevity of this popular bloom, Singolda suggests that you burn the end of the poppy stem to seal in moisture and avoid wilting. She advises that doing so will also prevent other flowers in your arrangement from deteriorating prematurely as a result of the milky substance that may leak out of the poppy stem.

10 of 12

Go with a Grid

brass flower vase lid
Raymond Hom

If you are one of those people who are particular about placement, you can make a quick and easy grid on any vessel or vase using clear florist tape. This will allow you to position the stems and have them remain in place, as well as prevent tangling of stems should you decide to rearrange them. Simply create a grid across the top of any vessel by applying two or three vertical lines of florist tape across the top, then the same number horizontally. Finally, to secure your tape and make it adhere well for even the most dramatic stem gestures, wrap a layer of tape around the diameter of the vessel to secure the grid tape endings. Disguise any visible tape with green or floral elements in your design.

  • Get the Flower Vase Lid How-To
11 of 12

Stem Sense

green apples and branches arranged in a white vase

When arranging stems, Singolda says it is a good idea to play with different heights to create dramatic negative space in your arrangement. "This will not only create depth and interest but allow you to sculpt your way into a fresh look and design bound to catch eyes for those that see it, she says. Stems should be cut at a sharp angle, using a good pair of shears (one to two inches from the end of the stem is a good rule of thumb). Here, a voluminous and eye-catching still life of apple and crabapple branches rests in a guest bedroom.

12 of 12

Don't Be Afraid to Improvise

blueberries and roses floral arrangment
Laurie Frankel

At her family's centuries-old home in New Hampshire, floral designer Amy Merrick's bouquets often involve more than just flowers, as in this romantic arrangement of blueberries, roses, and begonias. "I keep a pair of clippers with me, just in case I pass particularly pretty roadside wildflowers," she says. Her go-to being the Japanese ARS clippers. "I leave a lot of room for the unexpected."

  • Inside Floral Designer Amy Merrick's New Hampshire Family Home
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