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  • Writer's pictureAnnika DeMaster

The Art of Flower Arranging

There is a vase on the table when you enter the room, an indistinct blur of yellow and red that attracts your attention. As you approach the vase you see the sunny sunflowers and zinnias first, with the more subtle colors of pink dianthus, white corncockle, and purple lisianthus accenting them. The sweet aroma arising as you stand in front of the vase makes you bend your head to smell the flowers. Now you notice the cornflowers tucked in and the foxgloves peeping out. Stepping back to admire the arrangement you might notice the textures of the petals and wonder at the celosia or the dill in the bouquet. Taking the flowers from the garden the florist, the name given to the flower artist, creates a masterpiece that fills the beholder with wonder and delight. A good florist will make sure that the flowers are prepared well before using them in a design.

The flowers must be cut in the morning when it is still cool out. With a sharp pair of clippers, the harvester chooses each stem carefully for its pristine blooms and long stems. Like a gardener on a hot summer day, flowers need to rest and rehydrate to prevent wilting. Next, the stems must be stripped naked of all leaves and branches to allow the water to travel up the stem to the head without becoming distracted by hydrating leaves further down on the stem. Gently holding the stem near the uncut side with her left hand, the florist surrounds the stem with her right and pulls down the length of the stem with one swift motion. Once the stem is stripped, she groups similar varieties of flowers on a table for easy assembly-line construction of the bouquets. To determine the order of the table layout, you must have an idea of the design you are trying to create.

With hundreds of thousands of flowers to choose from how can you arrange flowers with taste and beauty? Though countless designs can be constructed from the same flowers, a good florist knows the elements of design which aids her in collection and arrangement. First, the necessary ingredients must be gathered: Foliage, focal flowers, and accent flowers. Foliage the greens and leaves used as a background for the focal flowers can be aromatic herbs like mint, basil, sage, and dill, or branches such as elaeagnus, ivy, and holly. The focal flowers are the central feature of the bouquet, the showstopping flowers that the eye is first drawn to when it sees the bouquet. They are compact single-stem flowers that command the attention of the viewer. The focal flowers can include bright sunflowers, colorful zinnias, elegant dahlias, and graceful lilies. To fill out the bouquet you add your accent flowers such as snapdragons, cosmos, and cornflowers. These are the small but mighty flowers that make up the bulk of the bouquet.

Second, pay attention to the shape of the flowers you are using. In a bouquet, you do not want all of your flowers to be either long and pointy or flat and round, so it is good to use a mixture of spike, disk, round, and airy flowers. The spike flowers such as snapdragons, foxglove, and plume celosia give the bouquet a strong vertical line and guide the eye upwards, while disk flowers have a round, flat, almost umbrella shape which fills in the gaps between flowers and widens the overall shape of the bouquet. Good disk flowers are yarrow, ageratum, and echinacea. Round flowers, usually larger, add big areas of color to the bouquet. Flowers that do this well are marigolds, rudbeckia, and sunflowers. Airy flowers, such as cosmos, craspedia, and gomphrena, are the last to go into the bouquet and float above the other flowers.

While different designers have different ideas of what colors go together, it is important to choose your color palette before you begin. You can choose bright colors, pastels, complementary colors (those across from each other on the color wheel), or monochromatic (different shades of the same color). Keep the occasion in mind when you are choosing a color palette. For an arrangement that is a gift, you might want bright colors, whereas if it is for your house, a monochromatic arrangement may fit the space better. There are as many colors as there are flowers but a good designer makes sure that the colors are all intentionally chosen.

Textures often make your arrangement stand out and interesting elements can capture the viewer's attention. The velvety celosia comes in many different shapes and textures, from the brain-like cockscomb to the stiff papery wheat celosia. The yellow balls of the golden drumstick flower and the red balls of strawberry gomphrena add the finishing touch to the arrangement and their uniqueness causes wonder and delight in its beholder.

Now that you have ingredients and inspiration for your design, lay out the flowers on your table in the order you will need them in your bouquet: Foliage, spike, disk, focal, accent, and airy. To begin take the first stems of foliage in your left hand. With a loose grip hold the stems at an angle in the form of an x with one stem between. Then with your right hand add three stems of your spike flower and space them in thirds. From there, pick up your disk flower and thread the stems through the top of your bouquet between the spike flowers. At this point, you will want to be able to rotate the bouquet in your hand so gently transfer it to your right and rotate it while passing back to your left. Working from the top add your focal flowers which should not amount to more than three or four, in the center and in full view. By now the bouquet should have the basic shape that you want it to and if you see any gaps or clusters you will need to make sure that your accent flowers balance them out. Add accent flowers until your bouquet looks full without crowding or hiding other flowers, just as an artist knows how to add the final brushstroke without overpainting. Right before the end, add the airy flowers either tucking them in or leaving them floating above. Trim all the stems to a uniform length and put a rubber band near the top of the stems where your hand was to secure it. The bouquet when tied should be reminiscent of an hourglass with a narrow center, a broad flowery canopy, and a wide bottom where the crossed stems are angled away from the center.

Common mistakes can include poor preparation, holding the bouquet too tightly, and overstuffing the bouquet. Less is more when it comes to flower arrangements and when flowers are blocking each other the eye won’t travel easily along the bouquet becoming overwhelmed. Holding the bouquet requires a certain finesse because one can easily grip the stems too tight making it difficult to add new stems. A tight hold also keeps the stems vertical and makes the bouquet lose its hourglass shape. When a florist neglects to strip the stems she slows the process down and often has to remove the leaves with only one hand while holding the bouquet in the other. If you have not hydrated the stems or removed the leaves, especially those below the water in the vase, you increase the possibility of your beautiful bouquet wilting or rotting prematurely. A good florist is aware of the circumstances before, during, and after the flower arranging process and accounts for them.

Once you have added the final touches to your creation you can either place the bouquet in a vase or wrap it with paper to protect the flowers during transportation. Take a square of paper that is large enough to encircle the bouquet and fold it in half to make a triangle. Then wrap the paper around the flowers and staple the narrow ends of the triangle to secure. After this, place the bouquet back into the water, since without water it will wilt and die.

From harvest to preparation, intelligent design to a final arrangement, each step is done carefully for a beautiful vase of flowers to grace the home. The art of arranging flowers gives peace and joy to its performers and allows them to participate in God’s act of creation.

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