Working with flowers is far simpler than most people realize. With just a basic workspace in your own home, a few essential tools and supplies, comfortable clothes and a sincere appreciation for the natural beauty of flowers, you’ll have everything you need to get started. Learning to properly handle the stems is the first essential step to creating simply elegant arrangements for yourself and those around you.
To ensure adequate room to properly work with flowers, you’ll need to select and clear a flat space, a minimum of about 2 feet by 4 feet in size, with good light. Most people prefer to work in their kitchen, particularly one with nice windows and plenty of counter space near the sink. With a little invention, you may prefer to work outside on a porch or patio.
Most of the floral tools are fairly standard. You’ll probably already have them on hand or be able to obtain them easily. Gather together:
- Flower-cutting and grafting tools: Many people prefer a florist’s knife to scissors of like to work with both tools when cutting stems, but for beginners, I recommend scissors. If you’re going to be working with roses or other woody flowers, you’ll also need a grafting tool for removing thorns. Japanese-made tools are of high quality, but they’re costly; inexpensive versions that can be found at the hardware store often work just as well.
- Nonmetallic vases or plastic buckets: Fill these with lukewarm water to hold your flowers prior to arranging them.
- Vases or other attractive containers: Carefully consider how you would like to display each arrangement. An antique vase will create a very different looks from a modern glass container tinted to the bloom color or palette of your flowers, but both can be lovely in different settings. Fill your container one-half to three-quarters full with lukewarm water.
- Rubber bands or clear hair ties: Clear rubber bands that discretely hold the stems in place are the secret ingredient. Slide a band up around the stems (being careful not to hurt them by wrapping too tight) and secure them near the top of a container unobtrusively. When I developed this method I first used thin rubber bands from Italy that tied imported flowers. Later I discovered a clear plastic hair tie works even better. In a pinch, an ordinary rubber band will do.
- Chrysal or Floralife: Always use a conditioner or preservative to increase the longevity of your arrangements. These work by giving bacteria (an inevitable part of flower arranging) an option: Instead of attacking the stems, it’s able to feed on a sugary food that feeds the flowers. I don’t recommend using cane sugar, aspirin or copper pennies for florals—this is where the old wives’ tales begin. Instead, try two superior products: Floralife retards deterioration, and Chrysal enhances plant development. Both products ease water absorption and slow bacteria growth, and both contain sugar, alum and chlorine. Though their original formulas work fine for most purposes, know that variations specifically designed for a particular type of flower group, bulb or branch are also available. Floralife and Chrysal come in containers or packets. Always add one or the other to the water prior to arranging your blooms, and each time you change the water in maintaining an arrangement.
Note: This text is excerpted from Simply Elegant Flowers by Michael George with Bob Shuman (David & Charles, 2008; 208 pages; $30) Click here for more info or to purchase.