Preparing church wedding flowers

In the flower world ‘conditioning’ means preparing flowers and foliage well in advance of use to ensure that they will last as long as possible. If you are short of time because you have a heavy schedule over a short period it is far better to pick or buy flowers well in advance and if necessary to give them 48 hours in water than to leave everything until the last day. Flowers and foliage will last better given a long drink in a cool area than with a short drink, possibly in a warm place. I have proved this many times – I may say in the teeth of opposition!

BASIC CUTTING INSTRUCTIONS

When you are gathering flowers for a wedding flower arrangement, cutting from the garden or hedgerows, do not hack or pull, but cut firmly with stub scissors or secateurs. If you have planned your arrangement in advance, you will know roughly how many stems of each colour and variety you will need. It is useful to observe the habit of growth of the flowers, and to pick some bending to the right and others bending to the left, together with a proportion of good straight stems.

If possible, pick in the evening, when it is cool and the flowers can drink for 12 hours at least, which is good for them and means the wedding flowers will still be vibrant and fresh looking. If for some reason you are forced to pick in warm sunlight, take with you buckets half-filled and put the flowers straight into water as you go round the garden. If you are out in the country and you have an estate car or a car with a large boot, have buckets of water with you and then, provided that the stems are not too long, the material which you pick can travel in them. I put string round the buckets and tie them to something in the car to stop them from falling over. Always take off all leaves which would be below the water line. If die material is too tall for buckets, wrap it in damp newspapers.

When you have picked and collected together all the material which you need, there are various forms of treatment which you can use to make it last.

WATER

With one or two exceptions flowers and foliage last better if placed in buckets of warm water. If, on the other hand, roses are coming out too quickly, wrap about six stems together in newspaper and plunge them in cold water with ice blocks. This will stop them from opening too soon.

HAMMERING

All hard-wooded stems should be placed on a hard surface and the ends should be hammered to split them. This will ensure that water reaches the tops of the stems. The lower leaves should be taken off before plunging the stems into deep warm water.

BOILING WATER TREATMENT

Put the flowers in a bucket and pour in boiling water so that it comes about an inch up the stems. Count to about ten, and then fill up the container with cold water.This treatment is essential for poppies, delphiniums and euphorbia, but in fact most flowers can be conditioned in this way. The reason? The treatment prevents cells from being blocked and allows sap lost in the water to get up the stems.

SEARING

This is an alternative to the boiling-water method, and provides a quick way of sealing ends of flowers. Euphorbia, for instance, bleeds off a sticky substance, and searing will prevent this bleeding. Simply hold the end of the stem over a lighted candle or match.

STARCH

Some leaves and ferns need strengthening. This can be effected by putting them in a solution of two teaspoonfuls of starch to one-and-a-half pints of water. This process, by stiffening them, will make them easier to arrange.

FLOATING

If you have a large basin or baby bath full of water and simply float in it the leaves of such flowers as hostas and arums, limp ones will revive very quickly. This treatment is invaluable for hellebores.

FILLING HOLLOW STEMS WITH WATER

An alternative to boiling stems is to fill hollow ones with water and then plug the ends with cotton wool.

SPRAYING

Most florists’ shops sell a fine water spray. When your arrangement is complete, spray both flowers and foliage with water, especially in hot weather, when they need this added moisture. Indeed, if it is really hot, spray twice a day. If your arrangement is up against a wall painting or valuable panelling, or anything else which water might damage, make sure that you get a friend to hold up a tea towel behind the vase as a protection to the background.

SUGAR

Sugar puts back a needed substance into tulips. If they are wilting, take them out of their container, cut the stems about half-an-inch from the bottom, and refill the container with warm water, adding about a dessertspoonful of sugar for every two pints of water.

PRICKING STEMS

The stems of some flowers form bubbles, thereby preventing water from reaching the blossom. Tulips and hellebores are particularly prone to this. The treatment is to take the stem and to pierce it just below the head very carefully with a needle, continuing the pricking down the stem at intervals of one inch. This will ensure that water reaches the blossom.

SNIPPING ENDS

Unless you are using the hammering method described above, always cut each stem upwards for about half-an-inch from the end before putting it into water. If you later rearrange the vase, take each stem out and snip it again in the same way.

FILLING THE VASE

For wedding flowers to look good, when you have completed the arrangement, fill the container to as near the top as you dare! In about two hours’ time, refill. It is in the first two hours that flowers drink most. If the vase is on a polished table, it is wise to stand it on a cloth when you first fill it, in case you overfill or the flowers siphon. Leave the cloth for a bit, but do remember to remove it later!

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