Flower-arranging shortcuts for the mildly haphazard

Flower arranging shortcuts from Small Company ArtworksThere are people who effortlessly create the most gorgeous floral displays. They use words like ikebana, floristry, and "elements of design." I am not one of those people, and if you are, please send me pictures of your creations. You are, in my mind, a Spotless Arranger, and I tip my hat.

I can't offer you a window into the Spotless Arranger's arsenal of tricks. Instead, I'll share my shortcuts for the Mildly Haphazard Arranger, who, like me, sees a bunch of something pretty while picking up tonight's dinner, or finds a fistful of something in the backyard. You get home with your find, and want to get it in a container between boiling the noodles and feeding the cat. Bonus points if you also add water.

This is a longish post for shortcuts, I know. Does that make it a juxtaposition? Or maybe an oxymoron? Or just ironic? My English-major days are long behind me.

before we start, there are two "rules" i follow:

Rule 1. Any flower will work.  While you could always buy your flowers with an end-result in mind, I rarely find this works. Inevitably, I'll want something spiky to accent the domed-shape hydrangeas, or something airy to go with the ivy... and there isn't any of what I want. And I've got ice cream melting in my cart, so whatever-you-have-three-of-please-thanks.

So I pick what appeals to me, and worry about the arranging later. This tends to be cheaper, too, since I'm usually buying what's in season.

Rule 2. You don't need a vase. Did I say "vase" up above? My mistake. How many vases do you have right now? I'm betting they're an awkward size or shape, aren't they? And you've been trying to use them for ages, with unsatisfying results. I blame the vases.

If I had to lay bets, I'd say you've tried to use those vases to recreate the florist arrangements you got with the vases, right? You have visions of lush creations, with spikes and leaves and exotic blooms.  

Stop that. Florists are Spotless Arrangers. We can use their tools, but we have to do it our way. Which is why a vase may not be your best vessel. If it happens to work, it may be because we don't treat it like a "vase."

gather the flowers and containers

To prove any flower will work, I started by taking a trip through my backyard. It's been really hot here, so my selection was pretty limp and sad-looking. But I said any flower will work, didn't I?

We'll move on when you're finished laughing. I'll wait.

Flowers laid out for arranging

What you see above, clockwise from the bottom left, are peach, yellow, and pink roses, feather grass, something gray that I'm certain has a name, a single white fortnight lily, buddleia, crepe myrtle, bougainvillea, and geraniums in the center.

Next, I gathered all my containers. Okay, I stopped after fifteen. I just wanted to see what I had. Which is a lot, apparently.

Assortment of vases for flower arranging

It turns out I have several large florist's vases, some smaller glass vases, a blue container that used to hold a candle, a few mercury glass votive holders, and assorted drinkware.

Oversized vases with flowers

As you can see, even my longest stems didn't work in the tall vases, so back they went. Note that these were the florist vases that I've never been able to actually use again. See?

Set the containers aside, we'll come back to them.

group the flowers by color, shape, and/or size

Starting tip: Lay out the flowers and look for obvious matches/clashes. When I had all the flowers laid out, it was obvious that the peach and pink roses didn't look good with anything else. So I decided the peach roses would make a single-color bouquet. And maybe that yellow rose for a pop of the unexpected.

Building a hand bouquet of roses

Arranging tip: The easiest way to make a small arrangement is to make a bouquet in your hand. I added roses one at a time to my hand-bouquet, keeping the flower heads at roughly the same height. Then I cut the stems to the same length, and slipped the bouquet into the small, narrow-necked vase.

Tiny rose bouquet

I'm a little embarrassed by how easy this one was. Honestly, it felt like cheating, but it's so pretty I just had to leave it alone.

play with your groupings until you find something you like 

Next up, all the bright pink flowers seemed to work together. The crepe myrtle had the longest stems, and they have a nice way of draping. I thought they'd be good bookends for the sides of a larger bouquet. Since there were two of them, the rectangular vase seemed like the right shape.

Container tip: Symmetry is easy in a rectangular container, when you have even numbers of things. If symmetry is your thing, that is. 

Crepe myrtle stems ready for arranging

I used the same hand-building trick with this larger bouquet, starting with the bougainvillea, and adding one stem at a time.

Flower-saving tip: Strip off any leaves that will be below the water line. I actually stripped everything below the mouth of the vase, to make later steps easier.

Building a pink bouquet

Hand-building tip: Start with the flowers you want in the center, and add stems around the edges. Full flowers work well to anchor the center.

I had several stems of bougainvillea, and they happened to be the fullest flowers I had on hand. So I made them the center of the bouquet, and added the smaller/sparser flowers around them. First, the three geranium bunches went around the edges (the third one is hidden behind). There went my symmetry.

Then it was time to add the crepe myrtle stems on either side. I think the bouquet is pretty without them, but the bookend effect works for me. And I had them, so why not throw them in?

Finally I added two tiny buddleia that you probably can't see. Take my word for it.

It was time to vase them, and here's where the container can cause trouble. Unlike the first narrow-necked vase, this vase wouldn't corral my flowers in a tight bouquet. They'd sprawl and look ungainly. The solution?

Arranging tip: Wrap a rubber band around the stems to hold them tightly in a wide-mouth vase. A hair elastic also works in a pinch, but you'll probably not want to put it back in your hair.

Gathering flowers for the base

"But the rubber band is ugly!" you cry. "Isn't that a dead giveaway that I'm not a Spotless Arranger?!" True, although if anyone mentions it, you'd have grounds to take them off the Christmas card list. So if the rubber band bothers you, go find some ribbon and wrap a length around the rubber band.

Wrapping stems in ribbon

Optional fidgety tip: Wrap the rubber band in ribbon. If you feel really fidgety, you can use pearl-headed corsage pins to secure the ribbon. I was not feeling this fidgety. I just tucked the ribbon through the stems to secure it, and tucked the end underneath. I figure if someone looks that closely, they deserve to find something.

Then clip the stems to one length, and admire your handiwork.

Easy pink flower bouquet

use up the leftovers

When I inventoried the leftover flowers, it turns out the feather grass shed on everything. And the gray leaves that I'm certain have a name were just too limp to do anything with. Both got composted.

So I was left with a few tailends. Time to get creative.

Leftover flowers to display

Arranging tip: Try floating lighter flowers when you don't have a container that will hold the stems the usual way.

Here's where we use vases as not-vases. Bougainvillea are especially nice floating, since they have light petals with an open structure. Read: they don't sink. (Yes, I know they're not true petals, but a botany lesson would make this post even longer.)

The fortnight lily went in on a whim, and I actually like how it breaks up that mass of fuschia and purple.

Three vases of floating flowers

But that much color is too much for my eye. This arrangement could use some white space. So I used three vases instead. You could stop with one, obviously.

Those three vases will make a nice centerpiece, lined down the middle of the table. And all I did was grab a handful (literally) of petals from the yard. Note to self: remember that for the next dinner party.

Sly decorating tip: When you're short on time before entertaining, float a few petals in some glass vases and call them a centerpiece.

Finally, I was left with the two pink rosebuds. They really didn't work in the small containers I had on hand, even the skinny shot glass I found at the back of the cabinet.

My rubber band trick wouldn't work with just two, very stiff stems, so what I needed was a narrow-necked vase. Or one of those pretty glass bottles you always see on Pinterest. But I had neither.

After rifling through the cabinets, I realized I did have a small bottle. It just happened to be a mini, and it happened have whiskey in it. But I'm resourceful, and found an off-camera solution. 

Mini flower arrangement with roses

Now my bottle was empty, and my rosebuds had a home. I suppose I could have removed the label, but really, it just didn't matter to me. Maybe that was a result of the off-camera solution.

final arrangement count: four (well, six)

So there you have it! A few flowers from the backyard, some containers from the kitchen, and four arrangements to scatter around the house.

I realize no one will mistake me for a Spotless Arranger, but I'm pretty satisfied. I have pretty flowers indoors with no cost and minimal effort. If wait until my arrangements can be Spotless, I may never have flowers at all. Or I'll have a florist on speed-dial, and no lunch money.

Five easy flower arrangements


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