Embracing your inner florist

Sharon Jessup Joyce

A bouquet for you closeup

When I was a child, my aunt Lorraine owned a flower shop. It was magical to watch Lorraine and her assistant Germaine pull buckets of flowers and greens from the refrigerator cases and create floral fantasies with a handful of blooms, filler greens, a container, some ribbon and their own creativity.  The shop was filled with colour and scent, and I loved watching the two women work. My favourite moment was when one of them would step back from an apparently-finished arrangement, tilt her head to one side, and then add or remove just one bloom and nod her head in satisfaction. Perfect!

Unfortunately, unlike Aunt Lorraine, nobody pays me to arrange flowers, nor do I have the variety of blooms in my garden that she had in her shop, but flower arranging continues to be one of my favourite creative pasttimes. Here are some tips I learned from my florist aunt:

  • Think in groups of three or five (three roses, for example, surrounded by smaller flowers or filler greens).
  • Think one: put a large or bright (or scarce!) bloom in the centre as the focal point, then build around it with smaller and less eye-catching blooms.
  • Greens are a place for the eye to rest between brightly-coloured blossoms.
  • Foliage from blooming plants can be separated from their blossoms and used strategically as greens to fill holes.
  • Greens also help support blossoms when used at the back and sides of an arrangement.
  • A container or vase should be chosen in proportion to the flowers: put big, showy peonies in a big vase, and delicate lily-of-the-valley in a dainty, old-fashioned crystal or china vase.
  • Balance arrangements, but don’t make the two halves mirror images: if you have spiky flowers sticking out at the left, have something sticking out at the right, but it need not be the same type of flower.
  • For drama, give an arrangement both fullness (lots of flowers and greens) and height/width (tall, thin blooms, such as lavender or bleeding heart to stand out from the body of the arrangement and draw the eye up and out).
  • Use colour like an artist: balance light, dark, bright and soft in different zones of your arrangement.
  • Think about where your arrangement will sit: do you need a round arrangement that looks nice from all sides, a low arrangement that will allow dinner guests to see one another across the table, or a large arrangement to sit against a high wall?

The photo below shows a bouquet that sets an old-fashioned mood. That’s because traditional flowers, including rose, peony, sweet pea, lavender and hydrangea, are combined with limited use of filler greens  — the fullness is provided by the blooms, not greens. This old-school arrangement is enhanced by the antique pink transferware pitcher serving as a vase. Note that small peonies (pale pink) were used so the roses (dark pink) would not be overwhelmed.

A traditional arrangement in a transferware pitcher:  the lime green unopened hydrangea, dark green hydrangea leaves and rich purple lavender ground the soft pinks of roses and peonies, while the pitcher gives the arrangement a classic feeling.

A traditional arrangement in a transferware pitcher: the lime green unopened hydrangea, dark green hydrangea leaves and rich purple lavender ground the soft pinks of roses and peonies, while the pitcher gives the arrangement a classic air.

One of my favourite parts of arranging flowers is to use something other than a vase to hold them. Below is my favourite mug (by Sally Ravindra of Purcell’s Cove Pottery in Nova Scotia), hosting perennial sweet peas in white and mauve. I love how the turquoise pottery mug looks against the colours of the blossoms, and how the twining mug handle echoes the twining of the sweet pea tendrils. I am willing to drink my tea out of another of Sally’s mugs for a few days in exchange for enjoying this on the windowsill beside my computer.

Simple and lovely: perennial sweet peas in a beautiful pottery mug.

Simple and lovely: perennial sweet peas in a beautiful pottery mug.

The role of scale is apparent from the two arrangements below. Lush peonies were cut with longer stems, supported with large cuttings of trailing bleeding heart and large hosta leaves, and then placed in a tall, open-top crystal vase. Everything about this arrangement is big and generous. I didn’t worry about the tendency of the peonies to droop and the open, untamed reach of the bleeding heart, but let this garden bouquet look natural and unfussy.

Peonies making a big statement

Peonies make a big statement framed by open stems of bleeding heart and large, spade-shaped dark green hosta leaves edged in cream.

In contrast, this next photo shows an arrangement in a small vase with a narrow top, which gives the flowers it holds the look of a nosegay. Delicate sweet peas and the smallest hydrangea stems on the bush are framed by lavender to create a confined round arrangement. I didn’t use any greens for this bouquet, keeping the focus on the blossoms and letting lavender and two sweet pea stems serve as the only points of expansion from the tight round shape.

Petite and perfect round arrangement echoed by the vase's round base

This petite and perfect round arrangement is echoed by the vase’s round base. The colour of mauve hydrangea blossoms is brought out by the purple lavender, while a large volume of white sweet peas offers an alternative to using greens as filler.

My final tip about flower arranging is that sometimes you don’t have to. One perfect rose or three stems of fluffy hydrangea in a plain water glass can be glorious, bringing your garden indoors in the simplest way possible, as shown in the photo below.

Three stems of hydrangea in a plain cylindrical drinking glass offer variety enough, with their spade-shaped glossy leaves and mix of pink, cream and unopened green blossoms

Three stems of hydrangea in a plain cylindrical drinking glass offer variety enough, with their heart-shaped glossy leaves and mix of pink, cream and unopened green blossoms.

I have a lot of lavender in my garden, and while lavender is one of my favourite filler flowers when other blooms are the stars of the arrangement, I also like to give it a chance to shine on its own, as it does in the photo below.

A tequila bottle serves as a rustic vase, holding lavender bowed by the garden's prevailing winds; Afro-Canadian artist Malcolm Muleme's "We are" serves as beautiful backdrop

A tequila bottle serves as a rustic vase, holding a variety of French lavender bowed by the garden’s prevailing winds; Afro-Canadian artist Mathias Muleme’s “We are” serves as a beautiful backdrop.

As much as I enjoy arranging flowers, I also love the smiles of pleasure when I give the arrangements away. This summer I’ve enjoyed giving bouquets to a 100-year-old friend who lives in a nearby nursing home, a birthday bouquet to a friend who moved to an apartment and no longer has a garden of her own, a couple of arrangements to be enjoyed by our wonderful veterinary clinic staff, and a vase of hydrangeas to accompany a salad luncheon we took to my dad, who lives two hours away in a highrise. Oh yes, I also sent photos of one of my arrangements as virtual bouquets to nieces in Toronto, Vancouver and Switzerland, just to let them know I love them. Not exactly like the real thing, but I know they appreciated the thought!

Food, family and flowers: our older daughter Cassie with hydrangeas we took to my apartment-dwelling dad to grace the luncheon table.

Food, family and flowers: our older daughter Cassie with hydrangeas we took to my apartment-dwelling dad to grace the luncheon table.

 

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