I've added some pictures of just a selection of my favourite flower arrangements from my cutting garden last year. I've enjoyed over 100 jugs, vases and posies of flowers from February through to December. I've calculated that I spent under £30 on seeds, compost, flower feed and organic slug pellets over the year, which is considerably less than it would cost to buy that number of flowers from the florist or supermarket. This is all without the air miles, pesticide usage and loss of character and scent that you get with imported flowers. Growing your own flowers comes with the additional benefits of providing a food source for bees and other pollinating insects, being able to use flowers that you would never see in a shop, and the pleasure of sowing seed and watching it grow. In 2016, I'll be growing all my old favourites, but trying out some new varieties of annuals, Tulips and Dahlias, so watch this space!
Don't worry, I'm not going to bombard you with lots of strict rules and techniques. For the home, simple flower arrangements are more fitting than elaborate centrepieces with complicated wiring. I am often put off by artificial looking displays as they just don't seem right with natural flowers you have grown yourself. Your own flowers won't have ram-rod straight stems and uniform flowers but will have lots of character and scent. However, a few simple tips will make all the difference to your own creations.
Choice of Container
Jugs with a classic in-and-out shape have a narrow neck that will hold flowers in place easily. They are my favourite choice when arranging flowers. I have a range of sizes and colours but love simple enamel jugs. Vases or containers with wide necks need a lot of flowers to fill them and will require some form of hidden support. I love my little fig tin (above) and have used a ball of chicken wire hidden inside to support the flowers.
I don't use floral foam as it is not reusable or recyclable and some flowers, especially those with delicate stems, will flop if placed in foam. Other alternatives include creating a grid of adhesive tape across the top of a container which is hidden once filled or you can use metal flower frogs. These sit at the bottom of a vase and have stem-sized holes in them to hold flowers in place.
Small glass bottles make great containers for small bunches or for showcasing individual flowers which look great lined up. I also love using jam jars for a simple posy of flowers.
Try to keep the height of your flowers in proportion to the vase or container you have chosen. The arrangement should be at least as tall again as the vase. If your flowers are too short, the display will look dumpy, if too tall, it will appear top-heavy.
Place your foliage and fillers into the vase first to create a structure and support for the flower stems.
Use an odd number of flowers. 3-5 stems of each type will be more pleasing to the eye than an even number and looks more natural. Grouping flowers of the same type in an arrangement, rather than dotting them throughout a display can also look more naturalistic, mimicking their growth in the garden.
Trim your stems to different heights for a natural look. Shorter stems should sit at the edge of the vase whereas taller stems should be towards the middle. This will allow all the different flowers to be seen.
Position of vase
If your vase is going to be sitting with its back to the wall, only the front and sides will be on view so place taller stems towards the back and don't waste flowers by putting them round the back where they won't be seen. If the vase is for the middle of the table then it needs to look good from all angles. Your tallest stems should be in the middle of the arrangement with the height of flowers gradually decreasing towards to the outside of the vase.
Follow my simple tips to make your jugs of flowers last for as long as possible.
- If possible, especially in the height of Summer, cut your flowers either early in the morning or in the early evening when the sun isn't at full strength and the rate of transpiration (water loss through the leaves) is at its lowest.
- Use proper flower snips or secateurs so that you don't damage the stems which will interfere with water uptake. Cutting stems at an angle will increase the available surface area for water uptake.
- For most flowers, pick before the flower is fully open when the petals are just emerging from the bud. Exceptions are Dahlias, Zinnias and Roses which may not develop fully from a tight bud.
- Carry a bucket 1/3rd full of water to your cutting patch and plunge your cut blooms in straight away to prevent water loss and wilting.
- Ensure your chosen container is clean before use as a build up of bacteria will shorten the life of your flowers. Hot, soapy water is fine and I use a bottle brush to get into any hard to reach places.
- Some flowers need Conditioning to maximise vase life. Most benefit from spending a few hours (or overnight) in a cool place, out of direct sunlight, bathing in water up to the first flower bud. Searing the stems of soft and sappy plants such as Euphorbias, Hellebores and Poppies in boiling water will help prevent the dreaded flopping - place the bottom inch of stem in a jar of boiling water for approx 20 seconds while protecting the flower from the steam.
- Remove any foliage from the stem which will sit below the water line as it will decay and promote the growth of bacteria. Commercial flower food or your own mix (a tsp of sugar and a few drops of bleach or vinegar) can be added to the water to discourage bacterial growth and provide nutrients.
- Change or top up the water in vases regularly and if necessary, re-cut the flower stems of any flowers that have wilted as this might be enough to perk them up again. If you don't want the fuss of having to rearrange your flowers all over again, carefully push the flowers to one side and hold the vase under a gently running tap until all the old water overflows and has been replaced with new water.
- Keep jugs of flowers out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources such as radiators as high temperatures dramatically shorten the life of cut flowers.
- Some flowers and foliage are naturally long-lasting once cut such as Larkspur whereas others like Sweet peas and Cornflowers have a shorter life-span. You can edit your arrangement throughout the week - remove stems of flowers that have gone over, or snip them off if it is hard to extract them, and replace with some newly cut flowers. If your foliage is long-lasting then you can always re-cut the stems and use it in a totally new arrangement.
The important thing is to have fun and if you feel like picking some flowers in the middle of the day and just plunging them into a milk bottle then don't worry - your flowers may last a day or 2 less but as you are growing your own displays for a lot less than it would cost you in a supermarket, you won't mind. It's a good excuse to pick some more!