Flower arranging is a delightful way to bring the beautiful flowers from out in the garden into the house for everyone to enjoy.
Through the years I've enjoyed bringing in my flowers throughout the blooming season to decorate our table. I've tried every variety I grow and have found, by trial and error, that not all flowers do well in a vase. Most obvious are the flowers that only bloom for a day or two; Day Lilies, Poppies, Morning Glories, Iris', Speedwell. They just don't last long enough to be worth the time it takes to make them into arrangements. Better to just enjoy them in the garden. Flowers such as Violets and Pansies are so short that in anything but tiny arrangements the water level quickly falls below where they can reach and they wilt. Woody plants like Forsythia, Lilac and Magnolia don't take up water well so they don't last nearly as long as you might think. By trying out what I have growing in my flower beds, I gradually learned what to expect from each one. The best ones are strong stemmed, somewhat tall so that they can be used anywhere in the arrangement, not just at the bottom, and long lasting. But just about any flower will work to a greater or lesser degree.
When I prepare to make an arrangement, I try to cut my flowers early in the morning while it's still cool in order to help them conserve their moisture. I usually don't have a very extensive group of flowers blooming at any one time, (though I'm working on changing that) so I have to work with just about everything I have on hand at the time. If I have enough variety, I try to choose only two or three colors of flowers. Different sizes and shapes of flowers of the same color add complexity and interest; but I don't always have that choice. If my supply is limited, I simply try not to use colors that clash. In the past I made flower arrangements out of flowers only. It took a lot of flowers to fill a vase. Now I use quite a bit of foliage, which not only helps fill the vase but also keeps the arrangement less aggressive, requires fewer flowers and helps focus the attention on those few.
Once I have chosen and cut my flowers and foliage, I choose a vase that is roughly half the height of the tallest flowers I have. This helps keep the arrangement from looking as if the vase is swallowing the flowers (too tall a vase) or the flowers are shooting out of the vase (too short a vase). I then arrange the foliage, tallest in the middle and a balanced quantity on all sides decreasing in height to fill out the arrangement from top to bottom. Then I add the flowers in the same way, taking care to not leave empty spots anywhere. The top of an arrangement tends to be the focal point so I try to put my biggest, showiest flower up there (if the stem is long enough) with the medium and small flowers scattered throughout the rest of the arrangement, this also keeps the arrangement looking balanced.
Fresh flower arranging can become very complicated with foam and wire and tape and fancy styles. For me that kind of arranging is impractical for such short term arrangements. For one thing it takes much more time, it's also more expensive with all those consumables and I don't grow enough of the right kinds of flowers to be able to make those professional ones. With a few different sizes of vases and a garden of flowers, I am able to keep at least a few flowers on the table with very little effort. As I work on designing my flower beds, I keep adding long stemmed flower varieties that I know to be good cutting flowers so that I have more to choose from. For me it's quite enjoyable, trying out new flowers, new combinations, new arrangements. It's a very flexible art. Using what's on hand in a few spare minutes to bring beauty and enjoyment into the house.
As well as fresh flower arrangements, I also enjoy drying and arranging flowers for year round enjoyment. The qualifications for good drying flowers are slightly less variable then for fresh arrangements, but the best way to find out if a given flower or plant is good for the need is still the same; try and see. Thin or small petals shrivel up to almost nothing, like I found out with Bachelor's Buttons, so it's best to work with flowers that have a bit of substance to them. Also some flowers don't hold their color during the drying process; like Canterbury Bells, and others loose their color soon after drying, making them unsuitable for dry flower arrangements. Other flowers have weak stems when dried so they can't stand upright in an arrangement. This of course is a big problem so it's easiest to just avoid those flowers otherwise they will have to be supported by surrounding flowers. There are many that droop little by little while they are in an arrangement, these include flowers with thin stems and many with large flower heads, like Globe Amaranth and Winged Everlastings, but by the time they are unsightly it's about time to be re-working the arrangement anyway.
The best varieties for holding their form and color are plants that are stiff and papery when they are fresh. These include Statice, Strawflowers, Lavender, Globe Amaranth, Celosia, Winged Everlastings, and lots of grasses, as well as many seedpods, such as Poppy, Love-in-a-mist and Money Plant, to name a few. Of course there are many others that do quite well dried that aren't papery to begin with; Roses, Larkspur, Marigolds, etc. When drying for arrangements it is important to dry plenty of filler material; foliage plants to fill out the arrangement, just like in fresh arrangements. Grasses, Amaranths, Oregano, Sea Statice and many other plants do well dried and are great fillers, giving a simple backdrop to the lovely flowers.
The arranging process is the same as for fresh flowers in the areas of proportions and designs. There are a lot of options in the way of shapes and containers; baskets, vases, wreaths, wall baskets, tins, and innumerable containers that will create any effect you want. A spray of flowers without any container at all is a nice way to make a wall hanging arrangement. There are a great quantity of books available that give a creative mind many interesting ideas to try out but I have found that most of the projects themselves are really not very practical since they require the exact flowers that they used, and I don't often have those ones on hand. Still, ideas can be gleaned from one and another so I enjoy flipping through some and taking note of a new interesting combination or style and I sometimes try to grow new items in order to create a certain effect that I liked. All in all, I do a lot of trying and gradually find what's best for me. The arrangements I make for around the house last a year or two and then I must either totally re-make them or at least replace the faded or drooping ones.
I have enjoyed both fresh and dry flower arranging for many years now and I continue to learn and try new things. There is such variation between the flowers God has made that I never tire of working with them. The younger children enjoy helping me from time to time and are delighted to go through my discard pile to pick out dry flowers for their own uses. It's fun to be able to work with the little ones and incorporate them into my interests and projects and help them learn new things. With the flowers we harvest together in the summer, we can create beauty all year round to decorate our home and the homes of friends.
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