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 (check!)


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.



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.


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




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.


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.


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:


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.



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.


  • 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.



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


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.


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


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.