September 23, 2011

cutting patch series: creating bouquets and floral arrangements

So, you've grown your gorgeous flowers, picked and conditioned them (see previous Friday posts for details), and now you want to make bouquets to give away or arrangements for your home. I'm hesitating here a sec for a couple of reasons. First, you probably know as well as I do, or better, how to make flowers look nice for your house because I am not formally trained in this, I just watched my mum and grandmothers do it, read a lot, practised a lot, and go with what makes me happy! Also there a few real rights and wrongs with this, just things that can help, and others to avoid, so bear with me if I aim this at beginners and I hope you'll find some useful info along the way.

I went out early into the garden before breakfast (but after a crucial cup of tea!), which is a great time to cut flowers, as they are fully hydrated and at their perkiest.

I took two buckets, one a third full of cool water to put the stems straight into, the other for all the leaves I strip off as I pick. This is just easier and quicker to do whilst picking and doesn't give under water foliage a chance gunk the water and slime up the stems. The biggest enemy of your cut flowers are blocked stems, and the cleanliness of your buckets, secateurs, vases and water is what will keep those stems clear and that way make your flowers as long living as possible. Nerdy but true. And if you have bothered to grow and pick them, you want to enjoy them for as many days as you can, right?

The dew was so heavy, the whole garden looked rather soggy and muted but looking closer there were still lots of lovely flowers, just not much foliage, which is an important but easily forgotten element in bouquets. There were some lovely lilac-y purples, but in the end I went for a mixture of dark dahlias, acidantheras, astrantia, continus foliage and the last of the white scabious flowers plus a few of their seedpods. If my daughter wasn't at home with a throat infection I would have gone up the lane and picked some boughs of blackberries which I think would have really rocked this arrangement - I might add a few tomorrow.

After leaving them to condition for a couple of hours, I put a plastic sheet on my dining table, and put the   flowers in two different buckets - one for the main stars of the show, the other for the foliage and filler flowers. Sarah Raven explains this well by talking about the brides and bridesmaids of an arrangement, and then the foliage and smaller filler flowers in a supporting role. She also refers to gatecrashers - flowers with unexpected colours or shapes or textures thrown into the mix to shake things up a bit - I find these images all helpful to remember. My bride flowers are the dahlias, with acidantheras and anemones and scabious as bridesmades, I have cotinus for foliage and astrantia and scabious pods as small filler flowers. I seared the stems of the dahlias for about 30 seconds in boiling water, it really helps them last longer. If you later snip off the seared bit, you will need to re-sear to gain the same effect.

Florists all have their own way of assembling the flowers for an arrangement, and I really think it is what suits you and feels most natural that is the way to go. It is important to have everything you will need at hand, string, scissors, vases, valium, whisky (KIDDING!) etc because you don't want to have to wander off to find stuff half way through. If you are doing a really simple arrangement, say one type of flower in a vase, a quick re-snip of the stems on an angle and placing them a stem at a time in the vase, tweaking until they look how you want, is about all you will have to do, but do keep taking a few steps back and looking from further away because it makes a huge difference in spotting the stems that are misplaced, or where awkward-looking gaps are. These gaps, where the flowers aren't, are strangely important because they make visual shapes themselves and are part of an arrangements balance. I tend to overcrowd in the garden and in the vase, so it is something I constantly have to remind myself about. Sometimes, these simple arrangements, a few lovely blooms full of colour and scent and interesting shapes, put into an interesting vessel - maybe an enamel jug, glass jar or bottle, even an old tin can can be the most charming of all, and for me totally perfect in a kitchen or bedroom where I don't particularly like anything too fancyschmancy.

If you are making a more varied arrangement, I find it helpful to start with holding a few of my bride flowers in my left hand (I'm right handed), see how I like them to sit together, which colours and textures I want next to eachother, and slowly add stems, turning the growing bunch in my hands to see how it looks from all angles. Some florists like to work with a mirror on the wall, so the reflection can guide their choices too.

When the bouquet is how you think you want it, put it into a vase with a snugly fitting neck, and walk a few steps back from it and take a good hard look. Turn it around and look at the sides and back, even take a photo and look at that. It is amazing what you see missing or looking unbalanced. Tweak as you wish and then tie with garden string if it is for a bouquet - I like to double up the one length of string into a long loop, wrap around the stems, feeding both string ends through the loop, tug tight and then tie each string around the stems, finishing with a knot. Does that make sense?  Snip the stems on the slant so they are of equal length and then wrap with paper/tissue and ribbon as pleases you. Keep in water until you give it away!

If the flowers are for a vase arrangement, I gently place the flowers into the (water filled obvs) chosen vessel and as it all relaxes and splays slightly, I just tweak as necessary. And then do the walking away thing. Check, turn, tweak, you gettit! Some people prefer to place each stem directly into the vase, and build the arrangement that way, and this is necessary if it is really large or requires some type of support such as oasis or chicken wire/ball of netting inside the vase to keep everything in place.

I hope florists reading this aren't groaning in disapproval of my methods, but it is what seems to work easiest for me! I would love to hear your techniques and tips?


  1. Hi Belinda,

    I so enjoy reading your posts about flower arranging and cutting flowers! Wish I could pick my flowers early in the morning, but because we have an allotment, this is not possible.

    Love the bouquet you picked for this post. The Dahlia's have such a pretty colour!

    Hope your daughter will feel better soon!

    Happy weekend,

    Madelief x

  2. I do almost everything you have written here, although I am a bit too obsessive about my arrangements and end up making a hash of them! I think there comes a point when you have to walk away, something I am not so good at :(
    Linda, who has a lovely blog called 'Flowers on my table' mentioned a book, 'Vintage Flowers.. Choosing, Arranging, Displaying' by Vic Brotherson on her last post. It is the most fabulous book, and one I can recommend.
    Thank you for all your tips and beautiful pictures Belinda. You have encouraged me to go now and fill a jug full of flowers.... then WALK AWAY and admire them :)
    Hope you have a lovely weekend. Abby xx

  3. Wow! a total shift in technique for me. I've always just started cutting stems and sticking in a vase... and prayed for "arrangement" when I am done. this is a whole new thought pattern. Can't wait to try it.

    Bachelors' buttons are up (lots of them) and a few other things here and there. Hoping for more in a few days' time. Are you gonna make me thin them?

  4. Your first photo is so gorgeous, soo english garden with it's dappled shade..... I can almost smell that September dewy morning!
    I can't get deep red dahlias over here in RSA - so I have to work with a lot of gatecrashers!

  5. A lovely post Belinda, with a delightful arrangement at the end of it.
    I really love those dark dahlias - sadly mine toppled when the remnants of hurricane Katia went past and are a nightmare to "arrange" (I come from the plop them in a vase school of arranging, so this post is very helpful) as the stems now have more twists and turns than I dont know what!

  6. Hi Belinda, a really useful and thorough description of what to do. Thankyou. Your gorgeous choclatey arrangement is sensational! Have a lovely weekend, love Linda x

  7. Everything about this not only's perfect!! I enjoyed every photo! The colors are truly magnificent...and the variety....gorgeous!!!

  8. This is the post I have been longing for! Thank you so much, Belinda. It's lovely to see pictures of the bouquet growing in your hand.

    Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! Thank you!


  9. How wonderful is this post? You are so talented Belinda and the finished arrangement is stunning. LOVE it. X

  10. Webb, I can hardly bear to thin seedling myself, but it is a good idea if they are very close!

    Abby, I know that feeling, it is hard to know when to stop sometimes! Have just ordered that book from Amazon!

    Thanks for the lovely comments all! xx

  11. BEAUTIFUL, Belinda! And so well written and explained, as always. I am way behind on all my blog reading but am enjoying catching up immensely, especially here on Wild Acre. What loveliness you've been up to!