October 14, 2011

cutting patch series: creating bouquets and floral arrangements - more guest post inspiration and expertise

Comeoncomeoncomeon, let's get picking those late season blooms: some roses pursuaded into glorious reflowering by our Indian summer, as well as dahlias, cosmos, zinnias, asters, old fashioned carnations, acidantheras, all still flowering away in my garden. enjoying the last of the delicious mild autumn we have been having. I think the cold is on its way, it felt properly chilly this morning, so now is the time to make the most of the last garden picked blooms, before we have to visit the markets and florists for our flowers. The fantastically talented Jaime from the Monkey Flower Group Blog is kindly guest posting here today, and honestly, whether you are using your garden flowers or shop bought ones there is no one more expert and artistic that I can think of to show us how to make the very most of our flowers once they head for a vase! Here she is, (and please pop over to her blog and you will enjoy a feast of inspiration!):

If you have implemented even one tenth of the wonderful guidelines Belinda shared in her online Cutting Patch Course, you are well on your way to growing an abundant garden full of everything you need to make a world class flower arrangement. But if you are anything like me, your neglected, -I mean,er, transitioning - garden might still be a bit light on some materials, particularly larger focal flowers (which Sarah Raven and Belinda refer to as the "brides" of the arrangement). So for the meantime, I've put together a few steps to make the most of your bounty, even if all you have to work with is a bunch of "bridesmaids".

1. Identify your strong points and determine a limited palette

Walk through the garden, take a look at what is most abundant, and let this material set the tone for the arrangement. If like me you find you are working with mostly smaller ("filler" or "bridesmaid" flowers), consider limiting the palette to just a few colors, preferably adjacent on the color wheel. This is a personal choice, of course, but I find that using a lot of different colors and small flowers can make for a bit of a chaotic feeling arrangement.

For example, the most abundant thing in my garden these days is the readily re-seeding annual, borage. So while I might have struggled to pick enough in an edgy palette of purples, pinks, and limey greens, like this . . .

 . . . and still ended up with a bit of a busy feeling arrangement, I opted instead to drop that shocking limey green California fuchsia altogether and focus instead on a more limited palette of pink, lavender, purple, blue, and silvery blue greens, accented with a pop of white:

The above lineup includes buddleia, borage, perennial sweet pea, lavender, pink jasmine, (puny) scabiosa, and ornamental oregano. Later I went out and picked some nepeta, too.

2. Select and prepare your vase

For an arrangement of smaller flowers, I like to use a vase that is interesting be not so much so as to distract from the flowers themselves.

For example, the elevated bowl of this pedestal vase offers interest, but the clear glass keeps it simple and lets the flowers shine:

Unfortunately, the elevated bowl is also very tricky to work in. I struggled with this vase for a while before discovering that stretching chicken wire across the vase's mouth in a concave bowl shape is a huge help. Just cut a strip of galvanized chicken wire (from your local hardware store), parrellel to the twisted segments of the weave (this makes for a more rigid strip of chicken wire than you would have if cutting perpendicular to the twisted segments):

Next, press the chicken wire strip into a concave bowl shape, and secure it to the edges of the vase so that it will sit just at or below the water level. In the following image you can see I use waterproof florists' tape to secure the chicken wire around the entire vase circumference, but I have since transitioned to using heavy duty cotton or silk quilters' thread, which is more secure, biodegradable, and not petroleum based (like the tape). Just loop the thread through two corners of the chicken wire strip, crisscross the thread ends across the bottom of the bowl, loop them through the remaining chicken wire strip corners, and tie them together in a square knot. I find blue or green thread blends in nicely, though it is still slightly visible from some angles.

I'd like to take this opportunity to say what a fan I am of chicken wire! It is an incredibly versatile mechanical aid, easy to use, re-use, store, and eventually recycle (most areas accept it gladly - as scrap metal -  but check with your local agency). However, there are still a few design scenarios which demand the use of floral foam (such as very, very shallow containers); when a client wants something like this, I offer suggestions for alternative designs and explain why I have chosen never to use floral foam. It is petroleum based, impossible to recycle, does not biodegrade, contains two known carcinogenic ingredients (carbon black and formaldehyde), and is classified as a hazardous material by OSHA. The Material Safety Data Sheet for Oasis Floral Foam really drives these points home, so I am grateful that my friend Pilar of Gorgeous and Green in Berkeley posted it for easy viewing here on her blog.

I am also grateful that I am able to make these decisions in my studio, and understand that is not always possible in larger shops where the convenience of floral foam has made it seem almost like a necessity over the years. But I hope little by little the negative externalities of this product will be more widely known, and that someday not using floral foam will no longer be viewed as a luxury. Anyways, I digress . . .

3. Build your arrangement

This is a good place to refer back to earlier posts on the Cutting Patch Course. But I'll also add some general steps.

Start with your abundant filler, taking care to cover the edges of the vase and the chicken wire:

Continue adding other materials in monobotanical groups so as to maximize the impact of the smaller flowers:

Finally, add any vines you may have, looping them around and over the other flowers to soften the edges of the arrangement:

4. Assess and correct the effect of your arrangement

Take a look at your arrangement. How does it make you feel? This is obviously a subjective process, but since you are the designer you get to be the judge. If the feeling is positive, such as "energizing" or "calming", move on to step 5! But if the feeling is more negative, such as "jarring" or "busy", step away for a few minutes before trying some adjustments.

To me, the arrangement (above) felt busy without being energizing, so I decided to try removing the pink sweet pea to focus in on this even more limited palette:

I think this resulted in a much more pleasing, soft, and calm arrangement:

5. Enjoy and share your arrangement

Part of the enjoyment of fresh flowers comes from taking care of them as they age and change. Belinda's Cutting Patch Course offers great advice on how to do this.

Another part of the enjoyment comes from sharing your work with others, so place your finished arrangement somewhere it can be seen thougho ut the day. And if you would like to photograph your flowers and share them with people in other places or at a later time, be sure to get up close and focus on little details which read well in person but get lost in a little photograph:

Best of luck, and have fun!

Jaime Giorgi
Napa, CA


  1. I love this post!! Thanks Belinda and Jaime.

  2. Beautiful and inspiring as well as just darn helpful.
    Adjectives i have come to associate with Jamie and her innovate and fresh floral work.

    Well maybe not darn, but you know what I mean.

    Thank you Belinda and Jamie.

    A wonderful start to a Friday morning.

    xo jane

  3. Thanks so much for this post. I love the chicken wire - which I already have in the shed - and may just try my hand tomorrow with the few remaining flowers that I have.

  4. beautiful arrangement and i LOVE chicken wire!

  5. Great guest post. Love it. I've just bought an old window vase at a car boot sale recently and was wondering how to get the flowers to rest properly in such an odd shape. I'm going to give it a go now, thanks!

    Nicki xx

  6. Jaime, you rock those flowers! Thanks for such a fabulous post, and I think we will all be hunting out some chicken wire! xx

  7. What an absolutely beautiful arrangement! I've been meaning to plant borage in my garden and this has really inspired me!

  8. This is amazing flower arrangement!

  9. It's great that you are getting thoughts from this paragraph as well as from our argument made at this time.
    Check out my weblog : milton keynes driveways

  10. Hi Just came across this post and absolutely love your arrangement. I'm off to get a gorgeous vase like that. But I was just wondering what the beautiful cream and pink flowers are in your last photo? It reminds me of The purple cerinthe flower.


  11. Hi
    just came across this post.

    I absolutely love your arrangement and am going to dash off and find a gorgeous vase like that. I was just wondering what the beautiful cream and pink flowers in your last photo are? They remind me of purple cerinthe.