Category Archives: Florals

What Florists Know [And What We Wished We Knew] About Floral Arrangements

By Lesley Fleming, HTR and Sarah Bayat
Photos: Floris Flowers Co.

Nothing is more breathtaking or celebratory than a gorgeous flower arrangement. For those of us who love flowers but lack the experience and training of floral designers, there can still be hope. Thinking like a florist may guide our decisions when we arrange flowers, be they from the grocery store, our own garden, or a gift bouquet received from dinner guests.

whiteflorals_SarahBayatReason to celebrate

Flowers are a beautiful bundle of joy. Floral arrangements, elaborate or simple celebrate many moments: the bounty of a garden, an engagement, a friendship, a wedding, and yes, even a funeral honoring a life lived. One important consideration is how the arrangement will be used and the optimal time it needs to last. Special events for example, are often of short duration and can use flowers that evoke transient beauty and fragility, but may not last long. The arrangement pictured below was made with dahlias, clematis, gardenias, and Dusty Miller.

handheldbouquet_SarahBayatOther arrangements, meant to be enjoyed for longer periods of time – days and even weeks – are designed with stems that have staying power. Think of an arrangement sent as an expression of sympathy or gratitude using roses, orchids, mums, and magnolias, pictured below. Hyacinths, tulips, ranunculus, viburnum, and lilies could be other choices; blossoms that wilt can be removed from the arrangement, as needed.

tabletopflorals_SarahBayatSelecting a design style

Years ago florists followed strict rules on design, shape, color, and flower combinations. These principles of floral design – balance, proportion, contrast, focal point – continue to be important, as are the elements of design – line, pattern, size, texture color, and shapes. While fundamentals of floral design continue to play an important role, newer trends tend to be more flexible in their interpretation. Broadening the options, current design styles are described as:

floralarrangement_SarahBayatEnglish garden – typically composed of annuals, arranged to look natural, as if they are still growing in the garden.

Photo: Susan Morgan

Modern or modern exotic – the use of tropical flowers and foliage like bird of paradise, gingers, monstera, and banana leaf, that distinguishes this style; arranged as both linear or bountiful designs.

Photo: Susan Morgan

Whimsical – described as romantic and fun using flowers with pronounced petals like zinnia, gerberas, and dahlias; this style often uses flowers that bloom in late summer.

Clean lines – as the name suggests, the linear design is the dominant and dramatic focus, using  geometric forms, the vertical axis, a binding point, and often with minimal flower variety.

floralarrangements_SarahBayatMatching the component parts

The relationship between component parts – the flowers, vase, and design style – takes talent or practice. Observing arrangements at functions, flower shops, or online can provide ideas for DIY florals. Take notice of how the pieces complement on another.  The Victorian trend, popular with today’s brides, uses antique containers like mint julep cups, china bowls, Limoges vases, and flowers that complement the colors, shape and size of the container. Classic glass cubes, mason jars, and ceramic containers, which offer flexibility for use with a wide array of flowers and foliage, are popular for arrangements for the home as well as weddings any time of year.

Setting the stage

Having the right tools goes a long way in successfully arranging flowers. Have garden cutters, paring knife, water on hand to immediately immerse cut flowers, and containers are the essentials tools. (Scissors can crush some stems preventing them from absorbing water.) Floral foam, either the best or worse tool depending on your perspective, can hold stems securely in place during design and transportation but are laden with chemicals some choose to avoid. Floral tape and chicken wire used as a grid on the container mouth can be effective alternatives. Stems should be conditioned; each stem cut individually and immediately placed in water. Shave bark off branchy stems such as lilac, hydrangeas and viburnum, and make an upward cut in the middle of the stem.

Getting it right 

The most foolproof floral arrangement is the hand-held monochromatic or tone on tone [color] bouquet (same or different flower but in the same color wave).  Hold the stems in your hand shaping them into a uniform height. Cut to all the same length, placing the stems into fresh water, perfectly fitting the stems into the diameter of the container’s mouth so that the hand-held shape is maintained.

For those intending on using flowers from their garden, think ahead. It is critical to plant the types and colors of flowers and greenery (often cut from shrubs) that compliment the preferred style. All of this is personal preference. And experience. Testing, trying, and enjoying different arrangements will lead to what suits your home, occasion, and sensibility.

floralinspiration_SarahBayatInspiring yourself

Gone are the days of only three shapes for floral arrangements—line, line-mass, and mass. Tall, full, minimalist, luxurious, and linear styles – all are acceptable. Unconventional pairings like pastels with saturated colors, larger blooms such as dinnerplate dahlias, hydrangeas, and peonies, juxtaposed with smaller blooms of craspedia, scabiosa, tulips, and ranunculus reflect current trends. So, please yourself. Use the blossoms or foliage that speaks to you, perhaps growing in your own garden (lilac or cherry branches, for example).  Consider foliage a secret weapon. Flush out arrangements with foliage of all shapes and colors. Remove leaves below waterline, which will not last very long due to bacteria. Replace with foliage that has been prepped.

Express yourself with flowers…florists can be your back-up.


Hillier, M. Ed. (1990). Flower Arranging. New York: Reader’s Digest Association.

Packer, J. (1998). The Complete Guide to Flower Arranging. New York: DK Publishing.


Authors Lesley Fleming and Sarah Bayat combine their talents for this series. Lesley is a registered horticultural therapist who uses flowers for therapeutic activities. Sarah is creative director of Floris Flowers Co.

This is the fourth and final article in a series on tips from florists.










Plants for a Cutflower Garden

Floral arranging is a favorite activity for many gardeners, especially in therapeutic horticulture programs. If you’re on a tight budget, you may not be able to buy fresh cutflowers for your arrangements. So why not grow your own cutflowers? This provides a great opportunity to utilize your outdoor space and enjoy the fruits of your labor that much more. (And…this gives you an opportunity to splurge on buying a bouquet of the “fancy” flowers to mix into your arrangement of garden-fresh flowers.)

Additionally, when the first freeze threatens later in the year, it’s a great time to harvest flowers from the fall garden and hang them to dry. For clients with sensitivity to the cold elements, use these dried flowers in a myriad of indoor crafts during winter and other times of inclement weather.

Now I think that you can cut virtually most plants to keep in a vase for at least a few hours. But I do have a few favorites that top my list. Here are a few plants that I grow in the garden and use as cutflowers, fresh and dried. Don’t forget to research the toxicity of these plants before incorporating them into your therapeutic garden.

(Editor’s Note: Check back at this article, as I anticipate updating this list as time goes on.)


I often say that sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are the second most recognized flowers with my clients. Which is the most recognized? Roses, of course! Sunflowers are easy to start from seed, either in small pots or direct sow outdoors in the garden. For HT/TH practitioners, “go vertical” with the topic of sunflowers – talk about how they inspired Monet’s garden at Giverny and his artwork or watch time lapse video on how young seedlings track the sun’s angle in the sky, and more.

Hardygerberadaisy-eatbreathegardenHardy Gerbera daisy

So there are the beautiful annual cutflower types being sold at the garden centers right now (at least where I live), and then there are the slightly less showy, but still beautiful, perennial gerbera daisies that are generally hardy to USDA hardiness zones (7)8. Look for the ‘Patio’, ‘Garvinea’, ‘Drakensberg’, or ‘Garden Gerbera’ series. Note: these are a bit pricy in the garden centers. Invest in at least three plants, and if they’re hardy to your growing area, you won’t be disappointed. Their foliage is evergreen. Mine have been blooming their heads off since late February (probably earlier than that, actually!), and they’re still blooming in late March, with more buds setting.


Plant a variety of daffodil bulbs (Narcissus), with other bulbs like tulips and hyacinths, in the fall. Then harvest a few blooms out of the garden in the spring and mix with spring flowering tree branches like cherry or peach trees in your seasonal arrangements.


An easy perennial to grow in the garden, then divide and make more…and more…and more…well, you get the idea. Cut the flowers or even the sword shaped leaves and put into bud vases. This is a great flower to “go vertical” with and share the Greek myths about Iris.


This drought tolerant perennial is loved by pollinators…and in a floral arrangement. There are so many different varieties of coneflower (Echinacea) with interesting names like ‘All That Jazz’, ‘Coconut Lime’, and ‘Fragrant Angel’, flower colors and shapes, and growth habits.


An old fashioned summer annual, cockscomb (Celosia) can used as a fresh or dried cutflower.

Gomphrena_eatbreathegardenGlobe Amaranth

Often confused as bachelor’s buttons (which is a completely different plant), globe amaranth (Gomphrena) is a great drought tolerant summer annual that can be used as a fresh or dried cutflower. I especially love ‘Strawberry Fields’ (red) and ‘All About Purple’ (purple).

Cleome2_eatbreathegardenSpider Flower

Spider flower (Cleome) is an interesting annual with a towering height. Plug it into the middle to back of a flower border. For some, it grows all summer long. For me in Texas, it fades away in the true heat of the summer. I like the lavender flowers and heat tolerance of ‘Senorita Rosalita’.

Aspidistra_eatbreathegardenCast iron plant

Don’t forget your greenery. Cast iron plant (Aspidistra) is a stalwart in Southern shade gardens or an excellent low maintenance, low light houseplant. Its strappy leaves are an excellent foil for more delicate flowers or mix with tropical flowers.


Another option for greenery, fatsia is an evergreen shrub in Southern shade gardens. Its large waxy leaves are also paired well with tropical flowers or as a single leaf with a single flower in a bud vase.

Other Notables

Here are a few additional plants that make great fresh or dried cutflowers or greenery. Whenever I purchase cutflowers, I try to buy flowers, such as baby’s breath, statice, or Billy balls, which I don’t grow but know that they make excellent dried flowers if I have leftovers. To dry flowers, I cut the stems, tie together, and hang upside down in an out-of-the-way spot on a clothes line or herb drying rack.

Southern magnolia
Oakleaf hydrangea
Russian sage
Sweet Annie
Baby’s breath
Billy balls
Sea holly
Globe thistle
Calla lily

Univ. of Missouri Extension, Drying Flowers and Foliage for Arrangements

Catherine Mix, Fine Gardening, Issue 132, The Best Flowers for Your Cutting Garden

Debra Prinzing (2012). The 50-Mile Bouquet: Seasonal, Local, and Sustainable Flowers. St. Lynn’s Press

What Florists Know [And What We Wished We Knew] About Spring Flowering Bulbs

By Lesley Fleming, HTR and Sarah Bayat

Bursting with new life, spring flowering bulbs herald in the season of renewal. Recognizing beauty in each stage of growth, florists maximize the versatility of bulbs and use them creatively in a variety of ways.

Bare bulbs are architectural. Stacked as a mass or as a singular specimen, a bulb’s color, shape, and roots intrigue, particularly when presented in glass vessels. Bulbs can be purchased in soil or soil-less. Rinsing off the soil will offer the cleanest presentation and will not hinder sprouting. (Read more about bulbs here).

For dramatic style, place bulbs at the base of a flower arrangement. Juxtaposing blossom with bulb, soft with hard, adds depth and layers of dimension.

Emerging daffodil flower

The crack of the bulb, when the greenery starts to emerge, is one of nature’s wonders. Whether it is a forced bloom or seasonal cycle, observing the bulb’s daily growth is life affirming and beautiful. (Read more about forcing bulbs indoors and forcing paperwhite bulbs.)


Blossoms from spring flowering bulbs — alliums, tulips, daffodils, muscari — are beautiful as cut flowers meticulously arranged or placed simply in a vase.

Fragrant hyacinths

The fragrance of lily of the valley, freesia, or hyacinths provide immediate pleasure and memories of springtimes past.

The many lives of bulbs…once they’ve finished their show in vases, bulbs can be planted in the ground for another chance at nature’s cycle, in growing zones where hardy. The carbon footprint of a bulb’s journey can be positive and renewable. Note: Bulbs used at the base of an arrangement are less likely to be viable.

Client-made floral arrangement using freesia and California iris (alternative for Dutch iris).

For your own spring awakening, try bulbs in any of these renditions. Or consider inspiration from international bulb showcases: Dallas Arboretum in Texas, Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa,  Floralia Brussels at Chateau de Grand-Bigard in Belgium, or the Netherlands’ Keukenhof.

Bulbs planted in fall produce spring flowers. Bulbs planted in spring bring summer blossoms.

Authors Lesley Fleming and Sarah Bayat combine their talents for this series. Lesley is a registered horticultural therapist who uses cut flowers for therapeutic activities. Sarah is creative director of Floris Flowers Co.

This is the third in a series of four articles sharing tips on spring bulbs. The fourth article will offer tips for floral arrangements.

What Florists Know [And What We Wish We Knew] About Cut Flowers

By Lesley Fleming, HTR and Sarah Bayat

Photos by Susan Morgan

There is nothing better than flowers cut from your own garden (or, the next best thing, from your local floral supplier). Keeping flowers looking their best once cut takes talent, know-how, and experience. What do florists know that we wish we knew? Let the following tips on these cut flowers be your primer!


This flower’s lollipop shape is beautiful and appealing…but the smell not so much. Add a few drops of bleach to reduce onion smell. Adding a few drops of bleach to all vases of flowers are a great inhibitor of bacteria and murky vase water.

eatbreathegardenCalla lily

The warmth from your hands can manipulate and curve stems for even more dramatic architectural lines.


Blooms open quickly after cutting. This delicate looking flower can last up to two full weeks in a vase.


Handle petals as little as possible. They brown quickly when touched.


Select these long-lasting blossoms based on color and fragrance (chocolate, nutmeg, apple, coconut, to name a few!). They perform well as cut flowers and potted plants.


Dip stems of this perennial plant, also known as Christmas rose or Lenten rose, in hot water to cut. Then place stems in cool water right up to blossom to sit overnight.


When preparing the flower, make two cuts – one horizontal and one vertical – so that the woody stem can absorb more water. Dip cut ends into alum powder (also known as pickling spice at grocery store).


Don’t like how these can leave a stain on hands and clothes? Just as blooms crack, gently and carefully remove stamen inside the lily with a tissue at this stage, before the pollen appears.


Submerge bud & blossom in water to remove ants, sometimes requiring several dunks, which also hastens blossoming.

Poppy seedpods, shown here


Immediately burn the cut end of stems to extend blossom, then place in water.


Keep water level low in vase to prevent their hollow stem from rotting. This advice also goes for anenomes, calla lilies, and gerbera daisies.


To maximize blossoms for photography or parties, use warm water in vase and blow into their center to open and separate petals. Removing center petals to expose the seeds creates the look of garden roses.


They will dry on their own without additives and are beautiful as cut & dry flowers.  The same applies to thistle and statice.


Like ornamental kale, both tend to have smelly stems when submerged. Change water often…they are cousins to cauliflower and broccoli.


After use in arrangements, place on sandy soil mix to sprout roots and grow.


Prolong use by incorporating seedheads into arrangements after petals fade.

Sea holly (Eryngium) and hydrangea

Bonus tips:

* Use sharp knives or garden shears to cut stems.

* Select clean vases and place stems in room temperature water as soon as possible.

* To hasten blooming, use lukewarm water.

* Remove greenery below the water line.

* Re-cut stems, especially if they droop.

* Use flower food (preservative) in vase or 1 tsp sugar for every quart of water with a few drops of bleach for both nourishment and bacteria deterrent.


The 50 Mile Bouquet Seasonal, Local and Sustainable Flowers, by D. Prinzing and D.E. Perry

Authors Lesley Fleming and Sarah Bayat combine their talents for this series. Lesley is a registered horticultural therapist who uses cut flowers for therapeutic activities. Sarah is creative director of Floris Flowers.

This is the first in a series of articles sharing tips on seasonal plants.