A floral revolution: Basic flower arranging tips for alternative tastes
by Magda Knight
Let's have a floral revolution! Let's take a semi-punk approach to flower arranging, where individuality is king and the creative cutting of corners is encouraged! Flower-arrangements don't need to be perfect to be pretty - they just need to suit you and your personality. So here's our guide to basic flower-arranging on a budget...
There's no such thing as perfect
The japanese consider blossoms to be at their finest when cut, or falling from a tree, because their beauty is offset by the first touch of decay. Apply this love of contrast to your flower-arranging. Turn your careful work into something messy and joyous. Forget extravagant arrangements and go for charm and appeal...
Your own intuition is better than hand-me-down advice
Flower-arranging can be very traditionalist, but 'rules' can be done away with once learned. We'll touch on some accepted traditions in flower-arranging in this article so you have some ideas to bounce off, but if you like the idea of mixing clashing colours or odd flower/shiny object combinations then try it out. Find beauty in ideas that other people have thrown away...
A single flower isn't always a lonely flower
Big flower arrangements can be expensive and may not be the effect you want to achieve. You may, perhaps, want a minimalist approach, something with japanese delicacy or an intriguing starkness. A single long flower in a long vase always looks elegant (like an iris, or a cornflower, or a lily, for instance. Or even a stick.) Arranging a single flower focuses attention on its petals and the exquisite shape of its stem. For the price of a single firework-explosion of flowers you could have a lonely but beautiful flower making its presence felt in every room.
Flowers are sociable, not snobby - they love to mix and match!
You can get an interesting arrangement if you use foliage (leaves) as well as flowers - stuff with different shapes, colours and textures. Traditionally you're encouraged to combine three shapes, though of course you can do what you like:
1) Lines (straight tall things like bear grass and irises, or dried wheat stalks)
2) Globes (rounded things like chrysanthemums, carnations, gerberas and roses, usually the focus point of the arrangement)
3) Filler (filler can be underrated but it's actually fascinating - it's the greeny bit that fills in a display, if you're not going for a minimal look. Fluffy ferns, for example, or baby's breath, or trailing ivy...)
Don't forget, you can use common weeds like dandelions if you like. They're free and they're pretty. A weed is just an unplanned flower, after all...
Lastly, you can mix other things with flowers that don't grow at all. If you're floating blooms in a bowl of water, add some floating water candles in the evening (although you will want to change the water next day, as cut flowers love cool conditions best).
What's so great about a vase, anyway?
Flower arrangements should suit your personality and your surroundings. They should catch the eye and make people smile. A vase is just a container, and there are plenty of other containers you can arrange flowers in. You can be kitsch and use bright plastic washtubs. You could float several blooms in a clear glass bowl of water (The nice thing about using clear containers is that you can add other stuff to the display - the arrangement doesn't have to be flower-fascist. You can partially fill the container with marbles, pebbles, shells... anything that doesn't mind being wet.) If you're feeling sunny and casual, float a big happy yellow chysanthemum in a mug or teacup. You can even use pretty wineglasses, or matte-painted plastic water bottles.
A good rule of thumb is that narrow containers should have just one bloom, either small or large, and wider containers should have several blooms.
You can hide the containers, too - either for fun, or because you think they're ugly. If your vase sits on a bookcase, hide the vase behind an old-fashioned-looking open book, with just the flowers peeping out. Or wrap your container loosely and messily with crepe paper or brightly-coloured tissue paper, then tie it with a ribbon - like a present that's just being opened. Or wrap the vase in kitsch textured wallpaper...
If you have a bunch of plastic bottles, paint them and arrange them in a row with just one flower in each. Pretty!
Fake is fun
Just because a flower is fake (made out of plastic, silk and man-made fibres), it's still a flower. The advantage of fake flowers is that they are quite cheap, always keep their bloom and have wire stems so you can arrange them exactly how you want to. Ways to play with fake flower arrangements are: weighting them and submerging them in clear containers of water so they look like drowned flowers, entwining them round lamps or bed frames or mirrors, or scenting them with perfume. You can also mix fake flowers and dried flowers and grasses very nicely in an arrangement for an eternal display that takes minutes to create and forever to fade.
Similarly, you can make fresh flowers look fake by adding a few drops of food colouring into their water. It won't damage the bloom. But the water will turn (for example) blue, and as the flower draws the water up into its stem, its petal will start to take on the shade of the food colouring... flowers with large light-coloured petals (like roses or gerbora) work particularly well with this technique.
Flowers, unlike people, never feel out of place
There's no 'correct' place to exhibit flowers. You can place flower arrangements on toilet cisterns, windowsills or kitchen tables. You can use wire or string to hang flower containers from curtain rails rather than have them sit on anything. You can have several flower arrangements in one favourite room, or a flower arrangement in each room... the possibilities are endless.
However, there is an 'incorrect' place to exhibit flowers, and that's anywhere you don't want covered in accidental water spillage. Flower arrangements on top of electrical appliances is a bad, bad idea...
Working with little flowers
Traditionally, it's considered a good idea to clump smaller blooms together. Tiny flowers are easier to hold and manipulate as a bunch, anway, and if they're kept together they have a real presence in the arrangement and won't disappear behind other larger, more in-you-face flowers in the arrangement. You can cluster little flowers loosely or tie them together with wire or ribbon (depending if you want the ties to be invisible or add to the arrangement).
Growing flowers face the sun... but arranged flowers face where they like!
If you've got nice big open flowers (huge daisies, roses, gerbera, etc.) you don't want them all facing forwards. That's dull, you'd have to stay in one position and never move to enjoy them! Think what your flower arrangement looks from all angles in the room, and move the flowers around a bit so a flower is facing you wherever you are in the room.
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet...
... but it's worth bearing in mind that boiled cabbage by any other name would smell as rank. If you buy fresh flowers, do give them a good sniff to make sure you actually like the smell. Some flowers genuinely don't smell nice, even though they look fantastic, and once you've got that flower in a small room it can really cause a stink. Some flowers like lilies or gardenies or lilacs have very strong, though pleasant smells. You'll probably be overjoyed to have your room smell of fresh flowers - but pungency is still something to consider.
Quick tips for looking after your flowers
- Always cut your stems with scissors. A ragged edge inhibits water and food intake and your flowers will fade more quickly.
- Flowers last longer in cooler locations. If your flowers are sitting in direct sunlight, change their water every day for colder water - you can even chuck in an ice cube every few days to be certain! Do this and your flowers will love you.
- Keep an eye on cloudy water - it's a sign of bacteria spreading, a common thing that you shouldn't worry about because it can be sorted with a change of water.
Flowers for japanophiles
If you want to take flower-arranging a step further, google for the possibilities of ikebana and sogetsu.
Quick tips for using flower arrangement aids
Artplants do a funny, cheap little plastic web that you stick into a vase that is meant to help with flower arranging. If you're not much good with wire and want a controlled display, this may be a nice option for you.
More: Arts & Crafts, How-Tos and Odd Hobbies on Mookychick
Fake blooms in wine bottles
Wrap vases like presents
Weight plastic flowers and drown them
Add food colour to water for dyed petals
Float loose flowers in bowls
Arrange several vases with one bloom each
Flowers in wine glasses!
Hang containers from high up
Flowers in teacups and mugs!
Fill containers with marbles and stones
... Now throw yourself a tea party
@MagdaKnight is an author and the Co-Founder / Editor of Mookychick. Her YA and cross-genre fiction has been published in anthologies and in 2000AD. She likes you already, you know. It must be the jaunty angle of your hat. You can email her and visit her blog.