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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.

Tin used as a vase for flower arranging
An interesting tin as a vase. Its wide neck means that hidden support is needed

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.

Sweet peas in the cutting garden
Vintage glass bottle with Sweet Peas

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.

Proportion
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.

Structure
Place your foliage and fillers into the vase first to create a structure and support for the flower stems.

Flower arranging
Small medicine bottles are ideal for displaying individual blooms

Odd numbers
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.

Different heights
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.

Enamel jug June
Classis enamel jug with a narrow neck

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.

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I love growing herbs to use in flower arrangements as they add lovely scents and textural interest from both their foliage and flowers. In addition, you can use them in your cooking, to make herbal teas and tisanes or even your own herbal remedies. If you are establishing a cutting garden at home, space is often limited so growing plants that have another use is a great bonus. Herbs are often important food sources for wildlife attracting bees, butterflies and hoverflies - yet another good reason for growing them. Herbs really benefit from having their foliage cut and will produce new foliage all through the Summer.

Borage from the cutting garden
Borage

Herbs can be annual or perennial. Perennials include Lavender, Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, Lemon balm, Mint, Chives, Fennel, Lovage and Sage. Annuals you can grow from seed include Coriander, Dill and Parsley - herbs that you don't usually see in flower as they are cut before this occurs. All three produce lovely delicate umbels of flowers that add lightness and frothiness to a display. This year we've grown some annual Borage for the first time and it is flowering its socks off at the moment. It has stunning blue flowers with a cucumber like taste that can be scattered in salads. I love the furriness of the stems and flower buds. The furry buds add a hazy softness to an arrangement.

Herbs in flower arrangments
Borage, Campion, Strawberry flowers, Buttercups, Daisies, Cow Parsley and Persicaria

I grow Fennel, both the green and bronze varieties, in my garden borders. They are useful perennials for adding height to the border and are loved by hoverflies - they will be swarming with them in the summer. It is a great filler for flower arrangements and I find it's an excellent alternative to Euphorbias for adding a zingy greeny-yellow touch, which is such an excellent foil for other flower colours. We leave the Fennel skeletons over the winter in the garden to add interest at this time of year. They look stunning covered in frost.

Frosted fennel in the cutting garden
Fennel skeletons with winter frost

Evergreen perennial herbs such as Lavender and Rosemary provide interest in the garden year-round and are easy to look after. Spikes of Lavender flowers add height and scent to an arrangement.  Rosemary, traditionally associated with remembrance, is useful for winter greenery and for adding to Christmas wreathes. 'Miss Jessop's Upright' is a tall variety good for cutting.

My favourite herb for the cutting garden has got to be Oregano (good in pizza and pasta dishes). It is a mecca for bees, which is reason enough, but it also produces scented, pale purple flowers which have surprisingly long stems. It will flower from late June all through the Summer. I used it as a staple flower last year in my friend's wedding flowers where it featured in the bouquet and the button holes, along with the yellow Fennel flowers.

Button holes from the cutting garden
Button holes using the herbs Oregano and Fennel with Cornflowers and Box foliage

Cutting and Conditioning Herbs

Soft-stemmed herbs need a good soak overnight and some stems will benefit from searing in boiling water for 20 seconds before being left to have a good drink of water before arranging. Woody stems often need splitting an inch at the bottom to increase the surface area available for water uptake.

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Tulips and Hellebores
Tulips, Hellebores, Euphorbia and Forget me nots

Follow my simple tips to make your jugs of flowers last for as long as possible.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

    Cut flowers
    Cut flowers before arranging
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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!

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