Basic flower preserving techniques and tools

Cut off the dead heads of flowers such as Irises and Lupins to encourage the other buds to open.

Mimosa (also known as Wattle) lasts longer if it is sprayed twice a day.

Cut Peonies as soon as their petals begin to open and give them a long drink in deep warm water before arranging them.

Polyanthus (which are called Primrose in the United States) last better if you cut their stems short and arrange them in a massed posy.

If you char the stalks of Poppies over a flame before arranging them it will discourage them from fading.

Tulips only drink from the green part of their stems, so cut off any white portion at the bottom of the stem. Remember, too, that Tulips have one peculiar habit: if they can see themselves in a mirror they straighten up. This is useful if you are trying to get rid of a droop in their stems, but disconcerting if you have deliberately arranged them falling over a low container.

Violets last better if they are floated in tepid water for an hour or so before being arranged.

Wallflowers will die quickly if you cut them with long stems, so always cut their stems off short.

Large-headed varieties of Zinnia can have a wire pushed down the middle of the flower into the stem. This will stop the stem bending with the weight of the flower-head.

You can, of course, manage without all the equipment listed below. A bunch of Daisies will look attractive if you simply pop it into a pretty jug. And one or two Roses in a long narrow glass can look lovely. But it is worth collecting a certain amount of basic equipment so that you are well-prepared to tackle an important, somewhat more carefully thought-out, arrangement for a special occasion.

Flower scissors

These are invaluable and well worth their initial cost. Flower scissors are sawedged and not only will they cope with the toughest stem in the garden but they also cut with ease through florists’ wire and chicken wire.

Mesh or chicken wire

This is available from most florists’ shops. The two inch mesh wire is best for most arrangements and buy the plastic-covered variety, if possible, as it does not rust. Cut it to approximately twice the width and twice the height of the container, then crumple it so that it stands above the top of the container in a central dome, leaving a few inches to fit securely over the edge of the container. Once fixed, it can be left permanently in place. When you first encounter chicken wire it can be difficult to judge the exact amount needed and the extent to which it should be crumpled. Use too much and the flowers will not fit in; use too little and it slips around in the container and gives an unstable arrangement. Aim at three layers of crumpled wire in all, with the holes evenly spaced.

Thin reel wire

You can get spools of this wire from most florists. (Or, alternatively, you could use thick fuse wire.) It can be used to anchor the chicken wire around the rim of the container, or – as, for example, when the arrangement needs certain blooms to stand in a cluster – to bind together several flower stems. Do be careful not to strangle the flowers by binding the wire too tightly.

Florists’ wire

This stiff, yet pliable, wire can be bought in 7-10 inch lengths. It is invaluable for wiring individual flowers.


A pin-holder is made up of a base with a lot of nail heads protruding from it. They can be bought in a variety of shapes and sizes, and sit in the bottom of the vase providing an anchor for heavy stems. It is worth securing the pin-holder to the bottom of the vase with plasticine to prevent it from shifting around and allowing your arrangement to topple over. If by some misfortune you find you have flowers with stems too short for a particular container, fill the bottom of the container with sand or wet newspaper, sit the pin-holder on this false base and continue from there. The pin-holder makes it possible for the flowers to drink – direct contact with sand or newspaper might well prevent this.

Flower tubes

These elongated tubes or metal cones (which are sometimes known as water- pies) are useful for bringing individual flowers up to a required height in big formal arrangements for churches or receptions. The tube is fitted into the chicken wire, filled with water, and the {lowers put into it. When the other

Plastic foam

A plastic substance (Oasis or Florapak, for example) is now often substituted for chicken wire, and is useful for a precious piece of silver which you do not want to scratch or stain. Line the container with aluminium foil and cut a piece of plastic foam to fit (it cuts with an ordinary kitchen knife). Soak the foam thoroughly before use. The flowers are inserted into it – if necessary, make holes for soft stems with a skewer and absorb moisture from it. Remem-ber, you still need to top up the arrangement with water.

Try not to think only in terms of ‘vases’, for there are few things which do not make pretty containers for flowers. Collect a variety of shapes, sizes and materials. The one thing to remember is that the base of the container must be in proportion to the top, otherwise your arrangement will be top-heavy and liable to fall over. You can use every sort and shape of jug (blue and white, plain white, or white and gold china always seem to show off flowers well); old tea-pots; copper cooking pans; glasses of every shape and size; plain cylinders of white china; soup tureens; gravy boats, and blue glass chemists’ jars. Heavy-based wine bottles and other bottles of good shape are also useful – provided the glass is a suitable colour. Even old egg cups can be used for miniature arrangements. Tall cylinders in plain glass are good for Daffodils, Narcissi, Tulips and Poppies-the lovely stem shapes in the water are a great part of the charm of an arrangement. The glass must, of course, be kept sparkling clean. Any little water mark can generally be scrubbed away, or made to disappear by bleaching. You need tall jars or jugs for large scale groups which stand on the floor – branches of flowering shrubs, or the tall dried subjects like Angelica, Artichokes and Teasels. Old cream and brown storage jars are excellent for this as they are heavy and not easily knocked over. Teapots are useful for Roses or annual mixtures, and tiny cups and glasses are ideal for individual posies to go on invalid trays, or to put by each table setting for a dinner party. Many feastlike meals have been ruined by the guests having to peer around a tall and splendid central arrangement, so keep the table decorations long and low, or put by each place a wine glass containing a posy, or a single gorgeous Peony or Rose.

Subdued colours like those of lovely old faded porcelain are best for flower containers. There is, of course, also a place for black pottery or matt metal, deep dark green and dark blue china and coloured glass (particularly green and blue). Care has to be taken that the container is not so bright and colourful that it dominates the flowers. It should be the perfect foil or background, or an equal partner echoing the colours of the flowers.

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