Flower Tutorial: Simple Foam Arrangement

In this fifth installment of the flower tutorial series, we’ll be going through the steps of creating a large, but technically simple, foam arrangement.

You will need:

  • 2 dozen carnations
  • 2 dozen roses
  • 2 dozen stems of leatherleaf fern
  • 1 block of wet (NOT dry) floral foam*
  • A rectangular container

*When buying or ordering foam, make sure you have foam for live flowers (wet foam) and NOT foam for fake flowers (dry foam). Dry foam is like Styrofoam and you will not be able to use it for live flowers–you won’t even be able to get most flowers into it. Oasis is the most well known brand of floral foam, and you get get it any online floral supply retailer. Regarding craft supply stores, in my experience A. C. Moore only carries dry foam, while Michael’s carries both.

 

Wet Floral Foam

Working with floral foam allows the designer to place flowers in an arrangement exactly where they want them to go, without other support structures. It was invented by people trying to make life jackets, and the floral industry was significantly changed. Before this, florists used wire, frogs, built supports, and used many other methods of controlling flower placement. It is easy, but there are some tricks to know, which we’ll cover throughout this tutorial.

I used a whole brick of foam for this arrangement, as it fit right into the container. You can, however, make this type of arrangement as long as you have a square, rectangle, or other shape of 4 straight sides. If the container you have is smaller than the foam, cut it to size/shape first.

Before arranging, use a large tub or very clean sink to soak your foam. Wet foam is very fragile and dents extremely easily, so always treat it gently.

  • fill the tub or sink with enough water to submerge the foam
  • place the foam in gently on top of the water (do not push it down)
  • wait for it to sink into the water
  • let it sit a few more minutes to ensure that the water has reached the very middle of the brick

One the foam is ready, carefully remove it from the water, let the excess water drip off, and place it in the container. Some people prefer to tape their foam into place, but that wasn’t necessary here. If you wish to do so, or are worried about movement, use waterproof florist tape as shown here:
Greening

The first step to working with foam is to ensure that the foam will not be viewable. The best way to do this is with greens that provide ample coverage. Ferns are a good choice here because it will be large.

When using leatherleaf, which is incredibly common in the floral industry, breaking a stem into smaller pieces is a normal practice. Just size them appropriately for the size of your arrangement. Start with main placements on the four sides, followed by corners. All these placelments should be from the top of the fern stem with the nice triangle shape. Then fill in between with lower stem sections until the rim of the container is covered.

Row 1

 

The lowest row of flowers is carnations. Cut these flowers so that the stem is only a few inches long–usually this will be just above the first joint in the stem (right). Insert them into the front of the foam so that the flower heads sit on top of the fern. Be sure they extend past the foam on the sides. It is important to note that, when using foam, one should avoid pulling flowers out and then reusing the existing hole in the foam. If you do not put the stem in further, there will be an air pocket between the end of the stem and the foam containing water; that flower will not be receiving water.

Row 2

The second row of flowers is roses. Cut the stems a few inches longer than the row of carnations in front, and insert just behind the first row so that the bottom of the rose sits at the top of each carnation.

 

 

Rows 3–6

 

Using the same technique of cutting each row longer, and “stepping” each row up by the height of 1 flower head, alternate each row between carnations and roses. Rows 1, 3, and 5 should be carnations, and Rows 2, 4, and 6 should be roses. If you are using other types of flowers, I recommend using the showier flowers for Rows 2, 4, and 6 for higher impact.

 

Sides

 

The next step is to fill in the sides with carnations, this time stepped, but not a much as the main rows. The aim here is to cover the mechanics (foam) on the side of the arrangement where the rowed flowers rise up and do not cover it. In retrospect, it might have been better to do an odd number of rows, but the arrangements I do are commissioned and I want people to feel their arrangement reflects the cost.

Note that the back of this style of arrangement usually looks rather bare and unfinished; this is fine if no one will really see it. If you prefer, you can add tall ferns and other foliage at the back, as I did below in the finished arrangement.

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Technique

Color

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I definitely chose the flowers that day by color. As you can see here, these light green roses have a pinkish tinge which I thought worked very well with the carnations. The delicacy of the roses with the color and ruffles of the carnations was very pleasing.

 

 

 

Rows

There are several design styles in which rows are very effective, such as pave, an arrangement style where the flowers are all even on a level, effectively “paving” the surface of the container). This is a stepped version especially allows for two different sized flowers to be used. Alternating the flower each row can provide large impact for a centerpiece, or even on a much smaller scale.

 

Covering the Mechanics

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One of the most important things to do in floristry is to cover any unsightly structural mechanics you’ve used, such as foam, wire, or tape. While there are some supports designed to be seen, in most cases they should be hidden. This is usually done with greens or flowers with very covering foliage, and you should plan accordingly when buying your flowers. Larger basket-style arrangements and very large containers often require the most greens, while very small, tight arrangements may not. When unsure, by something just in case. If you end up not using it in an arrangement, you can always do a greens display (with other leftovers, as well) in a suitable container–I tend to use a white vase.

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Flower Tutorial: Large Vase Arrangement

In this floral tutorial (number 4!), we’ll go through the process of making a large, one-sided vase arrangement. One-sided means that all the flowers will be viewed from the front, and this time of arrangement is suitable for locations where the back will not be viewed, such as against a wall.

For this, I used:

  • a large class vase, filled with water and a small amount of bleach
  • 1 dozen garden roses
  • 1 bunch bupleurum
  • 2 bunches scabiosa
  • 1 bunch brunia

 

Green Placement

Use your main greens to fill in the vase. Here, your goal is to provide a structure to support for your flowers and accent greens. Although I really love the look of bupleurum, it’s also a great green for this purpose, as each stem has many smaller branches to provide both volume and height. The closeup (right), show how dense the bupleurum is–a great support for the heavy roses in this design.

Focal Flower Placement

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The next step is to add the focal flowers. In general, it is best to insert flowers in order of stem thickness, and in most cases these are your focal flowers. More than once I have gotten to the last few flowers and cannot insert them because there isn’t enough space.

The best way to insert your focal flowers is to use math: I had 12 roses, so I tried to divide them up evenly throughout the vase. Because people will see the most at the lower front, put more flowers there, especially very pretty or unusual ones that will be nicer to look at. Anything less sightly should go in the back. Measure stems against the vase to see where they should be cut.

Filler Flower Placement

Here, both the brunia (with the pale berries) and scabiosa (pink and purple flowers) are fillers. However, the brunia stems were quite thick, so they went in first (left). Finally, the scabiosa are distributed (mostly evenly) in areas that provide interest and break up the paler colors.

Finished Arrangement

This is one of my favorite arrangements of the last few months with the soft colors and ruffly textures. It looks very lush and full.

Technique

Color

In many places, I tried to pair up the two colors of scabiosa (1 pink, 1 purple). This arrangement has vary solid filler flowers, so this created a larger punctuation of color to create more impact against the roses, which were very large.

 

Numbers

Here, numbers were used to distribute the roses throughout the arrangement, instead of with blocking as in the last tutorial. More were focused at the bottom edge of the vase than at the very back.

 

Edges

The use of the edge of a container can help set the mood or type of arrangement. Here, the lowest rose sits partially below the edge of the vase, breaking up the round curve. This further softens the arrangement and adds interest. It can also add to the idea, as here, that the flowers are so full that they are “bursting” out of the vase, which I often like.

Flower Tutorial: Simple Vase Arrangement

For our third installment, we’ll tackle a simple vase arrangement before going on to a large one. For this, I used:

  • 1 bunch snapdragons
  • 1 bunch pin cushion protea
  • 1 stem baby’s breath
  • vase with 4-inch mouth

 

Preparing the vase

To prepare your vase, make sure it is clean (washed with dishsoap and bleach). Fill 2/3 up with water, and add up to 1/2 teaspoon of bleach. This will help prevent bacteria from forming in the water. A little will not hurt the flowers, but too much will kill them, so be sparse.

 

Flower placement

As with any vase arrangement, the order in which you place the flowers is important. Because there are no greens here, I  have placed the protea in first, at the lip of the vase. One of the common mistakes I see is starting with flowers much taller than the vase. This will frustrate you quickly, so start with something that provides support and structure.

How did I know how long the stems should be? As in the picture, below, I have held the flowers next to the vase, and used it as a guide. I did it with the snapdragons also, as seen here. Gather the entire bunch into your hand, and measure it next to the vase. Taking very sharp scissors or pruning shears, cut across the bunch. This will make the entire bunch the same height.

Place the entire bunch of snapdragons behind the protea in the vase. They will hold them in place. You can see that I have cut them so that the snapdragon blooms appear above the protea flowers. Turn any stems where the top curve makes an unpleasing line so that it is in the same area as the others.

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This is a simple, elegant design on its’ own, and does not require further flowers or ornamentation if you prefer it this way.

 

Further ornamentation

If you this looks unfinished to you, you can of course add further flowers or ornamentation. In this case, the roses I used that day came with a stem of very healthy baby’s breath, so I didn’t want to throw it away. Here, I have broken it down and added the pieces between the protea and snapdragons.

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You may also add ribbon, stone or glass vase fillers, decorative wire, or whatever else you may have on hand.

 

Technique

Color

The inspiration for this design came while I was doing my shopping. This particular color of snapdragons is a favorite of mine, and I thought that the protea went very well with it. Pink, yellow, and orange are close to each other on the color wheel and create aspects of blending in the arrangement.

Blocking

By placing all the like flowers together–protea in front, baby’s breath in the middle, and snapdragons at the back, I have used a blocking technique by flower type. This is a great way to make a bold statement with simpler, more elegant designs, and can be done with color as well as flower type.

Numbers

In this type of arrangements, where the focal flowers are quite obvious, a general rule followed by most florists is to use an odd number of flowers. It is aesthetically more balanced and therefore pleasing to the eye. While the number of snapdragons in this arrangements isn’t relevant, it would look quite ungainly with two or four protea instead rather than three.

 

This one-sided arrangement is of medium size, and is well suited to tables or counters where it may sit close to the wall.

Flower Tutorial: Cleaning

In this flower tutorial installment, we’ll walk through the process of cleaning the flowers.

 

If possible, get your flowers and clean them the day before you will be designing with them. The place I get flowers closes before I get home from work on week days, so I go directly to church; cleaning is the first thing I do when I arrive. My setup looks like this:

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You’ll note I have protected the counter where I’ll be laying out the flowers with towels. Do not use them for anything else afterward. The tools I’ll need are included. To the right is a dolly (a turning platform), a box of decor and other tools, and the vases I’ve chosen. It can be difficult if you have to go get something in the middle of designing, and with some styles you simply can’t.

 

Bunches

Grower’s bunches come with different types of packaging, depending on where they’re from. What I get most usually comes in a plastic sleeve with rubber bands, as shown above. Bunches of 2 dozen roses include cardboard and paper between layers; some stems come in water tubes.

Cut the rubber bands and open the plastic. It’s easiest to open it along the seam.

 

Foliage and Damage

For most types of flowers, you will want to remove foliage. The general rule is to remove anything which will fall below the water in your bucket or vase. If you will be designing right away, also remove any foliage you don’t want in the final arrangement. Here, I have removed all but the first two or three sets of leaves at the top of the stem.

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  • Leave as much foliage on mums as possible
  • Remove any damaged foliage
  • Remember that for most flowers, some foliage will help it drink before designing, but leaving all of it on will take water away from the flowers.

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As with foliage, remove any flowers or petals that are moldy or damaged. Sometimes the results are pretty and can be used, as with this scabiosa flower. Sometimes the outer or “guard” petals of roses are ugly, and these can also be removed. If they’re pretty, leave them on.

 

Flowers which wilt easily

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These scabiosa flowers came with plastic tubing on the stem. This tells me that they are prone to wilting and need support. It can be removed by opening it and taking it off, or  sliding it down the flower stem. You can, however, design with it on if you choose.

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Usually, the cause of wilting is trapped air in the flower stem. After being cut from the plan, flowers are usually in and out of water several times before they reach you. This means that air is often trapped between water in the stem of the flower with no way out. For flowers like this, which include gerbera daisies and tulips, take a pin and pierce through the stem just under the flower. This will release the air and allow water to travel up the stem as intended.

 

Breaking down branching plants

For flowers or plants with a lot of branches and fanning out, such as baby’s breath, limonlium, or statis, you can take this opportunity to break down the stem into sections of more usable parts. I find this especially helpful when I already know what kind of arrangement I’m planning to make. I have bupleurum above, and broke several of the stems into smaller pieces.

 

The final cut

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When you are finished removing foliage and bad parts, give the stem a fresh cut at least 1 inch above the end of the stem. If the stems are very long, several inches off will increase water intake. Cut the stem at an angle. This will also help it drink. Once cut, the stem will seal in about 10 seconds, so get it back into water as soon as you make the cut. If you made an end cut earlier while cleaning, do another just before putting it in water.

  • Always use the sharp blade when cutting flowers of any sort. Using a dull blade with crush the stem and prevent it from drinking.

Other notes

  • Lilies
    • bruise extremely easily, so I recommend cutting the stems, but not removing them from packaging until you are at your designing space. This will keep them protected from bumps and scrapes.
    • remove the pollen pod from any open lilies before designing. Once the pollen pods fall, they will stain anything they touch.carn
  • If you are cutting non-branching stems with sections, such as the  carnation to the right, cut just above the notch of the section you want to remove.
  • Some flowers, like orchids, often come in water tubes. Remove the stem from the tube, remove any spent or damaged flower, cut, and put in a vase with water. There is no need to design with the tube unless the stem will not reach the water source of your arrangement.
  • Large mums, sunflowers, and gerberas often come with special netting over the flower heads to protect them. Cut these with scissors and carefully remove. Mums can be fluffed open after removal of netting.
  • Some flowers require special care, and these will usually come with special packaging. Most flowers can be well treated with the information above.

 

I know that’s a lot of information, but hopefully helpful. Please leave comments if you have questions or helpful hints of your own.

Writing Exercise: Unfinished

Yumiko had a hard time, sometimes, when Eiry would mention something about Tally. Although they’d got along so well, and she’d liked him so much, she’d really only known him for such a short time–a matter of months. He had been instrumental in boosting her career, but even years later she’d suddenly learn the way he ate a certain things, or the nuances of his personality.

Yes, he was dead, but she worked with his best friend. Eiry had become her mentor, naturally. And so her relationship with him wasn’t over, and wouldn’t be for a very long time.