Once upon a time, if you were hosting a party or a holiday dinner for family or friends, you had only a few options for gracing your table with a lovely floral centerpiece.
You could stop in at a local flower shop and pay a premium price; order an arrangement from a floral wire service such as FTD or Teleflora (complete with high delivery charges and middleman markups); or pick flowers from your own garden – if you were lucky enough to have one!
Fortunately, these days, exquisite fresh flowers are available at supermarkets, grocery stores and local farmers’ markets. And it’s not just mundane carnations and red roses for sale. You can often find exotic and even imported flowers – all at an affordable price.
By knowing how to choose flowers – and how to prep and arrange them – you can create an impressive centerpiece at a fraction of the cost.
First select the freshest flowers.
While it might be tempting to buy a prearranged mixed bouquet at your local market, these arrangements can be expensive, often contain only a few premium flowers, and may come packed with less-expensive “scrubby” blooms.
Instead, go for single-variety bouquets, which are usually economically priced and give you greater control over the design. A recent visit to Trader Joe’s turned up irises, stocks, lilies, tuberoses and more, all selling for under $6 a bunch.
Next, remember that choosing the freshest flowers is like picking the perfect fruit. Don’t pick blossoms that won’t bloom in time (with small, tight green buds) or ones in full bloom (with wide-open heads and petals showing wear) that will soon perish.
To extend the life of your arrangement, look for flower heads that are barely open or half-unfurled and show a bit of color. And remember – the more leaves and thorns on the varieties you choose, the more cleaning they will require.
Certain fragile blooms – such as tulips, sweet peas and ranunculi – may not last more than a few days before they begin to droop. Unless you are planning to build your centerpiece the same day as your event, choose varieties – such as roses, lilies and alstroemerias – with glossy, firm stems and durable blossoms. Gently feel the stem just under the flower head; it should feel fresh and full of water, not limp.
Next, envision your design. Do you prefer mixed flowers in a clean, serene shade of white? A selection of roses, in an array of hues? A gathering of sunny sunflowers?
For larger designs, be sure to purchase a bunch or two of “filler” flowers or greenery such as puffy hydrangeas, glossy or feathery leaves and grasses, to round out your design and fill in any gaps.
Then, choose a container.
If you’re creating a table centerpiece for a dinner party, lower is better, so that guests can more easily chat across the table. That said, the bigger the vase – and the wider the opening at the top – the more prep will be required to hold the stems in a fixed position.
Many professional florists use OASIS® green floral foam for wide-mouthed containers – particularly with glass block or “fish bowl” vases – cutting it to fit. If the vase is clear, it is lined with big leaves, the foam is saturated with water, and all floral elements are held in place by the foam. However, floral foam can be messy to work with (and often crumbles when it’s time to pry it from your prized vase).
For a wide-mouthed vase, an easier solution is to utilize a flower “frog” to hold all stems securely. Vintage metal or ceramic frogs can also add to the beauty of your design.
As an alternative, create a checkerboard grid across the top of your container using Scotch® Magic™ tape (which is easy to remove, and leaves no residue), spacing the strips of tape ½” apart in each direction, and extending them 1” down the outer edges of the vase. This will allow you to place and hold blooms securely (but be aware that you will need enough flowers and greenery to hide the tape).
Finally, create your design!
All stems must be stripped of thorns, leaves and any detritus that will be below the water line. Use a good pair of clippers or sharp scissors, or purchase a specialty tool like a rose stripper.
Stems should not be cut until you are ready to place the blooms in the water, or air bubbles will form in them (and that will shorten the life of the flowers). For thick-stemmed flowers – such as roses – cut the stems at an angle, to allow more water in.
As you begin arranging the blooms and greens, be sure to fill in all of the “holes” in the arrangement; it should be nice and full. If you’re using a vase with a small opening, a good florist’s trick is to gather and hold all of the stems in one hand while creating the “bouquet” shape you desire; then trim all stems evenly across the bottom, and place your bouquet in the vase.
In just a short time, you’ll have a lovely arrangement to grace the dining table (or sideboard) at your next gathering – at a price that won’t break the bank.