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Five Easy Pieces: Learning Vase Basics

March 16, 2000|From Washington Post

There's something about the first hint of spring that impels even the most horticulturally challenged to clip a few daffodils from the backyard or pick up a bouquet of bright tulips from a street-corner kiosk.

But sometimes what looked bountiful in the flower cart looks measly at home, as though it was plopped in water by a well-meaning 10-year-old. Turning a bunch of blooms into a lovely bouquet takes know-how and, say the experts, the right vase.

Leslie Dawley is florist-in-residence and owner of Hedgerows, a garden-accessories shop in McLean, Va. According to Dawley, size, scale and shape come into play when choosing the best container for flowers, from leggy lengths of forsythia or drooping lilacs in the spring to full-blown roses or globes of hydrangea later in the season.

The five basic shapes to have on hand, says Dawley, are a tall cylinder, a classic urn, a flared trumpet vase, a ginger vase, and a small round vase called a rose or bubble bowl. These shapes, in a range of sizes, can show virtually any batch of blooms to advantage.

"The biggest mistake most people make is putting flowers in a container that's too large, in an attempt to make the arrangement look bigger," Dawley says. "Actually, the reverse is true."

To make those bunches of supermarket posies look like a million bucks, crowd them into a small vase--maybe a 5- or 6-inch ginger vase or a classic urn with an opening small enough to hold the blooms in a mass, she advises. Keep the arrangement on the small side, like a Victorian-era arrangement or a compact bride's bouquet. Plopping flowers into a big vase, especially one with a large opening, tends to make them flop to the side and spread out like a fan.

One trick the pros use is to tie the stems together. Start by stripping off all but the few top leaves, and then form the bouquet in your hand--not in the vase--adding flowers one by one in a tightly packed spiral arrangement. Then tie the bunch at the very top, right up under the blooms, with a length of waxed twine, string or raffia. Cut the stems to a uniform length before setting them in the vase. If you want the tie to be less obvious--it's really meant as a practical addition, not a decorative element--add a ribbon around the neck of the vase as camouflage.

A tied arrangement has another bonus: It's easy to lift the flowers out to change the water, which florists recommend doing frequently.

For most hand-tied arrangements, a ginger vase, a classic urn-shaped vase or a bubble bowl works well. For vases with larger openings, the pros sometimes stretch clear florist's tape in a grid across the opening to hold stems in position, or use a flower frog at the bottom. Larger flowers--especially long-stemmed roses, gladiolus, flowering branches or even French tulips--look graceful in a looser arrangement, in a taller flared trumpet or cylinder vase.

Another consideration when choosing a vase is scale.

"The rule of thumb is that flowers should be 1 1/2 times the size of the container," says Dawley, whose shop also features a large assortment of silk flowers. "The exception is if the mass at the top is greater than the mass at the bottom. Then the flowers can be shorter."

A collection of full-blown peony or hydrangea blooms, for example, can be only slightly taller than the vase--say, a classic urn. In such an arrangement, the width--not the height--of the bouquet will balance the equation.

Finally, no matter what size or shape container you use, make sure it and the water are immaculately clean, especially if the vase is transparent glass. The simple beauty of a cluster of stems in crystal clear water is hard to beat.

Which Container Should Hold What Cylinder

Best for: bearded iris, allium, gladiolus, long-stemmed roses, flowering branches like forsythia, quince and cherry

Classic urn

Best for: spring bulbs, peonies, lilacs, gerbera daisies, ranunculus, alstromeria, anemone, delphinium

Trumpet

Best for: French tulips, snapdragons, lilies, lilacs, larkspur, long-stemmed roses, viburnum

Ginger

Best for: camellias, daffodils, tulips, garden roses, smaller hand-tied arrangements

Rose or bubble bowl

Best for: smaller hand-tied arrangements, garden roses, spring bulbs

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