Flower Tutorial: Flowers & Produce

While looking for interesting ideas for Easter arrangements this year, I saw quite a few ideas involving either fruit or vegetables. That quickly became the theme, and I’m rather pleased with how it turned out. Here, we’ll discuss several types of arrangements involving fruits and vegetables.

Around the Arrangement

One of the easiest ways to incorporate produce is to cover the outside or inside of the vase with produce. If you’re going for inside, whole or sliced citrus fruits are quite striking.

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If you’re going for the outside, a long, thin vegetable such as pea pods or scallions can be lined around the outside of the vase and tied with string, such as this vase of tulips lined around the outside with scallions.

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In the Arrangement

There are many ways to include produce in the arrangement itself. Branches of fruit can be inserted in foam or placed in vase arrangements, while many fruits or vegetables can be picked and placed in foam arrangements.

 

 

The arrangement on the left is based on foam, and the fruit is also supported by the compote dish used. On the right, carrots and scallions have been placed in a vase, and the carnations are supported by a bunch of parsley.

Things like apples, citrus, and artichokes can be picked. This is done by inserting a floral pick (often wood) into the piece and securing the other end into the foam. Using a floral glue such as Oasis Floral Adhesive or Flora Bond around the entry site into the fruit can be used as an extra measure for both security and the leakage of juices from the produce.

 

As the Container

By far, the most showy way to use fruit is often as the “vase” or container itself. Examples include lettuces, melons, squashes, or pineapples. For our Easter display, I chose a purple cabbage, and a small watermelon. Although both worked out, getting them ready for use was quite different.

 

 

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The cabbage was much more difficult, requiring a sharp knife and fork once I got down to the brain-like layers. The watermelon was incredibly easy. Once hallowed out, I cut floral foam to fit, soaked it, and lined it with plastic wrap to keep any bacteria from getting into it. Because the spaces were a bit small, especially for the cabbage, I left a fair amount of foam above the top so that there was room to work with.

At this point, I designed as normal, although being extra careful not to pull anything out and replace it was important due to the space available.

 

 

If you’re looking to something smaller, or rather diminutive, arranging some flowers in citrus fruits is a good choice. For this, I used water tubes cut down to size as a water source for the flowers. While I have seen images of flowers simply stuck into the flesh of the fruit, I haven’t tested it to see if it will kill the flower due to the high acidity levels.

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Here, I used oranges, lemons, and limes. It was very helpful to cut a flat surface on the bottom side of each fruit for stability. Most of the flowers were large enough to cover the tube ending, and these worked very well.

 

Overall, citrus and watermelon are the easiest things to use, although the citrus is probably the most versatile thing I’ve worked with. However, all create stunning arrangements that encourage comment.

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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.

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: 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.

Flower Tutorial: Buying Flowers

I buy my flowers at a flower market, and arrive with a bucket of water for transport. This was a clean 5 gallon bucket with 4 to 5 inches of cold water before use. It should be cleaned with dish soap and a little bleach if you have it, and thoroughly rinsed before adding water. Avoid leaving the flowers out of water for any length of time, even if you live close to the market.

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When choosing flowers, there are a few things to consider:

  • Availability
  • Your intended design
  • Color pallete
  • Flower age and condition
  • Budget

 

Availability

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You will first be limited by the flowers and foliage available. Showing up and seeing what they have in stock that day builds both creativity and adaptability. While I may have something in mind, I am forced to make alternative choices if they don’t have what I want. I am also forced to be creative by building a set of flowers on the spot.

Sometimes you can simply substitute flowers for what you wanted; in some cases you’ll end up going back to the drawing board when they have something you really want to use instead. It’s often good practice to walk around and see everything that is available before beginning to choose  your flowers.

 

Design

If you have a particular type of design in mind, it can sometimes require certain types of flowers. Foam and large vase designs generally require greens–there are foliage like ferns, salal, and leaves that are used to (1) cover your mechanics without spending far too much on flowers and (2) provide a base structure in a vase to keep your flowers in place.

Another element of design is whether you want a smooth surface to the finished arrangements, or taller flowers which appear over shorter ones. If you want a smoother surface, you should buy flowers that are of similar size and shape. If you want much more variety in height or texture, mix different shapes and sizes, and include some spiky flowers like snapdragons or solidego.

 

Color Pallete

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The easiest thing to do is to start with the focal flower that you want to use–something large that will be the star of the show. Choose flowers and foliage with colors you think look nice with it. I often hold bunches of different flowers together to see what they will look like.

There is no right or wrong with flowers. Sometimes I choose all purples; other times, I choose 6 colors. One can explore a particular color, such as shades of red, play with two very bold colors, or go for the rainbow.

If you are interested in color theory, this video is a great place to start.

 

Age and Condition

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It is extremely important to check on the condition of the flowers you want to use. Some flowers, like statis or limonium are prone to grow mold. Old carnations will split down the side of the flower head, as seen in the image to the right. Check for these things, and that most of the flowers or buds seem fresh. If most of a bunch is brownish or wilted, skip it.

With roses, lightly pinch the flower head to see how tight it is. The tighter, the fresher. Do not buy full blown roses or lilies, as they will not last more than a few days. Instead, go for more closed roses and lilies with a lot of buds, and you can watch them bloom throughout the week.

 

Budget

Your other major consideration when choosing which flowers to buy will be your budget. Depending on the season, you may get a lot or only a few bunches. Sometimes you will have to buy less flowers and change the design plan you had. The one thing you should always make room in the budget for is some kind of greens or foliage. Pick it up first if it helps.

On the other hand, if you are doing very small arrangements, you might decided to get orchids or expensive roses where only 1 or two stems will go into a vase.

 

Those are the basic components of choosing your own flowers at a flower market. Remember, this is the kind of thing where you simply learn what works for you as you go. If you have different experiences than me, please share!

Flower Tutorial Introduction

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As anyone who follows by blog may notice, I dabble in the art of floral design. Since I’ve done many writing tutorials, I thought it might be nice (and informative!) to do flower tutorials, as well. Normally, my task is to prepare the altar flowers for church. Usually I do an altar arrangement and at least one smaller arrangement for placement elsewhere, such as on the Welcome center, or the main doors. For this series, I’ll break up the process in the first 4 tutorials as:

  • Buying and transporting flowers
  • Cleaning your flowers
  • A simple vase arrangement
  • A large vase arrangement

Then I’ll add others as I do different types of designs and techniques. If there is anything in particular you’d like to see or have questions about, please let me know in the comments section.

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Stay tuned for the first installments over the next couple of weeks!