Like no other home decorating activity, flower arranging best reveals the details of flowers, leaves, branches, seeds and fruits. Now through New Year's take a weekly break from your schedule and create floral arrangements for yourself and friends. In the process, you will see the breathtaking design of nature up close and personal. Plus, flower arranging brings you the opportunity to develop artistic skills using nature's most beautiful creations. With each arrangement, you will learn more about plants and flowers while perfecting your bouquet-making skills.
As autumn's beauty unfolds, there is a multitude of flowers and garden trimmings that will provide ingredients for glowing centerpieces. Local florists are sources of inspiration, information and decorating material. Lou Ann David, owner of Flower Tyme on the Plaza in Ashland, carries traditional winter beauties, such as winterberry and snowberry, but is quick to suggest the more unusual, like seeded eucalyptus, stems of hypericum berries in new wild colors (like chartreuse and coral) and stems of brilliant rose hips.
Literally speaking, the "trimmings" of certain ornamental shrubs and trees can provide rigid, twiggy parts that will hold your flowers in place and make a perfect foliage background for your bouquets. Case in point, boxwood shrubs can be regularly cut back, artfully shaping your plants. Then the trimmings are available for floral displays. Especially wonderful is the variegated boxwood, Buxus sempervirens 'Elegantissima,' with green leaves edged in pale yellow.
Heavenly bamboo, Nandina domestica, has many commonly planted cultivars. As they grow too tall for their setting, the tallest branches are best cut to the ground. By this recommended pruning method, the plant is rejuvenated and sprouts new growth from the base, and in turn, you are provided with greenery (and in fall, berries, too) which makes an excellent support base for a flower arrangement. The clusters of pretty white flowers of heavenly bamboo do not last well in water, wait and cut once the berries have formed.
Other favorite woody plants that benefit from pruning and are also attractive in floral arrangements include: Camellia, prune soon after flowering; Sawara False Cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera, the threadleaf forms are most attractive); holly, especially the variegated forms, wear gloves; Mahonia aquifolium, our Oregon state flower, gloves again suggested; Eucalyptus, especially the silver dollar types; Chinese Golden Rain Tree (Koelreuteria paniculata), remove the leaves and enjoy the clusters of "chinese lanterns" July through September. Use your imagination and your landscape shrubs, and soon you will discover that you have a wealth of "greenery" for your floral creations right in your own backyard.
Janiel Bollman, owner of Flowers by Friends in Medford says "go natural" and use what is readily available around your home and garden mixed with cut greens like pine boughs with pinecones. When the season is right, touch up with metallic paint and glitter. Bollman passionately encourages her customers to let their imaginations go wild using pumpkins, pears and apples along with sprays of evergreens and holly. Place a cloth runner down the center of a table and arrange cut branches directly on it. Just mist daily to keep them fresh for up to a week. Treated greens last especially well, she says. For special occasions, Bollman adds votive candles lifted well above the greenery for safety, and places clusters of flowers, such as roses, kept fresh in water tubes or small vases.
To create traditional bouquets in vases, large or small, start with a natural foundation of shrubby plant trimmings like boxwood, nandina and holly, or leafy perennials, like hellebore leaves. With your floral foundation of greenery in place, your single stems of flowers will stay where you put them. Now you are ready to showcase the flowers you have selected. Start with the tallest stems of the smallest flowers. This time of year that would be baby's breath and asters. These lovely filler flowers will frame and enhance the larger flowers added next. David encourages her "do-it-yourself" customers to enhance the autumn and winter colors with eye-popping chartreuse spider mums and bells of Ireland. For a unique, autumn-colored flower, she recommends brilliant orange Chinese lanterns. An exotic flower that she sells fresh is Leucodendron, native to South Africa. The cone-shaped flowers have colorful petal-like bracts beneath them and look like giant daisies in multi-colors of chartreuse, yellow, rose and maroon. These beauties have incredible staying power since they dry naturally, and easily last from Thanksgiving to Christmas.
Some favorite summer flowers (when put in a vase of water and then allowed to dry) include artichoke flowers, sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), yarrow, Chinese golden rain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata), and the fluffy seed heads of many grasses. These plants produce flowers and seed heads that become muted as they age and evoke the warm hues of fall and winter. If you missed collecting them this past summer, watch for them next year, and enjoy them through the winter.
Give yourself and your home the gift of a "homemade" floral arrangement with materials gathered from your garden and florist. Once you discover how exciting and rewarding it is to assemble nature's treasures for indoor displays, you may find that you have an abundance of gifts to share with friends!