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Beginners Guide to Flower Arrangement

Updated on October 12, 2010

Flowers which have been cared for correctly from the moment they are cut, last the longest. Flowers of all types should be hardened (given the opportunity to become absolutely firm) before they are arranged. For this purpose they should be placed in water for at least an hour - longer if possible - using a deep container. There are a number of flower, such as forced tulips, which wilt as soon as they are brought into dry warmth of the average living room unless given this treatment. However, quite shallow containers may suffice once the flowers are taking water properly.

Ways of Treating Stems

There are various ways of treating stems in order to speed the passage of water to the leaves and petals before they begin to dry out. The essential points are to expel any air bubbles from the stems, and to expose the inner tissues to water. Both objects can be achieved by splitting the ends of the stems upwards for ½ in. or more - the taller the stem, the longer the cut. Exceptions to this rule are hollow stemmed plants, such as delphiniums, which are not easy to arrange if they are split. Such stems are best cut on a slant while the end of the stem is held under water.

Immediately after treating the ends of the stems, stand them in water to cover as much of their length as possible. In many cases it is an advantage if the foliage is covered; this prevents loss of moisture from the leaf or petal surfaces, so that even a flower that has begun to wilt soon becomes firm. However, if the foliage of forced roses is submerged for any length of time and then brought into a room with a warm, dry atmosphere, it will become brittle and papery. In this case it is better to strip the lower part of the stems and stand them under water.

Place in Heated Water

Flowers placed in tepid water (21° C, 70° F) shortly after cutting are less likely to wilt than flowers placed in cold water. Others, particularly shrubs, absorb water more readily if ends of the stems are stood in about 2 in. of boiling water and allowed to remain there until they have become quite firm. This boiling water treatment is good for plants which are notoriously reluctant to take water -- hollyhocks, euphorbia’s, viburnums and young hydrangeas.

Some shrubs - lilacs and young viburnums, for example - will not take water while sprays of foliage remain on the stems. These should be cut off and arranged separately. Partial or complete defoliation may also be necessary in the case of shrubs such as philadelphus, which have leaves growing among their flowers. Similar treatment may be necessary for flowers with tough fibered stems, such as wallflowers and stocks. These ought always to have two thirds of their stems below water.

Complete Immersion

In some instances, only complete immersion is effective. Examples are branches of newly opened foliage; also finely cut mature foliage, such as ferns and hydrangeas. Generally, it is also necessary to split the ends of the stems. Frail flowers, such as annual gypsophila, can be drawn through water and then shaken to release surplus moisture. On the other hand, some flowers must be kept dry. Sweet peas, primroses and pansies suffer disfigurement if moisture remains on their petals. Cut them only in dry weather.

After arrangement, some flowers benefit from being sprayed; violets, mimosa and carnations are examples.

Early flowering shrubs cut for forcing should either be immersed for a quarter of an hour or sprayed with an atomizer before being stood in tepid water in a warm place.

Some flowers - notably narcissi and bluebells - exude a slimy sap soon after they are cut. For this reason they should be kept apart from other flowers at this stage and the water changed frequently.

Flowers should not be crowded during the hardening stage because this can cause loss of color. Bronze of red chrysanthemums become dull if jammed together in an inadequate container.

Care After Arranging

Continuing care is necessary after the flowers have been arranged. Although it is necessary to change the water in vases daily, try to ensure that it remains clean and fresh. Always strip the leaves from portions of stems which will be under water, to prevent decomposition, and add fresh water daily to keep the level high, using rainwater if possible.

Glass containers are not ideal if they are likely to be stood in sunshine. The admission of light promotes considerable bacterial activity, causing the water to become foul. Bacterial activity is least troublesome in metal containers.

Adequate humidity is essential for cut flowers indoors as it is for  pot plants. Increased humidity is generated by natural evaporation of the water from a container, and because of this it is an advantage to certain flowers, such as snowdrops and other hardy winter flowers, to be arranged in containers with large surface area.

Roses in massed arrangements

Roses look delightful in massed arrangements, with varied colors and forms complementing one another. Mingling with roses in this midsummer arrangement are the flowers and foliage of sumach, berberies, alchemilla and sedum telephium, all plants that can be grown without difficulty in average garden in ordinary soil.

Early blooms in shell container

The wide clam shell holds sufficient water to supply these flowers. The stalks are secured to a hidden pinholder set in the water. Moisture also evaporates from the shell, to create a humid microclimate around the bloom

A freshener for spring flowers

Mimosa blossom remains longer if the air is humid. A light overhead spraying with an atomizer helps to maintain humidity and also prevents daffodils, tulips and hyacinths from maturing too fats in a dry, warm room. Spraying keeps willow wands fresh and encourages catkins to open.

Natural grouping of lilies and shrubs

 Garden lilies grow well beneath shrubs, thriving in the partial shade. Lilies and shrubs have been used together in this well balanced arrangement, where the fine, waxen texture of trumpet lilies is highlighted by the thicker, brighter petals of hippeastrums. Fleshy sansevieria leaves contrast with rhododendron foliage and the soft young growth of cherry and maple.

Simple but effective: paeonies and philadelphus

Fragrant philadelphus combines well with paeonies, which should always be cut short as practicable, so that plenty of foliage is left on the plant to nurture it. When gathering blooms from shrubs, where possible select curved, crossing or spindly stems, so that their removal also serves to trim and prune the brush.

A posy of roses, stocks and sweet peas

Scented posies are always pleasing. Short stemmed roses can be cutout from clusters to minimize loss of color in the border. Side stems of stocks take water quicker than the long main stems and are less likely to be missed from the garden. Modern ‘knee-hi’ sweet peas yield plenty of short stemmed blooms and should be gathered daily.

Mixed arrangements for continual display

With mixed flower arrangements, you can enjoy a continual display in the home without having to cut too many blooms of one kind. No one will miss the odd colorful leaf, a shapely side stem or a few blooms. Harmony is created by blending colors and textures. This vase brings together widely differing plants such as hosta, nicotina, clematis, pansies, roses, pinks and anaphalis

Beauty in shapely branches

A well chosen branch, or a few twigs, can provide inspiration for an interesting arrangement. In this example, bare bark is contrasted with glossy evergreen of pernettya leaves, while amethyst colored berries blend perfectly with shaggy chrysanthemums. Only a few chrysanthemums are needed, since the branch is the center of interest.

Where leaf texture plays a part

Gardeners with an eye to flower arrangement, grow plans which can play a decorative role both indoors and out. Most shrubs such as scenecio in this arrangement are invaluable, not only because they live so long in water but also because their leaves have textures which provide a pleasing contrast to the soft petals of flower. Silver leaves may also be dried.

Life and color from fruits and foliage

Fruits of all kinds look well with flower, and can often be used to emphasize some point of color or texture. Ferns and foliage play a similar role, bringing life to an arrangement as well as subtle tints and tones. They must be well hardened before arrangement.

The charm of dried grasses and seed heads

There are numerous easily grown grasses, both annual and perennial that can be dried and used for decoration in winter. Seed heads, foliage, thistles, bulrushes, catkins remain as attractive after harvesting as they were when growing in the garden.


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    • saif113sb profile image


      7 years ago

      very nice and great flower. thanks

    • jseven profile image


      7 years ago from Michigan

      Very nice hub with lots of good information on arranging flowers. I've always loved to do that. Thanks!

    • FuzzyCookie profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Hey Joy and Sarah, I am glad that this has proved to be useful. cheers! :)

    • saradean profile image


      7 years ago from Cardiff

      Very useful hub, thanks.

    • Joy56 profile image


      8 years ago

      I so enjoyed this hub and the pictures.....


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