Everyone I know who grows flowers likes to bring them into the house, at least every once in a while. Fresh flowers always look great for the first few days, so it’s hard to imagine what all the fuss is about when people go on about the art and science of flower arrangement. Although, it becomes clear that they had a point a few days later as flowers flop over, petals start dropping and the water clouds up and smells like a musty swamp.
As you might expect, the most important part of a beautiful, lasting bouquet is healthy flowers. Annuals are inexpensive when purchased in packs in the spring. An even more affordable option is to start a few from seed in the spring. A few good choices that hold up well are: zinnias, cosmos and dahlias. Of course, perennials such as roses, peonies, Queen Anne’s lace, coneflower and black-eyed Susans also make great arrangements.
Before you cut anything, be sure your tools are clean and sharp. While it is very romantic to think about strolling around cutting and placing each flower in a basket, don’t do it, because each one will start drying out the minute it’s snipped. Instead, carry a clean container of water with you and put the cut flowers in there as you go. (Don’t use a metal container if you’re going to use flower food because the two can sometimes react.)
Once you have all the flowers you’d like, take them inside and clean all of the foliage off the part of the stem that will be below the waterline. Otherwise, that foliage will be a breeding ground for the bacteria that fouls up the water. As you go, return each flower to the water.
After you’ve chosen a vase, arrange your flowers like the pros by thinking of your design as having layers of colors and textures, rather than looking like a top-heavy ice cream cone. The trick to this is to insert flowers at a variety of angles as you go to create a wider, horizontal look. Most designers accomplish this by using some kind of underwater grid to hold the flowers in place. Florists sell pieces for this purpose, or you can use woody branches and twigs from your garden.
Whatever you use for structure, place each structural piece in a random manner. The more you add, the more structure you’ll have. If you have an opaque vase, you can cheat by using a bit of floral foam and sticking stems into that (florists do it all the time). When you’re done, add water and plant food, according to package instructions. If you’ve picked the flowers from your garden and don’t have plant food on hand, don’t rush to the floral shop. Just keep the water fresh and clean by changing it every two to three days.
Final Tips for Keeping Your Flowers Fresh
- Make flowers last by changing the water regularly, usually every two to three days.
- Avoid disturbing your design by putting the sink nozzle into the top of the vase and flushing out the old water before replacing it with new.
- Remember to add plant food and discard faded flowers with each water change. If you don’t want to use chemicals to prolong the life of your flowers, you can try these natural alternatives: adding a penny and an aspirin to the water or adding a combination of 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice + 1 tablespoon sugar + ½ teaspoon bleach per quart of water. Like the commercial food, these options are designed to kill bacteria, yeasts and fungi while helping water move up the stem and give the flower the sugary food it needs.
Traveling Bouquet Tips
Planning to take a fresh-cut bouquet to a sweetie, friend or event? Run the air conditioner in your car while you drive to help keep flower from wilting in the heat. (Notice how florists always keep fresh flowers in coolers.) Be sure your vase has plenty of fresh water and keep flowers away from open windows. If you’re walking on a hot day, shield your flowers from the sun with an umbrella.
Meleah Maynard is a master gardener and Minneapolis freelance writer.
The Judith Blacklock Encyclopedia of Flower Design by Judith Blacklock. Flower Press 2006.
Sensational Bouquets by Christian Tortu: Arrangements by a Master Floral Designer by Corine Delahaye and Sylvai Thomas. Harry N. Abrams 2001.
Wisteria Design Minneapolis, Minnesota 612-332-0633 wisteriadesign.com