Arranging flowers? We know. It's scary. That's why it's so easy to go for the pre-made bouquets at a flower shop, stick to one type or to forgo flowers altogether and dive into chocolate cake instead.
To get over our flower-arranging anxiety, we spoke to our favourite flower guru: Meredith Sexton, the florist for the Vetri Family of restaurants in Philadelphia. Armed with a good pair of scissors, we got to work — and realised that the process itself is just as rewarding as the final product.
Choosing Your Flowers
Pick a colour sequence of no more than three colours. It's easy to get carried away while browsing a flower shop — but making something beautiful is easier when your flowers match each other. In the winter, we're fans of purple and orange; white, green and blue; or, in honour of a holiday like Valentine's Day, red, white and pink.
Get inspired. If you fall in love with one colour or type of flower, carry it around the shop with you. Then match up the potential accompaniments and see if their colours and shapes work well together.
If you're making multiple bouquets, pick a base flower. Look out for an inexpensive, filler flower in a neutral colour — and then stretch it throughout all of your arrangements. This allows you to buy in bulk and to have fun picking special items for each separate bouquet. Meredith is a fan of using white limonium as her base flower; they're small, elegant and allow the bigger, more colourful flowers to pop.
Be wary of the flowers on sale. They're on sale for a reason; the store is trying to move them quickly. If you're looking for your flowers to last up to a week, it's best to buy them full-price.
Big flowers stretch the farthest. If you're on a budget — or if you're nervous about making your own arrangement — go for a larger type of flower. They take up more space in a bouquet, so you can buy less of them — and they're easier to work with while building a bouquet.
Think about timing. Some flowers, like roses and tulips, benefit from a night in water. If you're building a bouquet for the same day, it's important to keep this in mind.
Arranging Your Flowers
Pick your vase. For a rustic look, we're fans of circular, wide-mouthed vases — even pitchers. For a more refined arrangement, go for a tall, skinny vase.
Where will your flowers be standing? Is your arrangement a centrepiece for a table? Will the vase be standing against a wall? The placement of your bouquet will determine how you arrange it.
If you're using a round, wide-mouthed vase, make the arrangement in your hand first. Start with the flowers you'd like in the centre, and start building around them, rotating the bouquet in your hand. When you're satisfied, you can cut them all together — and just plop them in your vase!
If you're using a tall, skinny vase, think about height. Since these vases look beautiful standing against a wall, take advantage of your point of reference. Starting from the front, build your bouquet upwards, so that the tallest flowers stand up in the back. Here's where your filler flowers come in; use them as your tall backdrop, while letting your colours pop in the front.
Prune, prune, prune. Just because you buy the flowers a certain way doesn't mean they're finished. Trim away all extra leaves, thorns, branches, and other distractions; you want the flowers themselves to shine.
Work on symmetry. When you're starting arrangements, it's easiest to make things beautiful by working in symmetry. Putting a pink flower on the left? Put another on the right. Is there a big flower towards the front? Try framing the bouquet with them.
Test for height. Each flower should get two snips: one to test the height, and one to determine the height. This allows room for error — the first snip should allow for a second cut, so that you don't accidentally cut flowers too short.
Experiment! Nothing is permanent. Once you've got the height down, play around! These are only flowers, and they're beautiful on their own. Your job is to have fun with them.
Taking Care of Your Flowers
Change your water every day. If you have time, wash the vase with soap and water, and add a tiny bit of bleach to each new change of water (this will kill the bacteria). Each time you put your flowers in new water, you should give the stems a fresh cut. Meredith is not a fan of flower food; she believes it can make the flowers over-bloom.
Do a mid-week check-in. These are living plants, after all — they're going to morph as they get older. Take some time to prune your bouquet as the week goes on.
Flower Arranging 101 [Food52]
Brette Warshaw is an editorial assistant at Food52. She's a reader, eater, culinary thrill-seeker and food nerd. Want more from Food52? Try your hand at arranging a centrepiece or setting a party-ready table.
Pictures: James Ransom, Meredith Sexton