Buying Flowers For Arrangements

Buying Flowers For Arrangements

Those who have to buy all their flowers will find that flower arrangement is sometimes demanding, not only on the pocket but also on the imagination. The tendency on the part of the commercial grower is to produce millions of blooms all grown under similar conditions and all as uniform and as well-produced as possible. Added to this is the tendency in the markets for flowers to become less varied, certain limited kinds being spread over almost the entire year. Thus we can get roses, chrysanthemums, carnations and gladioli almost throughout the year and narcissi for nine months out of 12, to mention only a few examples.

This uniformity of standard is not entirely to the flower arranger’s advantage. There is something very endearing about a flower which is not quite perfect by commercial standards, which has a curved stem instead of a straight one, which is a little smaller than its neighbour, which is even not quite healthy and as a result has foliage beautifully tinged with unusual colour, the effects no doubt of some virus or perhaps a mineral deficiency.

People who have to depend on bought flowers are often understandably reluctant to cut the long stems for which they have paid. But the fact is that if you do not shorten some stems you cannot arrange the flowers so that every individual is displayed. Flower arrangement is really all about getting value, value for flowers you grow, for flowers you buy. If you cannot see them all properly, and see them at their best, because they are obscuring each other, you are simply not getting value.

Cut the stems ruthlessly

So the first thing to do is to brace yourself and be prepared to cut off some of the stem from some of your flowers. As a rule stems are straight and stiff, a quality which is not easy to mask, and if you are not skilful or practised, bought flowers can look stilted and even self-conscious. Accessories will help you here, even if these are no more than a few leaves borrowed from the kitchen, such as a crinkled cabbage leaf, the coral-like sharp yellow leaves from forced rhubarb, or vivid peppers, subtle aubergines. Shells, driftwood, dried, preserved and skeletonised leaves can also be used with the flowers to help remove any stiffness. Once used, they can be stored away until they are needed again for some other occasion. Even fresh leaves can be used time and time again. Occasionally something remaining from one week’s flowers can be used with the new batch, buds, leaves, flower centres or flower calyxes; for example, if dying carnation petals are pulled away a pretty little green cup remains. All these help to furnish a vase a little more fully.

Even those pieces of stem which were cut can be used. For instance I like to make a curve of narcissi on a pinholder and arrange the pieces of fluted cut stem sprayed out in a fan to left or right of the stem bases. The pieces are cut on a slant and are arranged so that the slant points away from the centre. Forced lily-of-the-valley leaves are very beautiful and these usually last long after the flowers have faded. They will go with other flowers, with any of the narcissi or with freesias, to mention only two. Group them so that they make a little skirt at the foot of the stems. The particular green harmonises very prettily with freesias, which seldom come with enough foliage on them because if the grower picked the whole stem he would also cut precious tiny buds.

Keep plenty of ivy at hand for little flowers such as these. Ivy seems to suit every flower. If you don’t live near a supply of wild ivy, keep a good large house-plant going simply to provide the odd trail or two. Once the ivy has been used in an arrangement it can be struck as a cutting to make a new plant. Alternatively, keep a vase filled with moist sand and when the cut piece of ivy is not in use push it into this. Keep it in a light place and it should be in good shape for you when you want it another time.

When you go shopping for vegetables keep a watch for tiny, prettily coloured cabbages that still have good outer leaves. These can be used as a focal point in an arrangement. A few flowers can rise from behind the cabbage ‘rose’ at the centre in several ways, as a fan, parts of a curve or parts of a crescent. On the other hand, if you do not wish to use a whole cabbage, save the best of the leaves. These look surprisingly well with daffodils in spring and with roses, anemones and tulips.

Foliage From The Florist For Arrangements

Florists sell a limited amount of foliage, often more in the early parts of the year than at other times. You can buy eucalyptus. Preserve some of this, giving some of the branches just a short spell in the solution—say 48 hours—so that they keep their greyish-green bloom. Keep others in longer so that they turn almost to a purple beech colour. These will be useful later on in the autumn.

Grevillea or silk oak is another fine foliage on sale. Don’t pass it over because the stems are long and you have only short or medium flowers. The individual leaves can be stripped off and used separately. These also look fine with daffodils and they suit tulips, freesias and other tiny bulb flowers. Turn some of them so that their soft, silky, grey undersides show. Grevillea is so long lasting that you can use the leaves time and time again. Even when you think they are finished you can put them between paper and press them with a hot iron. They will then be ready to store for winter arrangements. Some grevillea is dyed, but it can be treated in exactly the same way.

Golden privet on sale is much more attractive than one might realise at first glance. I have a plant in the garden and I use it frequently. Branches you buy, like the pieces you pick from the garden, need some grooming. They are usually just the wrong shape to use, but the laterals or side pieces cut away and used separately are nicely graded, leaves opposite, tapering to the tips. Use them in table arrangements for side stems or for pieces to flow over the rim below and between the flowers.

Buy blossom only if it is mainly in bud; open blossom will drop quickly. Some flowers such as narcissi and tulips are now marketed in bud. Gladioli should have only the bottom ‘pip’ opening. If you want them to last well put them in shallow water to restrain their energies.

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