Everlasting flower arrangements techniques and tips

Objets trouves, things you find lying about, are a great aid to flower arrangements and can make decorative groups on their own or in combination with dried flowers, seed heads, and so on. Many are invaluable additions to groups of indoor plants or miniature gardens.

What you find is likely to depend on the kind of place where you live or go visiting. Holidays and weekend picnics are obvious times to go searching (take a few plastic bags with you specially for the purpose), laying in a store of finds to use in later months. What looks dull underfoot may reveal hidden beauties when at eye level. Bits of rock, colourful stones, and even chippings used by road menders are worth looking out for. The pinks and reds of granite and snowy quartzite show up well against black slate; and some pieces of stone are made additionally colourful by patches of lichen mottling their surface. Even a chunk of weather-worn brick may be worth bringing home to form the basis of an arrangement. When washed free of dust, the various colours show up better – and a light coat of varnish (from an aerosol spray) may help even more. A group of stones, plus a little Moss and Ivy, could be built round a concealed container with Ferns or other plants, or at the base of an oil lamp which would light them up. Multicoloured pebbles from a stream can fill a decorative glass jar and support the stems of one or two flowers or a piece of some plant (like Ivy) which will grow happily in water for a long while. The water will make the pebbles glisten.

Sometimes, in ploughed fields or on beaches, you may find huge flints which time has chipped into odd shapes, suggesting some strange animal or bird, or just interesting in an abstract way. With the help of some modelling material (clay or Polyfilla), such a flint can be mounted at a suitable angle on a block of wood, with or without the addition of dried leaves and seed heads around it. Strangely gnarled branches and roots can be treated in a similar way.

Some shingle beaches yield smooth and beautifully rounded pebbles as big as potatoes, with an attraction all their own, either as they are or when sprayed gold, painted with patterns or varnished. Painted patterns are best simple and with only one or two colours. Use poster paint, following the round shape of the pebble and leaving some of the natural stone bare. A group of these, perhaps with ‘Straw Daisies’ among them, could add a decorative effect in a room where central heating or air conditioning is too intense for fresh flowers or plants. Road mending chips are ordinary but, if examined closely, may be found to have a variety of colours in them – some even sparkle. They serve a useful purpose on top of the compost for indoor plants by conserving moisture. However, you can be creative. Sort them into colours, spray varnish on them and perhaps colour some artificially, using an aerosol spray can of gold paint and one of white (not bright colours that would kill the natural ones).

Now use the chips, mosaiclike, to create a simple pattern on, for instance, a 10 inch diameter cakeboard, with a small, shallow, round tin in the centre to hold a few white flower heads. This makes a low but effective centrepiece for a round table. If you want the design to be permanent, first coat the cakeboard with a thin layer of modelling material in which to press the chips or use a rubber adhesive. Seashells are such an obvious thing to collect that they hardly need mentioning. Cockles can form a border to a miniature garden and a large whelk or scallop shell can have a few tiny plants growing in it, provided all trace of salt water has been washed out first. Using clay or other modelling material as a foundation, dark green candles for the table could have shells and evergreens surrounding their feet. Kitchen foil pressed smoothly over cockles, so that the ribs show through clearly, gives a festive look. A few small silvery glass balls, the kind used for Christmas trees, could be added. The seashore also yields driftwood, bits of coloured bottle glass worn smooth by the tides, strangely shaped bits of metal, rusty and barnacled, dried bits of seaweed or starfishes, an occasional cork float: a whole treasure-house of objets trouves for the beachcomber.

Mossy logs, gnarled branches, lichen, lengths of bark, weirdly shaped roots, feathers, dry tree fungus, even the bleached skull of a sheep if you have a taste for the slightly macabre – these are the kind of things to look out for in the countryside to add to your hoard of materials which can be used again and again.

Sometimes colours are enhanced by a light spray of varnish, but use this on only selected pieces. To varnish an entire group would ruin the natural look. As a foil to the colours of the more distinctive pieces in a composition a few of those with interesting shapes but flat colours could be sprayed gold (or black, or white – not a colour). As unrelieved gold paint can look boring, a second aerosol of bronze is useful – with a light flick of this, the gold can be given a faintly darker tone here and there. Natural complements to stone and wood objects are Ferns and other foliage plants or sprigs of evergreens and berries, which will last a long time. Dried or everlasting flowers and seed heads go well with them. Leaves, pressed for a week between the pages of a book, are another good complement – particularly in the rich colours of autumn.

Using modelling materials for flower arrangements

These are useful as a base into which to push sticks, stones and stems to hold them in place. Plasticine is clean, re-usable and available in unobtrusive colours. Clay dries hard and can then be painted if wished; use it in solid lumps or it will crumble as it dries. Polyfilla plaster (sold for filling cracks in walls) can be mixed to a doughlike consistency withjust a little water and it dries hard. Toy shops sell various modelling doughs for children. A homely version can be made with flour and water plus salt to strengthen it and it is strong enough for most purposes: it dries hard and can be painted.

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