It was Constance Spry who said ‘leave room for the butterflies!’ I often think of her words when putting flowers into a vase, giving each enough space to bloom. Though I no longer work as a professional florist, I do remember a few tricks. The main one I think is to just have confidence and enjoy it instead of fussing too much over rules.
The best flowers are undoubtedly home grown, especially for scent. If you have a garden, pick in the evening, quickly condition them (by removing the lower leaves) and give your flowers a drink and a rest overnight and then arrange in the morning.
Remember to pick plenty of foliage too, something people often forget about. Consider the size of vase you want to fill and then think creatively. From great spiky artichoke leaves to small springy alchemilla mollis, play with the scale and shape and textures.
Flowers should be left in a cool, dark place indoors overnight. Leaves and foliage love rain so leave it in a bucket of water outside if possible.
Where to Buy Flowers
For lack of a garden, try a pick-your-own farm. Blooming Green in Kent opens on Saturdays for you to fill a bucket, but you will need to pre-book a slot. In summer some professional growers open up to the public. Rosebie Morton, founder of The Real Flower Company grows the most heavenly-scented roses near Alresford in Hampshire and runs a shop from her paddock on Fridays 9am-3pm where you can buy bunches of roses, as well as other seasonal English flowers which in July could be honeysuckle, jasmine and wildflowers.
Of course, shop bought or supermarket flowers do the job too, and the upside is that they will last a lot longer than home grown. You could scavenge for some foliage on a walk to make things look more authentic.
Flowers are a bit like people. Each has its own quirks and specific ways it likes to be looked after – if you can work out what this is then you’ll be rewarded. For example, hydrangeas are one of the few flowers that drink through its the petals, so they love to be sprayed with a gentle misting of water.
As a general rule, cut all stems on the diagonal and make sure they have plenty of fresh water. Anything that looks floppy you can revive by searing the tip of the stem in boiling water for 10-20 seconds. Woody stems struggle to drink so you must cut them on a steep diagonal and could cut upwards into the stem to help them drink.
Keeping the water in the vase clean is the key to helping your flowers last. Add flower food if your flowers come with it, otherwise a drop of bleach and a slosh of malt vinegar works. Leaves and soft stems will rot in water and cause bacteria, which is why it’s helpful to condition flowers before arranging them. Change the water as often as you can be bothered, but every day would be optimum. If in doubt, consult Sarah Raven – who also has a new podcast out with Arthur Parkinson.
Vessels and Vases
It’s fun to use whatever you have around. I did a wedding once where all the flowers were in Golden Syrup tins and it looked great. Perhaps the most sure-fire way to decorate is using bud vases as it really is so easy – you just put a stem or two in each one and have lots running along a table. Willow Crossley (whose Instagram flower arranging videos are full of practical tips) sells fun, colourful ones online. £95 each from Willow Crossley:
Mix and match your own set with these Romance bud vases, starting at £4.95 each from Graham & Green
Bottles or narrow-necked vases also do the trick. This terracotta U vase is chic and you would only need a couple of stems or even some structural foliage. £175 from Valeria Vasi
For bigger arrangements it can help to use a vase with a narrower neck that will hold a shape, instead of a broad rim where the flowers are unsupported. Here are a few good styles:
Large mouth-blown bottle-neck vase, £40 from The White Company
White dot glass splash vase, £69 from Hay
Mouth-blown vase made of blue glass, £35 from Arket
This vase takes tall stems but is narrow, so works well on a mantelpiece, £225 from Astier de Villatte
Wider rims do allow more airy arrangements that Constance Spry would be proud of. Flora Black specialises in her Fulham Pottery style vases, selling via Instagram @florablack_shop
You might then add some chicken wire bunched into the vase to give your stems some support, or else buy a flower frog. These are like pins that you impale the stems onto – you’ll need some florist’s tac (like blue tac) to stick it to the bottom of the vase.
Small, scented flowers are especially nice by the bed; lily of the valley, grape hyacinths, a scented rose, some sweet peas.
To make a bouquet, a professional florist will start with a single stem in their hand, and then add more stems one-by-one at a diagonal angle, spinning the bouquet to manipulate the shape. There’s a knack to it, but of course, you can just as well fill a vase with water and add the stems in more haphazard way. If you want to hide the mish-mash of stems, or know you won’t be bothered to change the water regularly then go for a china vase or a jug instead of clear glass.
Some flowers seem to look better on their own. Sweet peas for example, are best en masse with their colours mixed up in a jug. Tulips are a bit the same and grow in the vase so should be allowed space to roam free. Hydrangea are so big they can be difficult to mix in with smaller things, so might have more impact alone.
Flower Rooms, Podcasts, Books and Inspiration
I am a bit obsessed with flower arranging rooms with butler sinks and shelves of vases. Here are a couple to aim for, starting with Bunny Mellon’s potting room:
And Charlie McCormick’s flower arranging room.
Amy Merrick’s On Flowers is a great book for ideas and thoughts, £19 here.
Finally, Instagram is a great source of inspiration for flower arranging. One of our favourite florists and flower growers to follow is @milliproust, who posts a new arrangement every Wednesday with the #windowsillwednesday.