In my first article on floral design, we covered the importance of having the proper equipment in your toolbox. What we didn’t discuss is one of the most important “tools” needed in floral design – one that you can’t just leave in the closet, along with the clippers, wire and vase – the plants!

PeeGee hydrangea

‘Limelight’ is a beautiful PeeGee hydrangea with chartreuse green blooms that turn pure white.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Globe amaranth

Globe amaranth makes a great addition to a fresh or dried arrangement.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Hosta

Consider using hosta foliage in your designs for nice texture and color.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Yarrows

Yarrows look great in the garden and last a long time in floral arrangements.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Whether you’re growing or buying your plant material for floral design, it’s important to know some basics. Use the following tips to help you as you begin your fantastic floral designs:

Growing

Some people just think “flowers” when they think “floral design” – but don’t forget the foliage! Grow plants for their great leaves, as well as their blooms, and strive to have a variety of textures, shapes and colors in the garden – and in the vase. Here are some of my favorites, both for blooms and for leaves:

Zinnias are bright, colorful and easy to grow from seed. These annuals come in a variety of flower sizes, heights and colors. I like the larger varieties that grow on taller stems because they have more stem length for designs. (The short varieties are attractive, but the stems are too short to make a very large floral piece.) With zinnias, the more you cut them in the garden, the more they bloom – and they’ll produce flowers until the last frost.

Globe amaranth is great for fresh flower arrangements and can be dried to use in long-lasting designs. These bushy annuals have cloverlike flowers that come in a variety of colors, including white, pink, peach and magenta.

Hostas are wonderful shade perennials that are grown for their foliage, as well as their flowers. The leaves, depending on the variety, range from solid shades of green to variegated mixes. Tubular flowers appear on stems taller than the leaves and are either white or lavender.

Yarrow is a great sun-loving perennial. Many varieties are available, but I love the bright yellow-gold varieties like ‘Moonshine’. Yarrows are long-lasting in fresh designs and are a great flower for drying.

Even shrubs can be cut and used in arrangements thanks to their interesting foliage and blooms. Aucuba is an excellent shrub for cut foliage. (Some people think of it as a “granny plant,” but I disagree.) There are some beautiful variegated varieties, as well as some nice solid-green ones. The foliage lasts for weeks in an arrangement. (I’ve actually had one root in a vase!)

And hydrangea is a must-have shrub in my garden. There are many varieties, and all do well as cutflowers. The only thing is it’s important not to cut them from the plant too early in the season – if you do, they’ll wilt. You have to wait until the stems are nice and stiff and start to become slightly woody. (Trust me on this – I’ve gotten excited and cut them too early, only to be disappointed the next day.) Hydrangea flowers range from white and green to shades of pink and blue.

Buying

If you don’t want to grow all of your cutflowers, then stop by a farmers’ market or local flower shop and pick up a few stems to complement the ones you do grow. Here are some quick tips when buying flowers:

  1. Don’t purchase flowers that are in full bloom, unless you need immediate impact – tonight’s dinner party, for example. Otherwise, choose flowers that are showing color and just starting to open. This way, you’ll be able to watch them bloom and enjoy them longer.
  2. Look at the stems. Lift them out of the bucket and really check them out. If they’re discolored, slimy and have a fowl odor, they’ve been in that bucket of water for a long time. Stems should be clean and fresh.
  3. Examine the foliage on the flower stems. It should be turgid and the proper shade of green (depending on the type of flower). If leaves are turning yellow, drying up or falling off, then the flowers are old and shouldn’t be purchased. (This applies to cut foliage, too.)

Conditioning

It’s best to cut flowers and foliage early in the morning or late in the evening, when they’re most turgid. When cutting, bring along a bucket filled with a couple inches of warm water, and place your cut stems in it as you go. Leave the stems in the water to “condition” for at least several hours, if not overnight. If you have a floral preservative available, mix it in the water prior to cutting.

By cutting and conditioning stems properly, you’re increasing the longevity of your flowers and foliage – and you’ll be one step closer to making that perfect arrangement!