Floral Arranging for Dummies

One hour.  Under $20.  Three arrangements
It's not you, it's me.  I am the "dummy" because I require a fool proof method for arranging flowers in a vase.  If I didn't have "rules" for this task, I'd probably spend an inordinate amount of time exploring every possibility for each stems placement.  While that is not the worst way to spend an afternoon, most of us don't have that sort of time on our hands. 

 Picture this: Easter Sunday, T -minus two hours until dinner is served at my mom's house, a mess of flowers on my dining room table with a goal of making three gift worthy arrangements.  READY? SET! GO!

Picking out flowers

My mom has the greenest of thumbs.  I am lucky to have inherited many of her traits, but the propensity to care for green, living things is not one of them.  She tries honorably to teach me her ways;  I try my best to follow her careful instruction, but I've failed with houseplants most would classify as "unkillable".  I succeed best with outdoor, potted plants so I try to stick with that.  My mother is quite the free spirit so rules aren't really her thing, especially when it comes to gardening.  She just does what "feels" right.  For those of us not blessed with such an intuition, the rule of "thriller, filler, spiller" (I'll explain in a minute) can be quite handy for planning out outdoor potters.

The concept of thriller, filler spiller has guided me with such success in outdoor gardening, I have applied it to arranging vases of flowers. As I mentioned, I don't have much luck with houseplants, so fresh flowers are kind of all I can manage as a source of "green" indoors. 

Thriller - "The Diva"- The star of the show because of a vibrant color or interesting bloom.

Filler - "The Supporting Cast" - Fills in your arrangement to add mass to the overall composition.  Think baby's breath - but don't actually use it.  It's the worst. 

Spiller - "The Wildcard" - In outdoor gardening, the spiller is something that literally spills out and over the edge of a pot.  For vase arranging purposes, it can be a bloom that cascades or a bloom or greenery that "spills" outside of the otherwise established line or shape of the arrangement.  Go crazy.

I am sure if a florist read this, she may want to slap me for creating such a hackneyed explanation.  I'm not claiming to be a professional, this is just the method that works for me! 

Decide on the feel or tone you want to achieve with your arrangement.  Really, I'm not a person that talks to plants (my mom is, for the record) or gets "vibes" from flowers - but as with any artistic design endeavor, a vision or plan certainly helps.  I wanted my arrangements to shout Spring, in a very casual, slightly whimsical way.   Choose your vase to help convey your tone as well.  I used a glass pitcher and two mason jars.  Honestly, what says "casual Spring picnic" better? If I wanted a more formal Spring arrangement, I might have chosen deep purple tulips with freesia and cut down sticks of pussy willow.  Perhaps arranged in an oversize square vase with very clean lines.

... maybe next week. 

For the arrangements featured here I used hyacinths (thriller), alstroemeria (filler) and freesia (spiller).  For the record, alstroemeria is not what most would call a traditional filler.  It is a beautiful flower on its own, but worked well in this situation to add some casual bulk to my arrangements.  You may want to pick something with smaller blooms to serve as a more "traditional" filler. 

Let's Arrange a Vase

Start with your flowers separated by type into containers with water.  Here is what I started with:
From left: white/purple freesia, pink alstroemeria, and pink & purple hyacinths
Before I jump into arranging, I like to do some prep work.  For me, this means separating (by cutting) any split stems and de-leafing the stems.  DO NOT throw out any part of split stems you cut apart.  They will absolutely come in handy, single stems are just easier to work with.  For this arrangement that meant cutting the freesia stems apart, taking off a good chunk of the leaves on the alstroemeria and peeling off some of the greenery around the hyacinths.  I only threw away the alstroemeria leaves - the rest was used in my arrangements. 

This is an example of a split stem.  Just cut 'em so you have two single stems.

I always start by arranging the thriller flower loosely into the vase.  Although not a hard and fast rule, the thriller should be about mid-height in your arrangement.  Some arrangements (like mine) don't have a ton of height variation, but generally there should be a few stems shorter than and a few stems taller than your thriller.  This is, in part why I chose alstroemeria and freesia as the filler & spiller.  They are both long stemmed flowers with very light weight blooms which allows for height versatility. 

Next, I play a game of alternation.  I alternate between adding in my filler and spiller while also alternating the height of the stem I am adding.  For example:

Tall filler
Short spiller

... would be followed by...

Tall spiller
Short filler

I measure each stem next to the vase where I want to place it and make my cut.  Tedious? Yes- but it avoids having to take the flowers in and out of the water, multiple cuts, and general "over handling".  

You want to try to achieve a cris-cross pattern with your stems in the water.  It is more interesting to look at when you have a clear vase and is also a practical way to "lock" each of your stems into place.

Check out that cris-cross action.  And that freesia SPILLING out of the vase.

When I'm done alternating and cris-crossing, I walk away for at least 10 minutes, or in this particular case, move onto the next arrangement.  After I've given the flowers a chance to "settle" in the vase, and my brain something different to deal with, I tweak the arrangement.  Tweaking includes the adding back in of any stripped greenery or cut split stems (from the hyacinths and freesia in my case).  Some rules for tweaking (because I've undone an entire arrangement with some over zealous tweaking):
Stick to those rules, and you should be able to make a gift worthy arrangement in under 40 minutes, including prep work.  I was able to tackle the three I did in under an hour.  Certainly time well spent, considering the reported therapeutic benefits of floral arranging.

Having fresh flowers in the house just puts a smile on your face.  Something I think everyone should treat themselves to more often.  It doesn't have to be fancy or expensive.  I purchased all of the flowers used here at Trader Joe's for under $20.  They have a particularly nice selection of fresh cut flowers at very reasonable prices.  For home, I grabbed myself 20 daffodil stems for $3.  When seasonally available, using your own garden as a resource can be exceptionally rewarding.  I always make sure to plant some zinnias in the garden.  A $1.50 pack of seeds will yield vases full of flowers from late June to early September.

Try buying fresh flowers for your home weekly for a month or two, and see if you notice a change in your mood!

Glass pitcher arrangement.  For my mama.

Two mason jar arrangements.  One for my mom-mom, one for my sister in law.

Mason jar 1

Mason jar 2

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