Cut flower displays can brighten any home or workplace, and the type of display created can evoke a message: A small display of multi-coloured local flowers in a rustic container can give a homey feel, whereas some tall, majestic stems in an contemporary style glass vase can be a show of confidence and elegance in the office reception. Whatever style you want to create, there are some important tips to remember when buying cut flowers that will ensure your displays stay looking their best for as long as possible.
Buying Your Flowers:
Cut flowers can be purchased in a multitude of places, such as gas stations, grocery stores, roadside stalls as well as the usual florist shops. Take into consideration the length of time the flowers have taken from being cut to being on display; although some of the cheapest may be found in grocery stores or have the convenience of being sold at gas stations, if these are sold in pre-prepared bouquets there is more probability that these flowers were cut and prepared a while ago and that they will not be at their freshest.
Buy in season.
Flowers that are in season are likely to be the freshest. Out-of-season varieties may have been imported from elsewhere and the journey time between being cut, transported and displayed will be longer. In-season choices tend also to be cheaper, being more in abundance, and without the import costs.
Examine the flowers.
Look at the stems. If the stems are unbroken and have clean, healthy looking ends with a strong colour, they are still at their peak, but if the ends look faded, slimy or mushy, then they are not healthy specimens. Bacteria in the water can damage the stems, and will travel up them, weakening and damaging the leaves and heads of the flowers and inhibiting the ability to take up water.
Look at the water in the container.
Is it fresh and clear in appearance? If the water is murky and smells stagnant, it is full of bacteria which attack and starve the flowers of nutrients and promote their decay. Leaves submerged or floating in the water will also encourage bacterial growth.
Check the leaves.
Leaves should have a strong colour and should not drooping from the stems. Any discolouration—such as turning brown or yellow, or becoming speckled—may indicate infection, and leaves with holes or bits missing may have succumbed to attack from insects. A pest infestation will weaken the flowers and speed up their decline as well as affecting their appearance.
Check the flower heads.
The petals should have a defined colour and be soft, but also dry and firm to touch. Avoid buying if the petals are moist, fading in colour, turning brown or dropping off. Choose flowers with buds that are just about to open; they will unfurl and flower in the vase, and will continue to look their best for longer, compared to a bunch that is already in full bloom.
Arranging Your Flowers.
Water And Feed.
First, fill the vase with cool or lukewarm water with added flower food. Most foods contain an anti-bacterial agent, but otherwise a small amount of bleach, lemon juice or vinegar can be added and will create a slight increase in acidity, which will inhibit bacterial growth.
Cutting The Stems.
If possible avoid using scissors to cut the stems. Often these are not sharp enough, and the action of the blades can crush the stems. Ideally use pruning shears or a floral knife. Cut at a 45 degree angle to maximise the openings to allow water absorption. Remove any leaves that will fall below the waterline.
Searing The Stems.
Searing the ends of the stems will force the air out of the stems, seal the cut, and preserve mositure. Place about 10% of the end of the stems in boiling hot water for about 30 seconds for soft stems or until the water becomes lukewarm for tougher stems. Be careful to protect the heads of the flowers from the steam by wrapping them loosely in brown paper. When ready, cut the ends again before arranging.
For the display, consider the type of presentation you would like to create. Do you want something dramatic, or something cheerful and colourful? A bouquet that promotes calm, or a dazzling display of riotous colour? The two main aspects of flower arranging are colour and shape.
For most displays, stick to between one to three hues, unless you are intending on a wild, carefree display. For more visual impact with a sense of order, arrange different flowers of the same colour together. To create a good back drop that will enhance the colours, add foliage to the display: vibrant or deep green will enhance the tones of the flowers.
The best way to create shape is to use a criss-cross grid in the vase, which maintains the shape and structure of the display. Add foliage first, and then the flowers. For large-stemmed flowers, put one per square, and for small dedicate flowers, a bunch in each will ensure a well-filled arrangement. A simple but impacting display uses a narrow-necked vase or container with a single stemmed flower.
To maintain the structure of the display, use clear rubber bands to hold groups of stems together. The best place to position is these is at a point on the stems where they enter the water. This will prevent them being easily visible.
Finally, these tips will help you create a good visual arrangement, but there are no rights and wrongs, so choose what you want from your bouquet, and let your own style be reflected in your display.
If you’re interested in learning about companion planting, here's an article for you: Companion Planting 101Featured photo credit: Photos all with Creative Commons Licence, via Flickr.