It’s a handy thing to know a talented floral designer or two. Last week, my friend Lisa Przystup of James’s Daughter Flowers came over to play with some spring flowers. The day happened to be unseasonably blustery and cold and a hit of springtime was exactly what we needed.
While I tend to be a stick-a-branch-in-a-bottle-and-call-it-a-day kind of woman, I like to occasionally dabble in the more complex art of flower arranging and I really love watching a floral designer at work. One minute you’re chatting away, the next minute there’s a mini masterpiece sitting in front of you.
In case any of you have a hankering for a bit of sunshine and flowers, I asked Lisa to share a few of her best tips for those of us interested in dabbling in the fine art of floral arranging.
On choosing a vessel:
Lisa implores us: “Guys: you don’t need fancy vases to make a pretty arrangement. There are a plethora of vessels kicking around in your home just waiting to be repurposed: mugs (yes, mugs), old jam jars/mason jars/honey jars (basically, any jar you’re about to toss into the recycle bin), small deep bowls, pitchers…the list goes on an on.”
The key to a great flower arranging vessel is this: “the wider the mouth of the vessel the larger you can build out your arrangement—a smaller mouth will limit the number of stems you can fit.”
When Lisa first began arranging, she thought she had to buy a huge vase to build a larger arrangement, but she explains that “the reality is that you can actually build out a pretty decent size arrangement using smaller vessels.”
For reference, the mug in this post is tankard mug from Bennington Potters. Its mouth is three inches wide and it stands four inches tall.
On keeping flowers in place:
Successful flower arranging takes a little bit of smoke and mirrors in the form of hidden support. The armature is a term florists use to describe the solid base that fits inside your vase and provides structure for your arrangement. It’s a key element in these kind of arrangements and happily the supplies needed to make one are relatively humble. Lisa suggests two ways to make an armature, depending on the type of vessel you’re using.
+ Solid vessel? Chicken wire to the rescue. Lisa suggests ducking into your local floral/garden supply store (or placing an order online) to get yourself some coated chicken wire and a pair of wire cutters. Next step? “Cut a small square of the chicken wire and fashion it into a loose ball. You want it to be small enough to fit into the bottom of the vessel of your choice but large enough that it won’t be knocking around loose at the bottom.” She says not to worry if the chicken wire ball is too big: “You can squish the wire to make it fit. The idea is to have a snug fit so the flowers don’t shift.”
+ Clear vessel? Lisa suggests making a tape grid. “You can use Scotch tape to create a grid pattern across the top of the vase that will help give your flowers structure and a place to live.”
Lisa used a pair of wire cutters to trim a square of coated wire and shape it into a ball.
On making an arrangement budget friendly:
Flowers are expensive. But Lisa explains that there’s no need to spend an enormous amount in order to make a pretty arrangement: “When I first started learning about flowers I didn’t have the budget (or the gigs) to justify heading to the flower market to buy wholesale. But I still wanted to learn and play with pretty blooms. My solution was this: head to the bodega (or grocery store) and buy some affordable flowers and then head to my local speciality flower shop and buy 5-6 stems of some special, more obscure blooms. That way I could satisfy my yearning to work with those top-drawer stunners while learning how to maximize the beauty of regular everyday flowers. You can also use your own backyard as a source—springtime brings all sorts of flowering branches that add a lot of drama and impact to an arrangement. (Hint: you’ll need a pair of clippers.)”
We stopped into a neighborhood flower shop to pick up a few special stems: pale pink sweet peas, the most gorgeous sherbet-colored garden roses, and a spray of spirea to give the arrangement some shape.
Then we found a variety of more affordable flowers from a neighborhood bodega: pink hyacinths, traditional white roses, and yellow freesia.
Lisa ended up using ferns that the bodega included with the white roses to fill out the arrangement.
On choosing a color palette:
Lisa suggests keeping the schemes simple, especially as you get started. She suggests sticking to one or two color families and taking a look around the internet at floral arrangements that you like. Paying attention to the color schemes used in arrangements that you like can help give you a sense of what works well.
For this arrangement Lisa stuck with spring-y pastels: pale pinks and peaches with a pop of yellow and some white.
On Longevity + Life Expectancy:
To prepare stems for maximum longevity, Lisa suggests cutting them at an angle to help increase the amount of surface the stem has to take in water. To further preserve your delicate blooms, she suggests “keeping your arrangement out of direct sun and making sure the water levels are high enough that all the stems are reaching their life source.”
Most important: “Remember that flowers are ephemeral beauties. I’ve had flowers last a full week (on the long end) and three days (on the short end). The sad reality is that these lovely things are perishable items. The moment they’re cut they are dying. Appreciate their fleeting presence in your life. If you’re making an arrangement for, say, dinner, make it the day of to enjoy the blooms at their maximum freshness then keep them around after and enjoy all the stages of their beauty.”
Lisa Przystup is a freelance writer and the sometimes-florist behind James’s Daughter Flowers.