The Equipment You Need For Flower Arranging

What do you need to start flower arranging? Well, this is one of the few hobbies you can begin with very little equipment. It can cost almost anything you wish, from a few coppers to many pounds, depending entirely on yourself. A beginner can more often than not begin right away with an expenditure of only a few coppers (for a bit of chicken wire).

Everyone has some sort of container which will do to start with, if it’s only a jug or a vegetable dish, and flowers and leaves are usually available from the garden, the countryside, or the shops.

Some medium is required for holding the stems in place and at the desired angles in the container. There are several methods and gadgets; these are sometimes called the mechanics of the arrangement, and they are as follows:

Chicken Wire

First there is chicken wire (wire netting), the cheapest yet most valuable asset to the modern flower arranger. Buy the very least expensive kind; this is because it has to be crumpled up, and the higher the price the stronger and stiffer, and more difficult to handle, it will be. Ask for two-inch gauge. You don’t need to buy a whole roll (as 1 mistakenly thought as a beginner!). About a yard of it, from any ironmonger’s, is enough for a start.

Cut off the ‘selvedge’ edge, with pliers or florist’s scissors, and throw it away. To use the netting, cut off a

 

section measuring about one-and-a-half times the size of the top of the chosen container. (See fig 1.) There are various ways of placing the netting inside the container. The method I have found most satisfactory is to roll the netting into a loose ‘Swiss roll’ shape.

Fig 1.

Press the roll into the container, keeping as many as possible of the cut ends of wire near the top. Some of these cut ends can now be bent over the rim of the container to keep the netting firmly in position. Allow some of the netting to come an inch or so higher than the rim. (See fig 2.)

Chicken wire is indispensable when one is using many flowers and other material together in what is called a ‘mass’ arrangement. The wire will keep even heavy branches in position, but is equally suitable, when more closely crumpled, for miniature arrangements.

No part of the wire must be visible when the design is completed; if it shows, cover it with leaves, flowers, or moss recessed among the principal flowers.

 

 

Fig 2.

Choose a Good Pinholder

Pinholders can be bought from most florist’s shops these days. They cost anything from Is. 6d. (for the smallest) upwards. A pinholder is simply a flat piece of metal, usually lead, in which rows of strong pins are embedded to hold the stems of flowers and leaves. Pinholders come in all sorts of shapes and sizes; some have a base in the form of a rubber suction cup, but in my experience these are less satisfactory than the metal kind. Avoid also the

 

Fig 3.

models in which the pins are spaced wide apart. When buying a pinholder, choose one with really sharp-pointed pins of about three-quarters of an inch in length; too short pins will not hold stems reliably. A good metal pinholder should feel heavy in the hand in relation to its size, and it’s also a good idea to test for loose and blunt pins before handing over your money.

Like everything else, the best and most expensive pin-holders usually work out cheapest in the long run. Don’t try to economise on size, for it is vital that your pinholder should be large enough to take comfortably all the stems

 

 

in the arrangement you are creating. One which is too small for the job in hand will merely frustrate you—and handicap you unnecessarily.

You can choose between round, square, oblong and crescent-shaped pinholders, according to the shape of the container you are using. Coming into the shops now are pinholders complete with a holder for water, just deep enough to allow the water to cover the pins. These come into their own when you need a very small container which is easy to conceal.

Pinholders are generally used in shallow containers (see fig 3), and for big arrangements in deep containers it is an advantage to use them in conjunction with chicken wire. Although pinholders will last for many years (I have some which are ten years old) the pins sometimes go blunt and out of alignment through constant use, so making them only semi-efficient. It really pays to throw out a pin-holder which is in bad shape, with loose, bent, or blunt pins. After using a pinholder, clean out any bits of broken stem or decayed leaf caught between the pins; you can do this quite easily with a metal skewer or with scissors. Rinse under a tap, and dry thoroughly in front of the fire or over a radiator before putting away.

Modelling Clay

Pinholders are stuck into position in containers with three blobs of modelling clay, Plasticine, or Bostik Sealing Strip. (See fig 4.) The fixing material is first softened by rubbing it between the hands. It must hold the pinholder limpet-firm to the container, and it will not do this if either the clay, the container, or the pinholder is not absolutely dry. Put the blobs of the fixing material on the underside of the pinholder, then cover the pins with a thickly folded cloth to protect your hand and firmly

 

press the pinholder to the container, giving a small screw-turn as you do so.

The reason for sticking the pinholder to the container is to ensure that, as you add flowers and foliage in the arrangement, the top-heavy weight does not pull the pinholder over. Consequently, it is most important to make sure that the pinholder is completely anchored before you start the arrangement.

Fig 4.

Even with these precautions a pinholder will sometimes break away from its moorings and the arrangement will begin to fall forwards. Correct this by putting a weight on the pinholder at the back. (See fig 5.) For this purpose you can use a spare pinholder, a heavy pair of scissors, or one of the weights from the kitchen scales. I have even saved the day by looping a length of heavy gauge florist’s wire round the pinholder and hooking the other end of the wire back over the rim of the container.

Chicken Wire Plus Pinholder

A little crumpled wire netting, pressed on to the pins of a pinholdcr, is a good way of adapting it to accommodate more stems than it was designed to carry. This method is

 

 

Fig 5.

useful, too, for providing extra support when heavy stems of shrubs, fruit blossoms, and similar material are to be arranged. It works also when including the slim leaves of flowers grown from bulbs (tulips, daffodils, etc.). These leaves are very pliable and are half-hearted about standing up for themselves when impaled on a pinholder. The extra bit of security they gain from the wire netting makes all the difference. (See fig 6.)

 

Fig 6.

Putty and Lead

Putty makes a splendid base for holding driftwood and similar heavy material in position. It will stay fresh and serviceable for some time if you keep it wrapped in a plastic bag when not in use. A strip of plumber’s lead is handy to have around for use as a counterweight, either as an anchor for an insecure pinholder or at the bottom or back of a very light and unstable container.

Florapak and Oasis

Florist’s shops sell several different kinds of water-retaining material, of which two of the best-known are Florapak and Oasis, specially made for flower arranging. They are more convenient than wire netting or a pinholder in a fragile glass or porcelain container, or in a container which will not hold water.

 

 

 

Florapak comes in green and white, and can be used in two ways. In the first method, the whole block of Florapak as purchased is put into a pail or bowl of water and weighted down. It is left under water for as long as possible (some enthusiasts say at least a month). When it is thoroughly saturated, pieces can be cut off in the sizes needed for any container. The top of the Florapak should be about an inch higher than the rim of the container.

Arrange your flowers straight into the Florapak; all but the finest and thinnest stems will push into it with ease. Fine stems sometimes need to have holes made for them with a knitting or darning needle. Florapak will hold stems at any desired angle, and unless conditions are abnormally hot will retain enough moisture to provide all that is necessary for several days. A piece of chicken wire, cut to fit like a guard over the Florapak, and hooked over the container’s edge, will prevent heavy stalks breaking pieces out of the block. When the flowers die it is simple to remove them from the Florapak, which can then be re-soaked and used again.

A Second Way with Florapak

After Florapak has been used a few times the block will become too broken-up for further service. This is when the second method comes into its own (though it can also be applied to a completely new block of the material if preferred). Put the Florapak, old or new, into a plastic bag with a little water, and fasten the mouth of the bag tightly with an elastic band. Rub the Florapak and water together, rather as if rubbing fat into flour for pastry. The resulting mixture is like a smooth stiff paste or dough—a little experimenting will soon enable you to get the right consistency.

 

 

In this form, Florapak can be moulded to fit every kind of container, even the oddest-shaped ones and those which would not otherwise hold sufficient water for the arrangement, and it is ideal for miniature containers. When using, press it very firmly into the container.

How to Use Oasis

The material sold under the trade name of Oasis is similar to Florapak, but I find it does not need to be soaked for so long before use. It absorbs water very rapidly and when fully saturated is so heavy that it will hold quite large designs without tilting over. In its block form it is used in the same way as Florapak, and when the block begins to disintegrate it can be given the plastic bag treatment. Incidentally, in the dough form Florapak and Oasis can be mixed together.

I keep an ever-ready supply of the dough in a child’s plastic bucket. It goes on for years, being used over and over again, and never becomes smelly or unpleasant. When doing a big arrangement, using Florapak or Oasis in this form, it is a good plan to have a pinholder under the paste at the bottom of the container. This will hold the main stems of the design securely.

Adding More Water

People often ask how extra water is added to an arrangement in Oasis or Florapak. In the case of the paste, just dribble water slowly onto the surface. If the material is in the block, add water down a hole bored with a knitting needle.

Both Oasis and Florapak, in paste or solid form, undoubtedly enable flowers and foliage to last for long periods, apparently providing the humidity which they relish so much. This is a marked advantage in the hot

 

 

conditions of summer flower shows. Topping up with water is rarely required, even at a two-day show, especially when using the paste method. I used Florapak for an arrangement which had to be left at a photographer’s studio after being some time under the strong lights for a picture to be taken. For various reasons I was unable to collect it until five days later. The container had been knocked over, but the flowers were all still in place in the paste and quite fresh. I then had the arrangement in my home for four more days.

The Parcel Method

1 have often wrapped damp Florapak or Oasis paste in a sheet of metal cooking foil, forming an attractive-looking parcel which needs no other container. The stems are just pushed through the foil and into the paste. The method can be used in many ways—for instance, to make garlands on the poles of a marquee for a wedding reception, on a newel post at the foot of your staircase at Christmas-time, to decorate the font for a christening or the pulpit and lectern at Harvest Festival.

For a luncheon or dinner party flower arrangement a foil-wrapped parcel can be placed directly on the table without fear of water leaking on to the cloth or the polished wood. A novel table decoration can be made by tying tiny foil parcels to the arms of a silver candelabra to hold red ranunculus and silver-backed grevillea. With candles alight and reflected in the dark wood of the table this makes a memorable decoration. There are countless other ways in which the parcel method can be used; one occasion when 1 found it especially worthwhile was in decorating a church for a wedding. I arranged flowers in parcels secured to every pew-end right up the aisle.

 

 

For Dried Arrangements

Some florists stock a handy material called Florafix, which comes in a soft block. This does not hold water, but it is excellent for arrangements of dried or preserved materials. The block can be cut up into smaller pieces with a sharp bread knife or carver. For amusing Christmas decorations it can be cut into appropriate shapes, such as a snowman or a polar bear, and it can also be bought ready cut in circlets for door swags, indoor wall hangings, and table decorations. Evergreens, colourful fruits, perky ribbon bows, and bright Christmas baubles are all easily positioned in Florafix with short stems made from florist’s wire. It will not harm paintwork, wallpaper, or furniture, and being dry and very soft it is pleasant and simple to use.

Invest in Scissors

A good pair of florist’s scissors is an investment. These scissors will cut chicken wire as well as thick stems, and cost less than ten shillings. Lightweight secateurs are a good second choice, but kitchen scissors and dressmaking shears are not as suitable as most beginners think and should be avoided.

You wouldn’t try to embroider without a sharp needle, or take up gardening without a spade—so treat yourself to the right scissors for flower arranging.

Florist’s Wire

Some florists and most ironmongers sell florist’s wire in
varying thicknesses, and cut into lengths called stub
wires. You can push stub wires up the hollow stems of
flowers such as lupins to stop them twisting about in an
arrangement, or to enable you to bend the stems into
graceful curves. Cleverly placed, so that it doesn’t show,        

 

a stub wire will hold up the head of a weak-stemmed flower. Wiring of flowers, however, is rather looked down upon in the flower arranging world, and is not allowed in competitions if the wire is visible.

In fact, it should not really be necessary to use wire in fresh flower arrangements, though it can be a saviour in an emergency. For instance, if a stem breaks it can some times be repaired by running a wire up the inside to hold the two broken pieces together.

Wire of various thicknesses is needed at the end of the year to make artificial stems for cones, baubles and preserved flowers, for use in Christmas decorations.

Orange Sticks

Orange sticks, as sold for manicure purposes, are excellent as ‘stems’ when using fruit in an arrangement. They will keep apples, pears, etc., in position without harming the fruit too much.

Rubber Bands

I use rubber bands to keep chicken wire secure inside containers. Many people use string for this purpose, but rubber bands are better because they never syphon out water on to the table, as string can do. I like two thick rubber bands, passed right round the wire and the container to form a cross at the top. (See fig 7.) The rubber bands effectively prevent the chicken wire slipping about, thus ensuring the vitally important firm foundation on which to build up an arrangement. Believe me, nothing is more infuriating than to complete a beautiful arrangement and then see it fall to pieces because the chicken wire slips.

Nevertheless, when an arrangement is completed and in its chosen position it should be sufficiently well-balanced

 

to stand up for itself, and if the rubber bands are visible they must be snipped with the scissors and gently removed.

Fig 7.

Buckets Are Necessary

As a flower arranger, you can’t have too many buckets! Plastic ones are best, since they never rust or rot, are easily cleaned, and are light to carry even when full of flowers and water. All flowers, leaves and branches should get a long, long drink in a cool place, in a bucket of deep water before being arranged. Sort out the flowers, putting different colours into different buckets. Leaves and other material can go into a separate bucket. This sorting out saves time and trouble when you start the arrangement.

Short-stemmed flowers need something smaller than a household bucket for their deep drink; try a jam jar or a child’s seaside bucket. A friend of mine uses a milk bottle carrier, made of lightweight plastic and bought at a chain store, for transporting jam jars full of flowers to shows and exhibitions. Really tiny blooms can be given their pre-arrangement drink in an aspirin bottle or a small cream jug.

 

 

Florist’s Tubes

If you are called upon to do huge arrangements frequently it might be worthwhile to persuade a friendly florist to let you buy some florist’s tubes. These are long metal cones which give extra length to stalks and branches.

They can be used as they are, by pushing them into chicken wire, or made even longer by binding them to bamboo canes or strong sticks. They can themselves be filled with chicken wire, and are usually placed right at the back of the arrangement so as to be invisible when the design is completed. As always, the mechanics of the arrangement should remain invisible to the observer!

Raffia and Moss

Thin or very delicate flower and leaf stems (often found in forced spring bulb flowers) sometimes will not stand up in a pinholder. They can be given body by using raffia to bind on a snippet from a thicker stalk.

Moss can play a part in a flower arrangement, either to cover up any chicken wire which is visible when you have finished, or as a planned part of the design. Your florist will sell you a bag of an attractive grey-green moss, called reindeer moss or florist’s moss, which is used in wreaths. It comes to the shop compressed and dry, and you will need to soak it for a few minutes in water before using it. After soaking it becomes springy and soft.

In its dry state, however, this moss can make an unusual addition to a small design. I once did a rather pleasant little coffee table arrangement with polished green ivy leaves, grey moss and gold button chrysanthemums arranged like a Victorian posy. Used either dry or wet, reindeer moss seems to last for ever. I keep mine in a small plastic bucket and let it dry out after use.

 

There are, of course, other mosses to be found in the countryside. You’ll discover them in damp spots in woods, ditches, and so on. There’s a specially attractive one which grows like a close-clipped green carpet, and others with quite long fronds which you can use like leaves in miniature arrangements.

Transparent Tape

When a curve is desirable in a straight-growing leaf (such as sweet chestnut, aspidistra or a fern frond) run a stub wire up the back vein of the leaf and secure it with a length of transparent adhesive tape. This is best accomplished with the leaf placed flat on the table. When the wire is firmly fixed the leaf can be carefully curved into the required shape. Similarly, preserved leaves can be given long stems by taping on stub wire in the same manner.

I have a poor memory, and once arrived at a flower arrangement show without either a pinholder or chicken wire. I saved the day by sticking pieces of transparent tape in a criss-cross pattern over the container (see fig 8), leaving spaces in between for the flower stems.

Oil Is Useful

A light oil may be used to clean leaves which have been grown in the grimy atmosphere of a town or city garden. Oil will also give additional highlights to very smooth leaves, such as camellia, laurel and rhododendron, for exhibition work. I have seen begonia rex and eucalyptus leaves oiled, but to my mind their characteristic textures are altered in an unpleasing way. Whenever you do oil a leaf, use a bit of soft rag dampened with a very small quantity of oil.

 

 

Fig 8.

Stones and Pebbles

Seashore pebbles, worn smooth by the action of the sea, or well-shaped garden stones are sometimes used in shallow containers to give an out-of-doors effect. The idea of a cool waterside scene, for example, is emphasised if flowers, leaves, and perhaps bulrushes are arranged at one end of a dish and pebbles scattered where they can be seen through the water.

The perfectionist will use only water-worn pebbles and rocks in such a scene, leaving the more rugged shapes of garden stones for use with ferns and wild flowers in a arrangement with a wild or woodland flavour. Some of my favourite pebbles—lovely smooth black ones, flat and about the size of a florin—were picked up on the beach in the harbour of St. Ives, Cornwall. I have never come across anything quite like them on any other beach.

Heavy pebbles and stones can be pressed into service to give weight and stability to light containers holding heavy branches and long stems. I find that some modern

 

metal containers are not so heavy as they look; they can take large arrangements but haven’t the weight of metal in them to prevent the disaster of tipping over. The risk is overcome by half filling the container with stones—but remember that this leaves less room for water, so it may be necessary to top up twice a day.

Some pebbles and stones have specially interesting shapes, suggesting birds or beasts or pieces of sculpture, and these can add a touch of fantasy to a flower arrangement when used as its focal point.

Driftwood Is Popular

Arrangements combining driftwood with flowers and foliage are very popular, particularly at the bigger shows and exhibitions. Driftwood is the name given to any wood which has been weathered naturally by water, fire, air, or earth. In other words, driftwood may be pale amber pine tree roots, gnarled burls from a fallen elm, twisted knots of ivy stem, a sea pitted branch—anything with an interesting shape, colour, or texture.

Used imaginatively, driftwood can bring a distinctive quality, something all its own, to a design. It can become the focal point, or determine the height and width of an arrangement. No two pieces are alike, so by including driftwood in even the most ordinary container you imbue a design with originality.

Some driftwood will be conveniently shaped so that it stands up by itself. Other pieces will have to be supported with plasticine or putty, while others again will hold up on the pins of a good sized pinholder. A really heavy piece may need to be screwed to a flat length of wood by a handyman, or have a shelf bracket fixed to it to form a leg. The support will, of course, be hidden under the flowers, fruit, or moss of an arrangement.

 

 

 

A word of warning: some driftwood harbours woodworm, even if you can’t see it. To kill the infestation, soak the wood in a weak solution of household disinfectant for a few days. A day in a bucket of strong domestic bleach will give the wood a fine weathered appearance, while a wipe over with a rag soaked in wood stain or dark stain shoe polish adds a richer tone.

In the spring, combine a dry wood stump with sprays of young beech foliage, daffodils and moss. Late summer can see the same stump used with shrimp-coloured dahlias and hosta (funkia) leaves. In the autumn, try using the wood with toadstools and trails of blackberry foliage. Winter may see the same chunk of driftwood still doing duty, with dried poppy heads and summer leaves which have been preserved.

Add a Figurine

Figurines can be effectively linked with flowers. A figurine may be of china, wood, or metal, in the form of a bird, animal, fish, or human being. When a figurine is used in a flower arrangement it must appear to be happily at home with the container and the flowers. It is a common mistake to include plastic figures, little glass animals and fluffy toys, but these never look right. On the other hand, an Indian horn bird seems to fit in naturally with dried flowers and leaves, and is equally happy in a water scene.

A fragile Dresden lady would be in keeping with small spring blossoms. A bronze dog would look well with heather, gorse, or grasses arranged on a slice of log to suggest rural surroundings. Small Victorian heads, in marble, bronze, or plaster, can be picked up in junk shops now and then and give an old-world charm as the focal point of a design.

 

 

Take time to match your flowers and leaves to the colour of your chosen figurine. White, cream, or pastel-hued blooms go best with marble, plaster, and china, while bronze and gold-coloured flowers enhance metal figures.

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