Flower arranging, simplified

Local Color Flowers/Flickr

Local Color Flowers/Flickr

Valentine’s Day is coming, and hopefully will bring bouquets your way. In any event, buying yourself flowers in the dead of winter is one of life's little luxuries.

If arranging those flowers leaves you feeling all thumbs, though, take heart. Fooling around with flowers is fun and a few simple tricks are all it takes to create striking arrangements.

Beautiful bouquets start with good material so when you go shopping, choose a palette and stick to it. Related colors like warm golds and reds or gentle pastels play nicely together, as do contrasts from the color wheel like purple with yellow or chartreuse. One money-saving tactic is to buy just a few spectacular flowers – big lilies, gerbera daisies or even orchids – and then add less expensive fillers like chrysanthemums, berried stems or baby’s breath and some interesting greens to frame the bouquet.

Don’t just shove your selections into the nearest jelly jar. Flowers last longer if they are properly prepared. That includes trimming an inch or so from the stems, stripping away lower leaves and getting them right into some cool water to hydrate the flowers. When you are ready to begin arranging, it helps to separate your flowers into loose piles so you can see what you have to work with.

Often you can keep flowers in place simply by crisscrossing the stems in the vase. Alternatives are to secure them in floral foam (wet it first), “frogs,” which are small plates with an array of stiff pins, or a piece of crumpled chicken wire shaped to fit the vase.

Begin with the signature flowers cut to different lengths and arranged to show them off prominently. Then add fillers, working to distribute colors throughout the bouquet, and finally place the greens. Make the final cut to the stems on a diagonal – it increases the surface available to absorb water.

A simple tip from floral pros works like a charm: Arrange flowers in your hand before cutting the stems. The secret to well-balanced arrangements is to give the bouquet a quarter-turn with every addition to keep an eye on color and shape harmonies.  When you’re done and have incorporated all of your material, you can hold the bunch together with a twist-tie or rubber band, but this isn’t really necessary. Just snip the stems off evenly at the bottom.

Vases should suit the flowers and the height of stems with taller vases generally used for longer stemmed flowers. But top-heavy blossoms like peonies, hydrangeas and lilacs often look wonderful with stems shortened to fit a short, squat vase – it’s a sure cure for the floppy flower syndrome. You can even collect tiny vases and pop just a flower or two in each, then arrange them on a windowsill or mantle. This is effortless flower arranging and the vases can be endlessly shifted around.

A word about the floral preservative that often comes with florist’s flowers: Don’t dump the whole thing in your vase at once since it can speed flowers toward maturity and death. It is meant to last through several changes of water, the real secret to longer lasting flowers.

Some flowers need special handling. Daffodils shouldn’t be used in mixed bouquets unless they’ve been soaked in a mild bleach solution since their sap can kill other blossoms. Lilacs last longer if all the leaves are stripped from the stem. Pollen-laden anthers should be trimmed from lilies to make the flowers last longer and avoid staining table linens. These things fall into the “live and learn” category.

Buying flowers for your home (and yourself) takes no special talent and arranging them is child's play. A visit to the florist for a handful of bright blossoms is therapy that works, every time.

muffet/flickr

muffet/flickr

Keeping roses perky

Long-stemmed roses are the iconic Valentine's Day gift, but not necessarily the best choice. Most winter roses are imported from Central and South America and spend part of their useful life in transit. Some are rushed to market before buds are mature enough to blossom – these never open but just fade to black.

If roses come your way, here’s how to treat them well:

·         Remove any leaves that will be below the water line in your vase, then cut at least an inch from stems, preferably under running water.

·         Put roses in a vase of warm water, adding a sprinkle of floral preservative, and keep them in a cool spot out of direct sunlight.

·         If roses wilt prematurely, recut the stems once again, and lay them horizontally in warm water, keeping the stems submerged. After about an hour, return them to the vase.

·         If wilting isn’t cured, take a pin and pierce the stem just below the green sepals at the base of each flower. This releases trapped air, allowing water up the stem to rehydrate the flower.

·         It’s a little unconventional, but Viagra will keep your cut roses… mmm, erect longer. Israeli researcher Yaacov Lesham and Australian food technology professor Ron Willis found that 1 mg kept cut flowers upright for as much as a week beyond the usually seven to 10 days.