Martha Stewart and Kevin Sharkey Share Their Best Flower Arranging Tips and Offer Inspiration for Your Own Creations
I have collaborated with my friend and colleague Kevin Sharkey on so many projects over the past 20 years. But none has been more pleasant or rewarding than our partnership growing and arranging flowers. Kevin loves plants and gardens as much as I do, and is extremely knowledgeable when it comes to identifying and combining all kinds of flowers and foliage.
Each January, we sit down together and make lists of seeds to grow for bouquets that I'll have throughout my homes all summer. (And we do the same later in July, choosing spring and summer bulbs to plant in autumn.) I'm lucky to grow enough varieties that I rarely have to supplement my supply with flowers from other sources. And though I love to see what Kevin will create when he works his magic, I do enjoy making my own personal posies when he's not around. Over our many seasons of cutting and arranging together, we've come up with some simple guidelines. I hope they inspire you to fill your home with flowers, too.
First, always use a clean, sharp floral knife, clippers, or shears to snip flowers first thing in the morning, when they're hydrated—or at dusk. Avoid the heat of the day, when they lose water and are more likely to wilt. Cut stems at a 45-degree angle to maximize the surface area, allowing them to easily drink water. And then condition as needed. For example, cut an X in the ends of woody branches like lilac with pruners to enhance water absorption, and keep daffodil stems in water overnight to release toxic calcium oxalate before mixing them with other varieties.
When arranging, always start with clean vessels, and pluck leaves from stems that would fall below the waterline to prevent bacterial growth. Use a frog, floral tape, or the sturdier stems in your grouping to hold all your elements in place. And get creative, too—play with scale and color. Nestle in one big leaf, for example, and pick a palette (go monochromatic or high-contrast). Also mix textures, pairing wispy varieties with smooth ones.
Make bouquets last by adding fresh water and removing wilted or discolored blooms and leaves daily. Keep arrangements out of the sun and away from heat sources. For more tips like these, pick up a copy of the book Kevin and I wrote together: Martha's Flowers ($27.49, target.com).
With flowers so dramatic, you only need a few stems to make a statement. Kevin combined burgundy bearded iris and horse-chestnut leaves (Aesculus) in a 19th-century English glass trumpet vase.
Purple and White
Purple-and-white Rocky Mountain columbine, lime-green Epimedium foliage, and blades of variegated Carex sprout from a pair of golden art-nouveau vases Kevin gave Martha several years ago.
To create an airy, sculptural look, Kevin carefully positioned Oriental poppies and lady's-mantle (Alchemilla) leaves on a flower frog inside a shallow ceramic vessel. To hold the frog in place and protect the vase from getting scratched, he adhered it with adhesive putty. This fleeting tableau will last an evening, but not much longer.
Kevin used a soft palette for this scheme of mauve-and-white ninebark blooms, dark purple smoke-bush leaves and wispy flower sprays, and branches of nodding Japanese snowbell blossoms (Styrax).
Pink peonies pop all on their own: Martha loves to float a few in low brass bowls (on a tray) to showcase their complexity.