A few months ago, I wrote about the not-so-pretty side of the floral industry. I have learned, in addition to the fact that not everything is a bed of roses, that the quality of the flowers that you and I can buy at Costco, Trader Joe’s and some grocery stores, are as good or better than what the florists buy. The main difference between our direct flower purchases and the florists who buy them is that they know what to do with them.
Great floral design is an art. When you want to send flowers for a special occasion, or are planning one yourself, such as a wedding, you need a fantastic floral designer at work. But what about those in-between times, those weeks when you just want to add some grace to your life?
Buying store-bought flowers is an easy way to do this. However, when I buy a bunch of flowers and put them in a vase, it looks like I’ve, well, bought a bunch of flowers and put them in a vase. To figure out how to take this grocery bunch from meh to wow, I picked the brains of two top floral designers.
Barbara King is the owner of Valley Forge Flowers in Wayne, Pennsylvania.
“Our customers often say, ‘I don’t want this to look like it’s from a flower shop,'” she said with a laugh.
“So the point is to try to act like you haven’t tried?” I asked, to be clear.
“About,” she said.
Steve Rittner is a third-generation florist who teaches floral design classes at Rittners School of Floral Design, Boston.
Here’s what they said we could do to increase the ooh and ahh factor of store-bought flowers:
◼️ Add something from your own backyard. “If the flowers you bring home from the grocery store look FTD,” King said, “go out, cut something from the garden and stick it in the arrangement. You’ll turn the arrangement into an arrangement. that looks organic and will bring your outdoors inside.”
◼️ Visit the herb garden. If you grow herbs in your garden, cut sprigs of rosemary, thyme, parsley, etc. If you don’t grow herbs, visit the produce aisle of your grocery store. Adding herbs to a flower arrangement is especially nice for dining room centerpieces because the scent of the herbs complements the meal.
◼️ Cut the stems short. Create a chic arrangement by cutting the stems short, so the flowers fall just above the rim of the vase in a low, compact mound. Replace the typical fern leaf that accompanies the bouquet with vinca vine or another less expected greenery.
◼️ Add a seasonal touch. When putting flowers in a clear vase, embellish the water with crabapples (fall), cranberries (winter), and citrus slices (summer). Spruce up a bouquet of boring mums by nestling in small bouquets of colorful cauliflower or fall leaves, King said. Glass stones and pebbles placed in clear containers can also add color, texture and interest.
◼️ Choose alternative containers. An interesting vase will automatically enhance the design, Rittner said. Gather several pretty vases a cut above the mason jars. Look in your cookware for a wine cooler or soup tureen. Prevent leaking containers from leaking by inserting a clear vase, thin plastic liner, or even a plastic bag into the container.
◼️ Plug in. Whether you have bouquets of hydrangeas, roses, sunflowers, or a mixed bouquet, you can never go wrong adding “branchy stuff,” Rittner says. Curly willow, birch branch, kiwi vine or eucalyptus will instantly make an arrangement look taller and more interesting.
◼️ Arrange by hand. For a natural, “hand-picked” look, arrange flowers in your hand, Rittner says. Arrange flowers on a palm and hold them like a bouquet. Adjust them until you like the blend. Tie the stems with a pipe cleaner or raffia. Then cut the stems and immerse them in water.
◼️ Don’t be afraid of the foam. Foam-based arrangements allow you to place the flowers where you want and keep them there. Soak the floral foam in water for five minutes and cut it to fit your container snugly. If you let it stick out a half inch or more over the edge, you can add rods horizontally. As you push the stems into the moss, hold the freshly cut stem low and gently push it into the moist moss. Do not hold the rod high and do not pinch it, otherwise you risk clogging it.
◼️ Don’t sniff out counterfeits. “Using artificial flowers used to be a big no-no,” King said, “but they are so superior now. They look real and even feel real. even professionals can’t spot them.”
◼️ Lather it up. Because the basics of foam-based arrangements aren’t always pretty, cover your mechanics with a layer of foam, Rittner said. You can find Spanish moss or leaf moss at floristry or craft supply stores.
◼️ Don’t dwell on the rules. Some say you can only mix tropical flowers with tropical flowers. Others get snobbish at the idea of mixing expensive flowers with cheap ones. Nonsense, says Rittner. “You can mix proteas with roses, or birds of paradise with bells of Ireland, and create some really interesting floral art. And I wouldn’t hesitate to mix hydrangeas with cheap carnations.”
◼️ Dip and crown. Not a flower leaves King’s shop without being treated with Quick Dip, which extends flower life by preventing stems from clogging, and Crowning Glory, which she sprays on finished arrangements to seal and protect them. Both are available online.
Marni Jameson is the author of six books on home and lifestyle, including “What to do with everything you own to leave the legacy you want”.