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FURNISHINGS : A Guide for Budding Flower Arrangers


When Carol Smith sees roses budding in her garden, she quickly brings them inside to display. "Flowers brighten up my home, and arranging them is relaxing and enjoyable," she says.

Like painting, flower arranging is an art that encourages creativity and self-expression. Whether you're arranging flowers in an antique can or an elegant vase, you are creating designs that will beautify the interior of your home.

By keeping some guidelines in mind, anyone can design with flowers.

"When you cut your flowers, don't use garden clippers or scissors, because they pinch stem ends; the flowers won't drink and will die much more quickly," says Susan Jacklin, owner of Susan's Flowers in Fountain Valley. "Cut flowers diagonally with a sharp stainless steel designer knife and insert them into water right away, because stems generally close up in 30 seconds."

In the garden, bring a pail of warm water along when you cut and slip flowers into it. Then when you're arranging the flowers, re-cut the stems under warm water before placing them in the vase. Make sure each diagonal cut is an inch to an inch and a half long, which enables flowers to drink plenty of water.

The height of the flowers cut for your arrangement should be one and a half times the height of your container.

Also add a preservative to the flower water, which will prolong its life for up to a week longer. A popular brand is Floralife, which can be found at the florists. "It cleanses stems and provides the flowers with nutrients, as well as keeps bacteria levels down," Jacklin says.

When arranging your newly cut flowers, remove as much foliage as possible, because it will drink water that should go to the flower. Any greenery below the water line will also spoil and cause the flowers to die more quickly.

Leave the foliage around the blossom and fill in the arrangement with "filler"--greenery and certain flowers that are used to "round out" arrangements, providing dimension and texture. Greenery used as filler includes tea leaves, leather leaf and bear grass.

"Filler flowers give a fuller appearance and add various colors," says Pat Gosnell, owner of Regal Flowers in Orange. "They include baby's breath, monte casino, Queen Anne's lace and statice."

Greenery can also add to the design. Bear grass is long thin strips of grass that can be looped and made into bows. Other greenery can be braided. Gosnell teaches these techniques at her four-week flower arranging classes offered through the city of Orange Community Services.

You can buy filler flowers at your local florist, or use various plants from your yard. "Alyssum might work as a filler flower as well as asters, and statice, which is easy to grow," Jacklin says. Greenery can also often be found. The bush pittosporum has eye-catching foliage, as do asparagus greens and many kinds of ferns, such as the sword fern.

Be creative when choosing colors for your design.

"Most people know that lavenders and pinks look good together, but they often don't realize that more vibrant colors thrown in with softer tones can create attractive displays," Gosnell says. "For instance, try adding yellow to an arrangement that is primarily pinks, lavenders and purples. Different shades of blue also look good with peaches, and red can always add some spark."

To make an arrangement, you will need a mache (a cup made out of cardboard that resembles papier-mache and is lined with tar to hold water) and an oasis (a green brick that resembles smooth Styrofoam) to hold the water and flowers in place.

The oasis is soaked in water for 10 to 15 minutes and placed in the mache . Flower stems are pushed through the oasis as far down as possible and secured. The papier-mache must be watered daily.

There are several types of flower arrangements, the most common ones are the rosebud vase, the all-around, the one-sided, the fireside and the high style.

"A rosebud vase has one to three roses with Queen Anne's lace, baby's breath and greenery such as bear grass," Gosnell says. Always wire the heads of the roses to the stem with 24 garden wire so they don't droop.

The all-around arrangement is most often used for centerpieces, which are viewed from all sides. Start such an arrangement by "greening up" with leather leaf and other filler leaves, Gosnell says. Place them in the sides and a few directly on top. This will ensure that the oasis is hidden from view.

"When arranging your flowers, always insert an odd number of the same type, same color flower into your arrangement," Gosnell says. "Start with your largest flower of the most dominate color and place one in the middle. Then work down and around like a star.

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