Rooms with blooms

() - March 15, 2003 - 12:00am
Fresh flowers are a joyous and uplifting addition to any home. There was a time when cut flowers were only available in florists and were considered something of a luxury. Nowadays, they are available at affordable prices from all sorts of convenient places – supermarkets, garden centers, your corner shop and even garage forecourts. You won’t find the same breadth of choice in all these places, of course, and some of the more unusual and exotic flowers will only be available in florists. Howver, it’s nearly possible to find stalwarts such as roses, chrysanthemums, carnations, tulips and lilies anywhere where flowers are sold. None of the arrangements on this page (and the following pages) is expensive and in many cases, they use only a few stems, making them as economical as they are beautiful.

Worry less about choosing flowers which you think will match your décor than about choosing flowers you love and will enjoy living with. If you like the way they look, that’s good enough. If you’re unsure where to start, use white flowers or foliage alone, either of which will look good in any interior.

A few stems are often enough to make a focal point if you choose flowers with impact such as lilies (Lilium), alliums (Allium), African lilies (Agapanthus), orchids (Orchidaceae family) or delphiniums (Delphinium). Using an odd number of stems tends to give a better effect than an even number.

Think twice before you throw out bottles, jars or anything else which could be used to hold flowers.

Most of the arrangements use a single variety of flower in a single color, a method which is both simple and stylish. If you want a mixed arrangement, you can, of course, buy separate bunches and combine them yourself. If you’re not that confident, try buying a ready-mixed bunch from a florist. If it’s been hand tied, you’ve got an instant arrangement, so don’t make the mistake of untying it – it’ll look much better if you just put it in a container as it is.

If you’re using a mixture of containers, keep one element of continuity to prevent the effect being that of a jumble. In this instance, all the bottles are clear glass and are tall and narrow. A collection of blue glass bottles, teacups, jam jars or white ceramic containers in different shapes could look equally effective.

One of the easiest ways to arrange flowers is to cut the stems so that the heads sit just above the rim of the container. This also makes a small bunch look bigger than it is.

Although you shouldn’t be inhibited by any notions of flower-arranging rules, a couple of basic guidelines may help you when you’re getting started. Large vases with wide necks usually need large arrangements to look their best. You’ll get away with a sparser arrangement if a vase is large but narrow necked, or if it’s tall but narrow. A round pot usually looks best with a full, dome-shaped bunch.

If you’re experimenting with flower arranging for the first time, start with material from your garden or the less expensive bunches stocked by supermarkets so that if you make mistakes they won’t be expensive ones.
Vases And Equipment
To have and to hold: Finding the right container for a flower display is as important as the arrangement itself. With a bit of imagination, almost anything can be put to stylish use. Vases can, of course, be expensive but beautiful designer pieces should last a lifetime and can make a big statement in a room. There are, however, a host of cheaper alternatives which, with the right flowers and foliage, can look just as effective. Vintage containers have great charm and can often be picked up in junk shops or at jumble sales and car boot sales – usually fruitful hunting grounds. You may have the opportunity to rummage in relatives’ attics or cupboards, and a quick scout round your own home will probably yield olive oil, water, wine, ginger ale or even scent bottles, as well as teacups, glass jars and odd tumblers. All of these can be put to creative use.

Bitter sweet:
You don’t need specialist materials to create striking displays – a raid on the kitchen provided the starting point for this one. Though hardly a classic combination, chocolate-brown coffee beans and blowsy, ivory Anne Marie roses (Rosa) look surprisingly effective together. The contrast in texture and color adds a touch of drama. The roses are trimmed to the height of a small glass vase (a jam jar would also work well) and grouped into a tight cluster. They’re then placed in a larger, square vase and the space between the two containers is filled with beans. This vase within a vase technique can be used with many other materials, from pebbles and glass nuggets to dried pulses and even slices of fresh fruit.

Taking shape:
Containers come in all shapes and sizes. Getting the right balance between the shape of your container and the shape of your flowers is a crucial element in an arrangement. For instance, if you’ve got a tall, narrow container, combining it with long-stemmed flowers makes a very exaggerated, emphatic statement. However, arranging flowers so that the heads form a lollipop effect above the rim of a tall vase creates a softer look. Even with very small containers such as teacups, there’s scope for variety: Compare a single poppy anemone (Anemone coronaria De Caen Group) with a tight posy of roses (Rosa).

Quirky, unusual containers may inspire you to create living sculptures with your flowers, such as a tightly bound tower of narcissi (Narcissus) or a ring-shaped vase with an asymmetric formation of aspidistra leaves (Aspidistra). Large, cylindrical vases or goldfish bowls allow you to experiment with effects which are designed to be viewed through the glass, such as floating cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus). The secret is to experiment and have fun doing it.

Color therapy:
A container can either contrast with or complement its contents. Some containers seem to cry out for a particular flower. Taking a different approach, orange gerberas (Gerbera) can be placed on blue-black plates for a deliberate color counterpoint. The lilac-pink sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) in a pale green vase are also a contrasting combination, but a far gentler one. For the greatest flexibility, clear glass or white ceramic are neutral backdrops which work with any color. Galvanized pots are also versatile, while black containers add drama and usually work best with a strong color – such as red – or, of course, white.

You need very little paraphernalia to reproduce these arrangements. However, a few easily obtainable items will be useful. Sharp kitchen scissors cut most plant stems and secateurs will deal with anything tougher, such as branches of blossom. Florist’s wire is useful for tying and binding, but raffia or garden twine will often do instead. Pebbles can be used in table decorations or to top dress pots and can be bought from home improvement stores or garden centers. Pin holders, available from florists, are an old-fashioned but effective device for anchoring plant stems. Finally, although it’s not used in these arrangements, florist’s foam is also handy for anchoring plant stems, particularly in shallow containers.

New leaf:
Leaves can be just as beautiful as flowers and are a subject matter for arrangements in their own right. Garden trees and shrubs provide a rich source of material for arrangements. Look out for branches with interesting shapes. Sprigs of leaves can also be used. With a little imagination, almost any plant or, indeed, container can be used.
Flower Care And Conditioning
• When you’re buying flowers, take the time to make sure that those you’re choosing are of good quality, with healthy foliage and strong stems, so that they will give you a beautiful display for the maximum amount of time. This is particularly important with very simple arrangements, when the flowers really have to speak for themselves.

• Flowers which are in bud when bought or harvested from the garden will give the longest display and will also give you the pleasure of watching them come into full bloom. Commercially grown flowers are usually especially treated to prolong their lifespan. Most fresh flowers should last five days or more and those available in supermarkets are often guaranteed to bloom for a certain number of days.

• If you’re buying flowers from a florist, don’t be afraid to ask for advice – they ought to be knowledgeable about their stock and happy to help with any queries you may have.

• If you’re cutting flowers from your own garden, carry a container of water around with you into which you can immediately plunge the cut stems. This will prevent them drying out before you get them inside and into their own vase or container.

• Remember that with annual flowers, the more you harvest them, the more blooms they’ll produce, so don’t be afraid to cut them regularly. You may even want to grow some plants especially for arrangements in the house. If you’re an inexperienced gardener, choose packets of seed labelled "hardy annual," which can be sowed straight into the soil following the instructions on the packet.

• When you get your cut flowers home, take at least 1 cm (1/2 inch) off the bottom of the stems with a pair of sharp scissors, cut on an angle to help maximize their absorption of water.

• Before arranging your flowers, give them a good, long drink in deep water to firm up the stems and help them to last longer – they’ll absorb half the water they need in the first 24 hours.

• If you’re using material with woody stems, such as branches of blossom, smash the ends with a hammer or rolling pin to help them to take up water. – Reprinted from Simple chic flowers

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