Tag Archives: floral arrangements


Sunflowers. Beautiful, cheerful sunflowers. Flowers that resemble the sun with their rays of golden yellow petals. Aside from roses, sunflowers are perhaps the most recognizable and friendliest of flowers.

At the sight of sunflowers, people are often transported in their minds to driving past fields of sunflowers in the Midwest or seeing the mammoth sunflowers that grandma grew in the backyard – you know, the ones that towered over you as a child. Or, there is a memory of picking the ripe sunflower seeds of the spent flower. I can also remember watching birds swarming around ripe sunflowers – perched on the fence, tree branches, wherever and taking turns flying to the flowers, pecking off some seeds, landing on the ground to eat them, and then back again, with the occasional altercation or squirrel.

Here are some interesting facts about sunflowers.

sunflower2_eatbreathegardenSunflowers are Helianthus annuus, from the Greek words ‘helios’ for ‘the sun’ and ‘anthos’ for ‘flower.’ ‘Annuus’ for ‘annual’ references the flower’s complete life cycle in one growing season.

Sunflowers are native to North America. Though several of my favorite plants are native to other parts of the world, sunflowers are native to this continent. Native Americans traditionally used sunflowers for culinary, medicinal, and dye-making purposes.

sunflowerringoffire_eatbreathegardenSunflowers come in a variety of colors and sizes. The “traditional” sunflower has mustard yellow petals surrounding a dark center, atop a tall sturdy stem. There are a multitude of different flower heights and colors. ‘Mammoth Russian’ sunflowers are as big as the name suggests and grow up to approximately 15 feet tall (Renee’s Garden). (Check out more tall sunflower varieties.) There are dwarf types, including ‘Elves Blend’ which grows 16 inches to 2 feet tall (Botanical Interests) – and then everything in between. There are also sunflowers with the creamy yellow – almost white petals of ‘Vanilla Ice’ (Burpee), burgundy petals of ‘Chocolate’ (Johnny’s Selected Seed), and the bicolor flowers like ‘Strawberry Blonde’ (Johnny’s Selected Seed) or ode-to-Johnny-Cash ‘Ring of Fire’ (Seed Savers Exchange). Check out the unusual, “shaggy blooms” of ‘Teddy Bear’ (Johnny’s Selected Seed) or the beautiful blend of fall colors of ‘Autumn Beauty’ (Seed Savers Exchange). New in 2016 – ‘Sundancer’ grows quickly to 4-6 feet tall and blooms early in the season (Renee’s Garden).

The tallest sunflower measured at 30 feet 1 inch tall. The Guinness World Record holder was grown by Hans-Peter Schiffler in Germany in 2014. That’s about 2.5 stories tall! (Check out a video of the tallest sunflower.)

Sunflowers are hyperaccumulators – or “soil cleaners.” Sunflowers aren’t just pretty faces. They are used in phytoremediation to help rehabilitate soils and groundwater that contain heavy metals, such as lead, uranium, and cesium. In fact, sunflowers were planted near Chernobyl and Fukushima to remove the toxins after the nuclear plant disasters.

Young sunflowers track the sun’s movements in a process called heliotropism. Perhaps one of the most interesting things about sunflowers is the young plants’ ability to follow the sun as it moves in the sky throughout the day. A young plant starts its day greeting the sun as it rises in the east. Then the tip growth moves during the day, “following” the angle of the sun before ending its day facing west at sunset. During the night, it resets itself to once again face east by sunrise in the morning. Eventually as growth develops and flower buds form, the stem hardens and becomes rigid, not allowing for further movement. The sunflower ends up facing east, generally speaking, and no longer tracks the movement of the sun. Read more about these flowers’ circadian rhythm and why the it tracks the sun. watch time lapse video of a sunflower seedling tracking the sun.

sunflower3_eatbreathegardenHave you ever noticed the Fibonacci patterns on the sunflower? Look closely at the center of a sunflower, and you’ll notice a spiral pattern. You may have also noticed this pattern on agave, cactus thorns,  snail shells, the Milky Way, hurricane formations, the bottom of a pine cone, and more. The sunflower florets are arranged in a unique mathematical pattern as to create a series of interconnected spirals. Read more about what causes this.

sunflowercutflowers_eatbreathegardenActivities with Sunflowers

  • Watch time lapse video of a sunflower seedling tracking the sun.
  • Sow sunflower seeds, either by direct sow in the garden or in pots to transplant later in the garden. Try growing the giant sunflowers in your garden – research how to grow the biggest, tallest varieties in your garden.sunflowerarrangement_eatbreathegarden
  • Create sunflower arrangements using flowers cut from the garden or purchased from the florist.
  • Examine a sunflower up close. Notice the rigidness and height of the stems, the texture of the leaves and stems, the soft fuzziness of the point where the back of the flower meets the stem, the Fibonacci patterns of the flower’s “eye,” the colorful petals, the sticky part of the flower’s “eye” (at least on cut flowers, that is)…what else? This can be quite a grounding sensory experience.
  • Notice the Fibonacci patterns of the sunflower florets and study other plants and objects in nature that also contain this pattern. Learn more about the Golden Ratio – this could possibly be a bridge, or lead into a conversation, about the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated.sunflowervase_eatbreathegarden
  • Examine pictures of Monet’s sunflower paintings or Van Gogh’s series of sunflower paintings painted in anticipation of a visit from his buddy Paul Gauguin. Think about how nature has inspired the masters’ work, particularly Van Gogh who painted sunflowers in all stages – from young flowers to those past their prime. Create your own floral arrangement featuring sunflowers and then have the group sit in a circle around the arrangement. Then encourage them to paint or sketch a still life from their perspective. Paintings and sketches will most likely be different from all angles and can be a good topic about perspective in a group discussion.
  • Harvest sunflower seed once ripened. Pick the sunflower seeds out of the flower head by hand – this challenges fine motor skills.
  • Scatter sunflower seed, with other birdseed, outside for the birds. Or, fashion birdseed “cookies” with seed, flour, water, and corn syrup. Hang outdoors using a piece of twine as a hanging bird feeder. (Birdseed ornament recipe here.)


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.










Conversation Heart Floral Arrangements

Celebrate Valentine’s Day with this sweet floral arrangement! This vase-within-a-vase centerpiece is sure to spark conversation and offers a new take on the traditional Valentine bouquet.

Jan2015 523Supplies

    • Conversation heart candies (I purchased these at Dollar Tree.)
    • Fresh cutflowers in pastel colors to complement the candies
    • Vase (I used a small “orb,” or fishbowl vase, from Dollar Tree.)
    • Smaller vase that inserts into the larger vase (I used bouillon cube jars, with label removed – and kept the bouillon cubes for my slow cooker.)
    • Watering vessel with water
    • Scissors or pruners
    • Valentine’s embellishment, optional (I used heart floral picks from Dollar Tree – 7-count package for $1.00 – and card picks with Valentine cards purchased from wholesale floral supply.)

*Note: The plastic wrap shown in some of the photos was used to help participants transport their arrangements home, without splashing water onto the candy. The plastic was removed once participants got home.

Step-by-Step Instructions
Insert the smaller vase into the center of the larger vase.Jan2015 773

Add conversation heart candies around the outside of the inner vase. Fill candies to just below the top of the inner vase.

Fill the inner vase about one-third to one-half with water. (Later, you can top off or refresh water as needed.)

Jan2015 783Cut flower stems and insert stems into the inner vase, taking care not to splash the water onto the candies. Keep adding stems until arrangement is complete.

Jan2015 819Optional step: Add Valentine embellishments to complete arrangement.

Jan2015 778Notes for Horticultural Therapy Practitioners…
Floral arranging is a high impact, quick results activity for clients and, as a result, is particularly rewarding for my groups in memory care. I am often able to entice reluctant individuals to participate by encouraging them to make an arrangement for a spouse, friend, or family member. Or, for those who don’t consider themselves to be creative or talented enough to exercise their floral arranging skills, I offer assistance and work as part of a “team,” with the client as “teamleader” or “supervisor,” to complete an arrangement. With encouragement throughout the activity, even the most reluctant men, who have never made floral arrangements before and often “pooh-pooh” this type of activity at first, are able to successfully and proudly create their own arrangements. Sometimes the reluctant participants are the most proud of their final products.

I offered this particular activity to my clients who are active seniors living at home or in independent living communities. For my clients in memory care communities, I offered floral arrangements with a different take.

Prior to using any edibles in activities, double check with agency and medical staff on the appropriateness of their use. In some cases, staff may prefer to avoid using any edibles due to dietary and other restrictions.

Jan2015 853Use non-toxic flowers in situations where clients could possibly ingest flowers. Some of the flowers shown here, including Billy balls, daffodils, and tulips, may have toxicity.

Consider safety needs of clients when determining whether to use scissors, pruners, or none of the above. Use pre-cut stems or flowers that break easily with fingers.

Program Notes
Activities using fresh cutflowers can easily get expensive. See my Budget Buster Tips on how to cut costs below. I have also found that sometimes clients have a hard time sharing materials with each other. In some cases, this is a good exercise in encouraging clients to share and cooperate with each other. In other cases, I try to minimize opportunities for severe clashing by pre-sorting and bundling flowers or posting a list with flower quantities allotted per person. With the latter, I may pre-sort the specialty flowers, of which quantities are limited, and give these bundles to each person, then the “filler” flowers, of which quantities are more abundant, are made available for all to peruse. In both cases, I encourage clients to share and swap with each other.

To transform this activity for a different season or upcoming holiday, substitute the conversation hearts for candy corn at Halloween or peppermint candies at Christmas. Or, swap with non-edible elements, like aquarium gravel, festive table scatter (a.k.a. confetti), or even natural materials like moss, twigs, gravel, shells, and other found objects from the outdoors. (Don’t forget to consider potential safety issues.)

Jan2015 607
Budget Buster Tips
When I splurge on certain items for floral arrangements, such as higher priced specialty flowers, floral picks, bows, and the candies used here, I save in other places, such as using recycled vases, cheaper “filler” cutflowers, or spray painted “fillers,” like twigs. In my experience, the different types of mums (notably those referred to as “poms”) and mini carnations (not the “regularly sized” carnations) are consistently the cheapest flowers. Sometimes flowers that are in season are also cheaper – which is why I used daffodils and tulips in these arrangements. Or, I use flowers that are “everlasting,” like statice, baby’s breath, and yarrow, so once the flowers are past their prime and dried, I can reuse them for a future program, therefore justifying their added expense. If you can harvest flowers and foliage from your garden, even better!

When using flowers purchased at my wholesale supplier, I always pre-cut the stems, not just to keep them fresh, but also to cut the flowers to be more in scale with the size of vase being used. From personal experience, I have found that many clients, no matter their functioning or skill level and my guiding instruction, often cut only about two to three inches off the stem, if at all, before they insert the stem into the vase. This can get tricky when you have a stem that is 20 inches long – subtract three inches, and you have 17 inches of stem being placed into a six-inch-tall vase – yikes! The longer the stems, the more flowers that need to be used to fill out that vase. The shorter the stems, generally speaking, the less flowers needed.

When possible, have clients work in small teams to create a group arrangement.